Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What Makes a Mystery an Historical Mystery?

There's a difference between a Mystery and a Suspense story...

In a mystery, the reader and the protagonist (detective, cop, amateur sleuth) are on the same timeline--the reader knows what the detective knows, at the same time.
In a suspense story, the reader knows more than the protagonist--she knows who's hiding behind the closet door, she knows that the murderer is the detective's best friend, for example--and the "suspense" is built up as the story unfolds and the protagonist discovers all.

And there are ALL kinds of mysteries: Cozy Village, Police Procedural, Forensic (CSI-type), Hardboiled (Noir), Legal or Medical Thrillers--and Historical Mysteries.

In an Historical Mystery, there's a further element to complicate the basic laying out of the crime:  the mystery takes place in a time more than 50 years ago from the present--to follow the guidelines of the Historical Novel Society. Adding in this element successfully brings with it the charm of other lands and cities, ancient customs and dress and food, different languages (some of them "dead"!) and exotic cultures. The writer of historical fiction strives to get the details right--No street lights in cities in the 16th century! No drinking coffee in medieval times!

Some of my favorite Historical Mystery series:

The Max Lieberman Mysteries 
by Frank Tallis 
Set in Vienna, early 1900's, Max is a psychologist and admirer of Sigmund Freud; he is frequently a consultant to a high-ranking police officer, somewhat in the role of a "profiler." Excellent atmosphere, great descriptions of the cafe life (you want to eat the pastries right off the page!), intriguing psychological stories and endearing, complex characters.

Medieval Mysteries 
by Priscilla Royal
Featuring Prioress Eleanor and her side-kick Brother Thomas (a monk with a past), set in mid-to-late 13th century in England. Fascinating details of medieval life scrupulously depicted for both good and ill, great relationship between the two main characters, chilling atmosphere of constant danger and uncertainty. 

The Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries 
by Gyles Brandreth

Literary, witty, droll and utterly delightful as Wilde himself. Brandreth has brought to life one of the 19th century's most charming and irrepressibly mischievous minds. Wilde's partner is none other than Arthur Conan Doyle, who plays "Watson" to Wilde's "Sherlock".

The Charles du Luc Mysteries 
by Judith Rock

Paris in the 18th century was far from the glamorous City of Lights as we know it today, and Rock brings every pathway and dimly lighted alley and church to us in vivid detail. The main character is a Jesuit priest ('in training') and we happily follow Charles as he stumbles across dead bodies at the most inopportune moments--and greatly to the displeasure of his superiors--and also as he contemplates his vocation in light of all his "secular" interests.

The Shinobi Mysteries 
by Susan Spann
Featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo, this new series is set in Japan in the mid-16th century, and it's a delight to read! Hiro is an immediately likeable character, both warm and reserved, humourous and severe--and his relationship with Father Mateo, a Jesuit on a mission, is replete with irony and affection. The second book in the series is about to be published, and I'm looking forward to it!

Of course, I've just written the first in a series of historical mysteries myself, but more about that the next time!
---Mary Burns