Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mystery in History

It's easy to understand the appeal of an historical mystery. Set in the past, before there was any such thing as forensic science, the mystery must be solved by the detective using oinly his or her wits. It is mystery in its purest form.

The most famous historical mystery series might be the Brother Cadfael books by the late Ellis Peters. Well-constructed plots with a likable main character make these well your time to read.

Many entertaining historical mystery series use a real-life person as the detective. Within the pages of such novels, guys like Mark Twin, Charles Dickens, Leonardo da Vinci and even Groucho Marx have had their chances to catch killers.

For my example of a good historical mystery, I'm going to turn back the clock to the American Reconstrucion Era and make note of a regrettably short-lived series that came out in the 1990s.

No Bottom, by James Brewer, was the first of five fun mystery novels set along the Mississippi in the 1870s. The main characters are riverboat owner Luke Williamson and alchoholic former Confederate cavalry officer Maisy Baldridge. The two become involved in a mystery surrounding the sinking of a one of Williamson's boats. Baldridge, working for an insurance company, investigates and the two men end up working well together. In later books, the two men work together on other cases and Baldridge eventually opens a detective agency based on Williamson's remaining boat.

No Bottom has a good, solid plot with interesting characters and well-described action sequences. It's accurate in its historical details and, well, a riverboat on the Mississippi is just an inherently cool setting for the series. Sadly, the series only ran for five books before ending. But all five are worth looking for.

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