I liked the Historian and Club Dumas...now what?
August 15, 2009 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Need some book recommendations. Just finished reading Bram Stoker's Dracula...and am getting through the Historian. In the past I have enjoyed The List of Seven, Club Dumas, The Alienist, Name of the Rose and so forth. So I guess I like the mystery-within-history sort of suspense/horror/thriller. The things I didn't get into were Dan Brown, Ian Pears, and anything having to do with Templars or Mary Magdalene. Can you recommend me your favorites? -- Thanks so much.
posted by snap_dragon to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Even though it's non-fiction Devil in the White City is awesome, and fits the genre you are describing. And is a frequent AskMe recommendation.
posted by kimdog at 12:58 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you've read The Alienist, you should definitely read its sequel, The Angel of Darkness.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:02 PM on August 15, 2009

I've enjoyed reading most of the books you list and also Antal Szerb's "The Pendragon Legend".
posted by lucia__is__dada at 1:05 PM on August 15, 2009

Have you read 'Hound of the Baskervilles' (Arthur Conan Doyle)? If not, read it!

I haven't actually read this yet so can't vouch for it personally, but 'The Dante Club' by Matthew Pearl sounds like your kind of book too.
posted by katopotato at 1:07 PM on August 15, 2009

You might also like Dan Simmons' The Terror, which is definitely historically-themed horror; it takes a disastrous historic expedition in the arctic and injects supernatural elements to it. You'll also learn a lot about arctic expeditions and scurvy. Simmons has also recently published a novel called Drood, which is also supernaturally-themed and features Charles Dickens and his contemporaries as the main characters.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:08 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

You may (or may not) like Katherine Neville's The Eight. It definitely has the whole history/mystery thing going on, but there are some mentions of Templars (fairly minimal in the overall plot) and when I worked in a bookstore I recommended to a lot of people, including those who enjoyed Dan Brown.

However, it was cited at the time of its publication as a "female counterpart to The Name of The Rose," and is generally a clever, fun book with lots of neat details and information within it.

You can check out the first chapter on Amazon, which introduces you to the "history" half of the story--the other side of the parallel plot has to do with a woman who gets drawn into the complex mysteries of a fabled chess set that once belonged to Charlemagne. From there the stories twist and intersect and touch on everything from the French Revolution to Russia and Catherine the Great, to chess, math, music, and more.

It also has a sequel, fairly recently published (the original was written and published in the eighties) called The Fire, which is interesting, as a fan of the first, but nowhere near as good.
posted by miratime at 1:14 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters.
posted by 8dot3 at 1:16 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman
posted by kimdog at 1:21 PM on August 15, 2009

Dammit, I was going to recommend Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters, but 8dot3 beat me, and now I'm not special. I will say, however, that while Fingersmith is not supernatural, it is, hands down, the best constructed plot I've ever read, and definitely has bits that will creep your shit out. And inasmuch as you like these books for flavour and atmosphere, Fingersmith is sublime.
posted by Diablevert at 1:23 PM on August 15, 2009

- Patrick Suskind: Perfume, The Story of A Murderer
- Robert Goddard's thrillers
- Not historical but I think you'd enjoy it: Donna Tart, The Secret History
- Haven't read it but yet it's on my list: Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

posted by ceri richard at 1:30 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tim Powers The Stress of Her Regard. Byron, Shelley, Keats, vampire type things. Good stuff.
posted by theroadahead at 2:06 PM on August 15, 2009

I really love Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January series, which starts with A Free Man Of Colour.

If you like The Alienist, I think you'll like these. Lovely lovely historical mysteries, set in pre-Civil War New Orleans, with a wonderful lead character.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:16 PM on August 15, 2009

Mistress of the Art of Death was good. The Trial of Elizabeth Cree was excellent.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:35 PM on August 15, 2009

You might enjoy Orhan Pamuk's novel My Name Is Red, which is in effect a mystery novel nestled within an historical novel set in sixteenth-century Istanbul.

But be aware that the book is long and the story complicated, told from the perspective of multiple characters, one of whom is the admitted but anonymous murderer. A nice point is that the opening chapter is narrated by the murder victim, who in effect sets us readers the task of unmasking his killer.
posted by Rain Man at 2:43 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes. It reminded me a bit of The List of Seven.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 2:47 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ghostwalk definitely fits your bill, as does The Book of Air and Shadows

I love these historical mystery books. Enjoy!
posted by supermedusa at 3:15 PM on August 15, 2009

also, Katherine Neville's The Eight, mentioned above, is an incredibly fun read. she is not a great writer (and I would recommend skipping the 20-years-in-the-making sequel) but its just fun fun fun with a whimsical blend of fact/fiction/fantasy
posted by supermedusa at 3:18 PM on August 15, 2009

this is also a classic of that type, Quincunx very convoluted and Foucault's Pendulum-esque
posted by supermedusa at 3:19 PM on August 15, 2009

Was coming here to suggest what miratime suggested. The Eight is very good, the sequel is less good. I have also liked The Historian. You might also like Lev Grossman's Codex and Ian Caldwell's The Rule of Four and Jon Fasman's The Geographer's Library all of which are almost formulaic sort of book-and-history thrillers but I enjoyed them. Other people like John Dunning's books which are mysteries around rare books, pretty much NOT historical but have a thriller aspect to them, if the book angle is one that particularly appeals to you.
posted by jessamyn at 3:22 PM on August 15, 2009

You should really read Q by Luther Blissett.

Also by an italian author (even though its a pseudonym for a collective of four) like the Name of the Rose, and it is one of those books that will completely blow you away.
posted by madeinitaly at 3:54 PM on August 15, 2009

Theodore Roszak's Flicker places exactly the elements you mention in the context of a story from the history of cinema.

BTW, since you mention that you're now reading The Historian, I'd like to recommend frequent reference to google images. Almost all the places visited in the book are real, and even the obscure monasteries usually have photos online, and they're frequently amazing looking.
posted by spasm at 3:54 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon; agreeing mightily with The Eight, Flicker and The Stress of Her Regard (and another by Tim Powers, The Anubis Gates).
posted by OolooKitty at 3:57 PM on August 15, 2009

Quincunx has some mystery elements to it, I guess, but it's more a Dickens pastiche IMO. Not that that makes it bad or anything, just maybe not what snap_dragon was looking for.

The Intelligencer has parallel plots with Christopher Marlowe in the past and a private investigator in the present.

Boris Akunin' Fandorin stuff might be worth a look.

If you haven't already, check out The Flanders Panel (by Perez-Reverte of Club Dumas)
posted by juv3nal at 4:06 PM on August 15, 2009

Response by poster: Wow! I have found that i have read some of the suggestion but not a lot of them! Keep it coming...what a great list coming together!
posted by snap_dragon at 4:08 PM on August 15, 2009

The House on the Strand, by Daphne Du Maurier.
posted by orange swan at 4:26 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Declare by Tim Powers might do it for you.
posted by Artw at 4:32 PM on August 15, 2009

I second the recommendations of Devil in the White City and The Dante Club.
posted by questionsandanchors at 6:25 PM on August 15, 2009

Mark Frost's The List of 7 and The 6 Messiahs are very good, full of historical curiosities, and as good a spinoff/alternate-universe Sherlock Holmes and Watson stories as I've ever found.
posted by Iosephus at 7:22 PM on August 15, 2009

Seconding The House on the Strand.
posted by spasm at 8:26 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Two suggestions: The Ghost Writer by John Harwood, and Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand.
posted by mogget at 8:37 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you liked The Club Dumas, Pérez-Reverte has several others.

I know that you said no Templars, but The Da Vinci Code, was just a poor man's Foucault's Pendulum. I'd look at that and Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco for "mystery-within-history."
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:42 AM on August 16, 2009

Iain Pears epistolary novel An Instance of the Fingerpost is a wonderfully convoluted and good restoration-era mystery featuring members of the Royal Society. I'm currently reading and enjoying Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd, set in the same period. The product description for Hawksmoor: "Combining thriller, ghost story and metaphysical tract, 'Hawksmoor' won the Whitbread Book Award and 'Guardian' Fiction Prize in 1985." So, perhaps not a standard mystery, but it is certainly is dark and mysterious, and features Christopher Wren and his assistant as main characters.

(I do notice that you said that you didn't get into Pears, and I didn't either, at first, with "Fingerpost", but patience is rewarded here. After picking it up and putting it down several times, I finally resolved to plow through because it had been recommended by so many people, and I'm very glad I did.)

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood is a riveting fictionalized account of a notorious true-life mid-1800s murder mystery that I highly recommend. I think I read it pretty much straight through without stopping.

Louis Bayard's The Black Tower is set in restoration-era France and features the fascinating real-life detective Vidocq, who as "the first director of France’s Sûreté Nationale, is such a compelling real-life figure that not only does he make for a first-rate character study in The Black Tower—but he also served as the inspiration for Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert in Les Misérables." Bayard also wrote The Pale Blue Eye in which Edgar Allen Poe is involved in a murder mystery as a cadet at West Point. I haven't read this one yet, but plan to.

Child 44 is an odd book that might fit the bill. Basically, the thing to know about this one is that author Tom Rob Smith borrowed the real-life circumstances of infamous Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo pretty much wholesale, and set the story during an earlier (Stalin and post-Stalin) period. Some of the more bizarre aspects of the tale that would seem wholly fictional are actually straight from Chikatilo's personal history. Not a great work, but rather fascinating from that point of view.

I'll also chime in on Fingersmith, which was excellent. Many other titles recommended here have been on my to-read list for a while: Devil in the White City; The Eight; Drood; The Somnambulist; The Book of Air and Shadows. (and now I've added more; thanks, kids!)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, recommended by ceri richard is not historical, but is a great book that I enjoyed very much - smart, atmospheric, clever.

You also might be interested in this list I have bookmarked that organizes significant historical mysteries (mostly series) by setting location and perod.
posted by taz at 4:17 AM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

The author of the previously mentioned Quincunx (one of my favourites) also wrote The Unburied - a Victorian ghost story with lots of digging-into-past-mysteries kind of thing. It's got a great atmosphere.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 4:52 AM on August 16, 2009

I found The Ghost Map, a non-fiction book about a cholera epidemic, scratched an itch similar to many of the books you list. It isn't a murder mystery, but it is rather tense, I found. This may be a bit out-there for what you seem to want here, though.

Additionally, this old question of mine has some overlap with your question.

Ditto Alias Grace. One of Atwood's best books.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:12 PM on August 16, 2009

I feel like Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson fits the bill here. Really, really, well.
posted by ifthe21stcentury at 8:41 PM on August 16, 2009

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