Historical British Detective Novel(s)
June 8, 2014 1:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for suggestions for a book that could appeal to a diverse set of people (i.e. my family). Some historical fiction set in England/Scotland/Wales/Ireland, with a detective-style plot, seems like it would work. Suggestions?

For Father's Day we've got the idea to all read the same book, to give us something to chat about. The ideas so far are:

- We can all enjoy a detective story, with a mystery to investigate sending the protagonist multiple places.
- My brother likes English history, from Mercia up to the Tudors. Also the Welsh.
- My sister-in-law likes the Highland clans. Maybe a touch of the supernatural. "Let's go consult the local witch!"
- I like to read about pre-Roman practices that survived the Roman period.
- We really like stuff that lets you get the texture of the time and place. More historical detail than purple prose, though a nice last minute escape is always fun.

Things that are negatives:
- No retrojection of modern technology. Walter Raleigh with a magical device that works just like an iPhone? Nope.
- Re-purposing of the same, usual personalities. "Elizabeth Regina, Ninja Assassin" isn't for this crowd. Shakespeare doing stuff totally out of character would also be a turn-off.
- Books that are pitched as "Fantasy" or "Romance" probably won't work.

I'm betting MeFites will have a lot of suggestions for this. Thanks in advance.
posted by benito.strauss to Writing & Language (29 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe the Cadfael books?
posted by pipeski at 1:28 PM on June 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

CJ Ransom has a "detective" who works for Thomas Cromwell.

Also consider The Name of the Rose.

Sorry I can't link on my mobile device
posted by janey47 at 1:29 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed the TV show Cadfael, which was a murder-mystery series set in the 12th century featuring a monk. I haven't read the books, but I know people who've enjoyed them.
posted by HoraceH at 1:30 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

An Instance of the Fingerpost might also fit the bill.
posted by pipeski at 1:32 PM on June 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Nthing the Cadfael books by Ellis Peters --- and while the television series was good, the books are even better!

For a series with a female protagonist, try the Sister Frevisse books by Margaret Frazer.
posted by easily confused at 1:35 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (Richard II? III? The hunchbacked one)

Silver Pigs by Lindsay Davis (ancient Roman guys who end up in Britian investigating)
posted by hydrobatidae at 1:35 PM on June 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

The Mary Russell books by Laurie King? Some are set in the UK, others not, but they are mostly not sequential. The first book, The Beekeepers Apprentice is set in Wales, and The Moor is set in the countryside and was particularly British/moody. Time period is late 19teens and 1920's; author does her research.

Maybe also Mistress of the Art of Death, which is set in medieval Cambridge. This series is a bit more gory than the Russell series though.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:40 PM on June 8, 2014

Response by poster: Cadfael would be perfect, but most of us have already watched the TV series.

"An Instance of the Fingerpost" is sitting on my to-read list (it's perfect for me), but I think it might be a bit complicated. I'm looking more for "summer beach reading for smart people" type stuff.

But yes, these are the kind of books I'm looking for.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:42 PM on June 8, 2014

The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins.
posted by emilyw at 1:50 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hew Cullan mysteries by Shirley McKay?
posted by Thing at 1:54 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not 'mysteries' but maybe: have you read any Nevil Shute? Specifically A Town Like Alice, Pied Piper and Trustee from the Toolroom.
Or C.S. Forester: besides his whole Horatio Hornblower series (and I don't care what other people say: Hornblower is better than the Aubrey-Maturin books!), there's Brown on Resolution, The Last Nine Days of the Bismark or Rifleman Dodd.

For mysteries, try Lindsay Davis' Falco series, which is based in early Rome but he travels all over; one of the books (can't remember which one offhand, sorry) is set in Roman Britannia.
And of course: Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes or any Dick Francis!
posted by easily confused at 2:03 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

CJ Sansom's "Shardlake" series sounds like what you need - set in Tudor London (and elsewhere). Start with Dissolution. The author is a historian and the detail is fascinating but unobtrusive. Shardlake is a very interesting character.
posted by altolinguistic at 2:19 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd. It's dark and creepy! Don't read too much of the wiki because spoilers.
posted by glasseyes at 3:20 PM on June 8, 2014

For what it's worth, An Instance of the Fingerpost was summer beach reading for smart people, for me. During the week I read it, most of my life was occupied with looking forward to the next time I'd be able to open it.
posted by dfan at 3:40 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Anything by Agatha Christie!
posted by SisterHavana at 4:29 PM on June 8, 2014

Ooh! Ooh! Dorothy Dunnett! The Game of Kings, specifically. Lots of historical detail, a whodunit, and both Tudors and Scots. Amazon refers to it as a historical romance but it isn't, although there is a marriage as part of the plot.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 4:32 PM on June 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Susanna Gregory! I love her Matthew Bartholomew series, set in Cambridge at the time of the Black Death.

I also like Paul Harding's Brother Athelstan series, set in Southwark just before the Peasant's Revolt.
posted by Anne Neville at 4:42 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

P.F. Chisholm has a series of mysteries set in the reign of Elizabeth I, about a minor nobleman forced out of court and sent to the Scottish borders. They are very vivid and well researched.
posted by suelac at 7:52 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mistress of the art of death by Ariana Franklyn.
posted by adamvasco at 8:11 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Judith Merkle Riley's books might do well. Check out In Pursuit of the Green Lion and A vVision of Light, also The Serpent Garden and The Oracle Glass.
posted by PussKillian at 9:32 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Martha Grimes has a whole series of British mysteries, the Richard Jury books, that would fit your needs perfectly. Each of the books is named after an English pub and I think there are at least 15 of them, of which I enjoyed every one.
posted by aryma at 10:46 PM on June 8, 2014

Seconding Dorothy Dunnett. Her books are amazing. Travel, loads of English and Scottish history, gripping storylines and the polar opposite of stodgy ye-olde-buxom-wench historical novels, you'll feel like you were there. Not an iPhone in sight.
posted by k_tron at 3:41 AM on June 9, 2014

David Liss has written a few books with Benjamin Weaver as the investigator-protagonist: A Conspiracy of Paper is a fun read.
posted by CincyBlues at 4:41 AM on June 9, 2014

The Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Dorothy Sayers might be right up your alley.
posted by sewellcm at 6:58 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Immediately thought of "Daughter of Time".

"Murder Must Advertise" by Dorothy Sayers is hilarious.
posted by mitschlag at 9:04 AM on June 9, 2014

Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: the mother of all classic English country house murder mysteries, and it's true.
posted by Corvid at 11:36 AM on June 9, 2014

Going by author: Josephine Tey, EM Forster, Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Mary Stewart, Anthony Trollope...
posted by SemiSalt at 11:41 AM on June 9, 2014

I love the Dorothy Dunnett books too (and have read both series front to back), but I gave The Game of Kings to two separate smart interested-in-history people and they both bounced off of it pretty hard. The problem is that it's both the first book and the hardest to read. They really are great once you get over the initial hump, though.
posted by dfan at 3:29 PM on June 9, 2014

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