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The Detective as Historian: History and Art in Historical Crime Fiction

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Readers of detective stories are turning more toward historical crime fiction to learn both what everyday life was like in past societies and how society coped with those who broke the laws and restrictions of the times. The crime fiction treated here ranges from ancient Egypt through classical Greece and Rome; from medieval and renaissance China and Europe through ninetee Readers of detective stories are turning more toward historical crime fiction to learn both what everyday life was like in past societies and how society coped with those who broke the laws and restrictions of the times. The crime fiction treated here ranges from ancient Egypt through classical Greece and Rome; from medieval and renaissance China and Europe through nineteenth-century England and America.        Topics include: Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael; Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose; Susanna Gregory’s Doctor Matthew Bartholomew; Peter Heck’s Mark Twain as detective; Anne Perry and her Victorian-era world; Caleb Carr’s works; and Elizabeth Peter’s Egyptologist-adventurer tales.


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Readers of detective stories are turning more toward historical crime fiction to learn both what everyday life was like in past societies and how society coped with those who broke the laws and restrictions of the times. The crime fiction treated here ranges from ancient Egypt through classical Greece and Rome; from medieval and renaissance China and Europe through ninetee Readers of detective stories are turning more toward historical crime fiction to learn both what everyday life was like in past societies and how society coped with those who broke the laws and restrictions of the times. The crime fiction treated here ranges from ancient Egypt through classical Greece and Rome; from medieval and renaissance China and Europe through nineteenth-century England and America.        Topics include: Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael; Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose; Susanna Gregory’s Doctor Matthew Bartholomew; Peter Heck’s Mark Twain as detective; Anne Perry and her Victorian-era world; Caleb Carr’s works; and Elizabeth Peter’s Egyptologist-adventurer tales.

32 review for The Detective as Historian: History and Art in Historical Crime Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    This book is a collection of scholarly essays, mostly by English professors, about historical mystery fiction. Thus it has an audience problem--it might be most interesting to readers looking for more works in the genre, but some characteristics make the book more useful to those seeking literary analyses of these books. I majored in English in college, and so have read my share of literary analyses, but I ended up skimming a lot of the book when (1) I realized that I didn't want to read the boo This book is a collection of scholarly essays, mostly by English professors, about historical mystery fiction. Thus it has an audience problem--it might be most interesting to readers looking for more works in the genre, but some characteristics make the book more useful to those seeking literary analyses of these books. I majored in English in college, and so have read my share of literary analyses, but I ended up skimming a lot of the book when (1) I realized that I didn't want to read the books being discussed in the particular essay, or (2) I realized that I did want to read the books being discussed and didn't want the plots spoiled for me. I most enjoyed the essays about series that I already love--Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael mysteries, Margaret Frazer's Sister Frevisse mysteries--and those I like--Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma series, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, Anne Perry's Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries (but unfortunately no treatment of the even better Hester and William Monk series), and Elizabeth Peters's Amelia Peabody series. I found a couple of series I plan to try--Susanna Gregory's Matthew Bartholomew series, P. C. Doherty's Kathryn Swinbrook series (writing as C. L. Grace), and Margaret Lawrence's Hannah Trevor series. Many others are discussed but were not appealing to me. I kept wondering when someone was going to get to Dorothy Sayers, but of course, her Lord Peter Wimsey series was not historical when she wrote it, although it is now. Most of the authors of the essays begin with an analysis of the value of historical mysteries in general, which becomes redundant, and the essayists reveal far too much about the plots of the stories for my liking, although this is necessary to a meaningful literary analysis. The book was published in 2000, so some of the series have many more entries than the essayists were able to discuss, and some wonderful series are left out: Anne Perry's later works and Jacqueline Winspear's wonderful Maisie Dobbs series come to mind. Elizabeth George's terrific Lynley series has the same problem that Sayers' series did--it is contemporary to her (and my) time. The extant entries in each series are listed in the endnotes to each essay, although not always in chronological order, which would be more helpful to the reader who is shopping for a new series. Some essayists are cheerleaders for the series they are analyzing; others appear more objective and willing to point out faults. All in all, a book that is worthwhile to the shopping reader, because it collects historical mysteries that one may not know about, but perhaps more valuable in its details to a reader interested in literary analysis.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Teri-K

    in Progress- This is a set of essays about historical fiction detectives, divided by time periods. As such it's primarily interesting to big fans of the genre, especially those who want to know how accurate their favorite books are. There are also extensive footnotes and references for those who want to read further. There's an element of literary criticism, with the authors talking about those writers they admire and panning those they don't like. But you also get a good sense of some of the sto in Progress- This is a set of essays about historical fiction detectives, divided by time periods. As such it's primarily interesting to big fans of the genre, especially those who want to know how accurate their favorite books are. There are also extensive footnotes and references for those who want to read further. There's an element of literary criticism, with the authors talking about those writers they admire and panning those they don't like. But you also get a good sense of some of the stories and could find some new series to try out.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bud Moore

  5. 4 out of 5

    Carmen Burton

  6. 5 out of 5

    Vicki Cline

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

  9. 4 out of 5

    Clare

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bri

  11. 4 out of 5

    Gunjan Jha

  12. 4 out of 5

    David

  13. 5 out of 5

    Gillian

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jaime

  15. 4 out of 5

    Diana

  16. 4 out of 5

    Robert

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Hoogterp

  18. 5 out of 5

    Debye

  19. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

  20. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

  21. 4 out of 5

    Secret Name

  22. 4 out of 5

    S.l.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sweet

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brisni (בריטני)

  26. 4 out of 5

    Fivewincs

  27. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  28. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Smith

  29. 5 out of 5

    Eleanor

  30. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  31. 5 out of 5

    Bill LeFurgy

  32. 4 out of 5

    Sameera77

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