Past Poisons: an Ellis Peters memorial anthology

Past Poisons: an Ellis Peters memorial anthology of historical crime. As has been said of Scott Turow and legal thrillers or Sue Grafton and forensic science investigations, there are many who credit Edith Pargeter, writing as Ellis Peters, with the explosion of the sub-genre of historical mysteries through the huge popularity of her Brother Cadfael series, beginning with A Morbid Taste for Bones in 1977. Her twelfth-century Benedictine herbalist and sleuth inspired several authors to put pen to paper in an effort to show that a historical setting could provide the right atmosphere for crimes of all types. The financial success of the books, eventually turned into a television series, allowed publishers and editors the freedom to take some chances on these new authors and helped establish the sub-genre as a viable commercial field well before her death in 1995.

I started reading the Cadfael series in 1991 as a public librarian and found in them everything that I now use to judge all other historical mysteries: a realistic portrayal of the historical setting, an interesting investigator using his or her brain to unwind intricate plots, and well-developed supporting characters who continue to grow as the series progresses. These books, along with those of the authors listed below and Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time kindled the passion that I still feel for historical mysteries.

The memorial anthology of short stories published in 1998 showcases many of the premier HM writers of the time, including most of my favorites such as Lindsey Davis, Paul Doherty, Edward Marston, Michael Pearce and Peter Tremayne. Each tale is preceded by a short tribute from the author to Peters describing her influence on their careers. The breadth of settings from Greece, Italy and Egypt to Scotland, London and even Heart’s Castle at San Simeon accurately demonstrates the variety that historical mysteries has to offer readers. It is an excellent introduction to the genre, though I do wish that one of Peters’ own pieces had been included.

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1 Response to “Past Poisons: an Ellis Peters memorial anthology”



  1. 1 A Stolen Tongue « The unset alarm clock Trackback on July 23, 2008 at 10:02 am

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