2011 Books of the Year: historical mysteries

It’s that time of year again: time for “Best of” lists. This year I managed to finish almost 150 books and, although most were of only average quality, some managed to rise above the others. We’ll start with my favorite genre, historical mystery and look at the non-fiction titles in future posts.

Best Historical Mystery (foreign setting) Borgia Betrayal by Sara Poole. Poole’s debut mystery about Francesca Giordano, the woman who serves as the poisoner and protector for Pope Alexander VI of the Borgia court almost made last year’s list. The second in the series isn’t as strong as “Poison,” but then, neither is this year’s competition. The mystery about who among the Pope’s many enemies is attempting to kill him is a little weak, but the action is fast-paced, the romance is very sexy, and the characters and descriptions of Rome are first-rate.

India Black by Carol Carr. An excellent debut mystery set in 1876 about a brothel keeper recruited (blackmailed) by the British government to retrieve some missing documents before foreign agents can relay the information abroad.

The Blood Royal: A Joe Sandilands Murder Mystery by Barbara Cleverly. I thoroughly enjoyed the initial four books in the Sandilands series set in India, but the more recent titles showcasing his work upon his return to England have been extremely disappointing. However, this latest adventure is a worthy comeback effort. The mystery surrounding a plot to assassinate members of the royal family and high-placed government officials is adequately complex, but sometimes predictable. What makes this book worthwhile is the introduction of a new female character, Constable Lily Wentworth, who practically steals the book from Sandilands with her intelligence, feistiness and wit. Publishers Weekly totally disagrees, but I hope we see more of Lily and much less of Sandilands’ niece, Dorcas, in future books.

Best Historical Mystery (U.S. setting): None of the three books I read this year in this category made this list’s cut.

For all my previous “books of the year” lists, see my dedicated page for these titles.

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