2014 Books of the year: Best Historical Mystery Runner-up

Runner-up, Historical Mystery. The Missing Italian Girl by Barbara Corrado Pope. The best mystery authors continue to develop their characters as their series progress and the third Bernard Martin story set in 1897 Paris does an excellent job of expanding the character of the lawyer’s wife, Clarie, who is a history teacher at Paris’ Lycee Lamartine for girls, as she tries to help the family of a poor school employee.   The Italian family’s two daughters are friends with a Russian anarchist, but a single non-political act puts them in danger from both a relentless and aggressive police force and a disturbed killer. Clarie struggles with the decision to become involved, but eventually finds herself drawn, as a fellow mother, to help keep the family safe, though it leads her own family into trouble. Pope does a wonderful job of incorporating the many aspects of the time and setting: the city’s vibrant nightlife contrasting with its slums and poverty leading to sometimes violent bouts of class warfare; the prevalent ethnic prejudices and the beginning of the women’s and labor rights movements. I found the debut book in this series to be a bit slow, but this volume moved quite crisply. Also, it is not necessary to read the first two books prior to attempting this one.

Honorable Mention: I am always intrigued when events in a historical mystery parallel current events.  Two of the biggest stories this year were the ebola crisis and America’s citizens questioning the fairness of its justice system.  The third entry in Janet Kellough’s Thaddeus Lewis series set in eastern Canada in 1847 entitled 47 Sorrows deals with a murder during a time of massive immigration from Ireland due to the famine there and is complicated by the new arrivals suffering from a typhus epidemic. The descriptions of the procedures and policies of the 1840s were quite timely given the daily news about ebola.  Robert Harris’ stand-alone novel, An Officer and a Spy, is a fictionalized account of the Dreyfus Affair, which exposed corruption and racial prejudice in the 1890s French military justice courts.  Both books epitomized how we can put current issues in to a historical perspective.

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

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