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Update from N.S. Hurt

Update from N.S. Hurt. The now quarterly list of new historical mysteries from N.S. Hurt came out last week and is a bumper crop of good reading. After eliminating the mid-20th century and American settings and the ones which were more fiction than mystery, I was still left with about two dozen entries to consider. I’ve already enjoyed reading two of them: Carola Dunn’s Black Ship and Peter King’s Hangman’s Corner. There were several books that haven’t been released yet and a couple that won’t be out until the next year, including titles from Alys Clare, Lindsey Davis, and Rosemary Rowe. Fortunately, while I’m waiting for those, I was able to put a half-dozen on hold at my local library. Also, there are some authors who I’ve never tried before, but have been writing for a while, such as Louis Bayard and Sara Fraser. Therefore, I’m going to start with their previous books so as to jump into their series at their beginnings. There was some overlap between Hurt’s list and the recommendations from Clues Unlimited, but enough difference to make perusing each worthwhile.

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Update from Crimes Unlimited

While I wait for Hurt to provide her bi-monthly list of new books, I checked on Clues Unlimited and found two new lists for August, September, October and November with several interesting titles. Although their recommendations also include historical fiction as well as mysteries, I still find good choices here and the synopses are quite helpful. They had new entries from Barbara Cleverly, C.S. Harris, Laura Joh Rowland, and Carola Dunn as well as authors I had not heard of before such as Karen Maitland and Jeri Westerson. I placed seven titles on reserve at my local library and am already reading Dunn’s latest Daisy Dalrymple adventure.

Though I won’t be reading them as they fall outside my areas of interest, two additional works are worth noting. First is David Liss’ new book set during the American Revolution. Liss made my 2004 Book Awards list for his Conspiracy of Paper. Another author who has been on my Book Awards list is David Pierce, who temporarily ventures from his “Dead Man” series to write about a serial killer in American-occupied Tokyo following World War Two.

Crime thru Time part 2

Although the author/title database is the core of the Crime thru Time site, there are several other important and useful features. If you’re one of those readers that relies on reviewers to help weed through all the options out there, even in a sub-genre as specific as historical mysteries, then CTT’s reviews page is for you. They have partnered with the expansive book review site, myshelf.com, to provide reviews of any HM book that appears on their site. All of the more than 500 reviews are listed on one page and arranged alphabetically by author’s last name and then by title. Links are provided to the myshelf site with each review being about 300 words and including publisher’s and setting information. Newer reviews also include a book cover image and a link to amazon.

For book lovers who have a craving to devour everything set in Ancient Greece or the Tudor period or any of the many others eras throughout time, then the Timelines page will be a valuable resource. Each era gets its own section with three sections covering all the history of man prior to 1000 AD: Before Common Era, Ancient, and Early Medieval. Beginning with the 11th century, each 100 year span gets its own section.  The lists for each section are not arranged chronologically, but rather by author’s last name. Each entry includes a link to the author’s full entry in the main database, the name of the series or title of stand-alone book, country of setting, and, of course, time setting as well. One handy tool, especially for Anglophiles, is that at the top of each section includes date information on the reign of every ruler since William the Conqueror plus selected other world-renowned leaders.

One of the few areas of the CTT site that has been a bit of a disappointment is the Recent Releases page, which lists all releases made during the current year. Each entry includes title, pricing, publisher and main character data and, like the Timelines page, a link back to the author’s full entry in the main database. Although it covers an entire year, the page is broken into monthly sections and it is updated throughout the year to keep it current. However, the inclusion of both hardback and paperback editions as well as releases in the UK and US leads to a lot of duplicated information or entries for books I’ve already read.

Although technically not part of the web site, I must also mention the CrimeThruTime Yahoo group. This active (five or six messages daily on average), vibrant group of readers and authors discuss all aspects of the historical mystery genre. The topics of discussion are quite varied from book recommendations and criticisms, to resources for research and the use of period language. Occasionally members stray, but moderator Malo brings them quickly back into line. Having a great number of HM authors as active participants in the discussions brings tremendous insight into the writing process and the travails of being a professional writer as members benefit by learning directly from Alan Gordon, Carola Dunn, I.J. Parker, Priscilla Royal, Margaret Frazer, Sharan Newman, Mary Reed and others.

Overall, the Crime Thru Time site and group are amazing and continue to keep me interested in historical mysteries. I can’t thank Kim Malo, who works so hard on the site, and all the authors enough.

Crime thru Time

Today marks the one-year anniversary of this blog. Therefore, I feel it’s appropriate to write about something extra special. Without a doubt, the most important web site for historical mysteries is Crime thru Time managed by Kim Malo. I’ve mentioned it several times over the past year, but haven’t written about it in detail until now. In fact, there’s so much here, I’ll have to take two days to describe it all.

The heart of the site, which will celebrate its tenth anniversary next spring, is its vast database (“Library”) of titles. The library is arranged in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Each author’s entry includes a chronological list of all their titles with years of publication, a link to the author’s personal web site if available, and a brief description of the principal character, time and place setting for each series. If an author writes multiple series, then each gets its own entry. If an author writes under multiple names, then links are provided to the entries for each pseudonym as well. As on Hurt’s site, there is a special sub-section here devoted to historical mysteries especially written with a juvenile audience in mind.

Despite having all this information, the site is extremely easy to navigate. There is a separate page for each letter of the alphabet and each page has a linked list of all its authors right at the top for easy reference. Malo includes one book cover illustration for each author, which adds a bit of color to the generally graphic-free pages which load very fast.

Of course, the true measurement of any index of this nature is its accuracy and depth. Although there are several other good sources out there, such as Hurt, Vink and Freeman, no other database matches this one. Malo is constantly keeping the author entries current with new and forthcoming titles.

Medieval musical instruments

Music rarely plays a role in historical mysteries as a way of capturing the essence of a story’s time and place. There are some exceptions such as Alan Gordon’s Fool’s Guild mysteries, Edward Marston’s Nicholas Bracewell series set in the Elizabethan theatre, Margaret Frazer’s Joliffe series set around a traveling troupe of actors and Beverle Graves Myers’ series with Venetian opera singer Tito Amato. Michael Jecks’ recent title, The Templar, the Queen and her Lover, had a band of musicians as prominent characters and Frank Tallis does an excellent job of describing the passion for music in his series set in Vienna. However, authors tend to use sights and smells that are more familiar to modern readers rather than the unfamiliar sounds of instruments long ago abandoned.

Curious readers who are interested in discovering the difference between a rebec and a rackett, what a sacbut looks like or how a kortholt sounds should visit the Medieval and Renaissance Instruments site maintained by the Musica Antiqua group at Iowa State University. The site lists thirty-two instruments from bagpipe to zink. Each instrument is given its own page with a photos, history and additional resources. Many pages also include wav or mp3 files so you can actually hear the instruments in use. The group’s site also lists many other early music resources on the web.

Golden Gate Mysteries

As I mentioned in my review of Anthony Flacco’s book, as a San Francisco Bay Area native, I have a keen interest in mysteries, especially historicals, set in the region. The best resource of information about these books is Randal Brandt’s site, Golden Gate Mysteries, a “comprehensive bibliography of crime fiction set in the San Francisco Bay Area.” Brandt is a librarian at the University of California, Berkeley and by using multiple sources, including the Don Herron Collection of Mystery and Detective Stories housed at Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, he has compiled over 1,500 titles of interest. These include my favorites: the Sister Carol Anne O’Marie series featuring a seventy-five-year-old nun investigating current day crimes, Laurie King’s Locked Rooms featuring Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, and Dianne Day’s all too short series with Fremont Jones surviving the 1906 quake.

The arrangement is quite simple with entries listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name and multiple books by the same author listed chronologically. Each entry includes basic publication information and there are many helpful, short plot summaries. Books are not limited to the “City by the Bay,” but include settings in the nine regional counties “along with many other real and imagined Bay Area communities.”

Of special interest is the “Extras” page, which includes a geographic index, a special bibliography for books appearing before Dashiell Hammett’s famous novel The Maltese Falcon in 1930, a selection of stories specifically related to the 1906 earthquake, and books with movie tie-ins.

Summer updates from Clues Unlimited and N.S. Hurt

Summer updates from Clues Unlimited and N.S. Hurt. Last week, N.S. Hurt updated the “New Titles” page of her site with a large batch of recently released or soon-to-released books. This is one of my primary sources for new ideas and it is a wonderful resource, as I have mentioned before. However, I was a bit disappointed with the selection this time. I have read only of the titles on the new list so far (Ruth Downie’s Terra Incognita, which she had previously listed as Ruso and the Demented Doctor), but after eliminating the books set in the United States or after WWI (I prefer non-U.S. based, pre-WWI stories) and the ones that are more historical fiction rather than mystery, I was left with less than a dozen new titles. Fortunately, I’m still working through lists for the last year.

Clues Unlimited has also published its new releases for June/July and I found more success there with five titles not on Hurt’s page to add to my “to be found” list, including Rhys Bowen’s latest, A Royal Pain, and a new Sherlock Holmes pastiche, The Shadow of Reichenbach Falls by John King. As with their April/May list, the number of books set around WWI and WWII is growing. If you’re interested in mid-1930s Europe, then you’ve got a trio of options with For a Sack of Bones set in 1936 Spain, The Spies of Warsaw set in 1937 and The Map of the Creator, also set in 1937, but in Rome.

As always, you can get release dates for these titles on the Crime Thru Time new releases page or on the New Hardcovers page at Stop You’re Killing Me.


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