If you follow me on social media, you’ll know we’ve been dealing with some bad news. I’m trying to manage my grief & stress in a healthy way (eating well, 6:30 am daily elliptical and power songs) but some days (most days, to be honest) require a special kind of escapism. The kind that has 18 volumes and completely impossible happenings in other time periods and places.
I never read mysteries until we moved to Vermont – the long winters require a LOT of reading material. I started with the Amelia Peabody series, and haven’t looked back. It can be hard to find new authors who are good in a field completely saturated with really, really poor writing. Here are my recommendations for mostly female leads, mostly historical, mostly England-located, and not-quite-cozy-but-not-too-violent mysteries.
Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear. Set in 1929 London, a former WWI nurse sets up shop as a psychologist & investigator, while dealing with the trauma of post-war England.
1. Maisie Dobbs
2. Birds of a Feather
3. Pardonable Lies
4. Messenger of Truth
5. An Incomplete Revenge
6. Among the Mad
7. The Mapping of Love and Death
8. A Lesson in Secrets
9. Elegy for Eddie
10. Leaving Everything Most Loved
Bess Crawford series by Charles Todd. Another WWI nurse, but with a quite different character to Maisie Dobbs. She continues to work as a nurse through the series, going back and forth between France and England.
1. A Duty To The Dead
2. An Impartial Witness
3. A Bitter Truth
4. An Unmarked Grave
5. A Question of Honor
6. An Unwilling Accomplice
The Kate Shackleton series by Frances Brody. Yet another WWI nurse who tracks down missing soldiers post-war to help their families, and ends up becoming a private investigator.
1. Dying In the Wool
2. A Medal for Murder
3. Murder In The Afternoon
4. A Woman Unknown
5. Murder on a Summer’s Day
6. Death of an Avid Reader
Charles Lenox mysteries by Charles Finch. Victorian gentlemen of private means turns sleuth. Happened all the time, right?
1. A Beautiful Blue Death
2. The September Society
3. The Fleet Street Murders
4. A Stranger in Mayfair
4.5. An East End Murder
5. A Burial at Sea
6. A Death in the Small Hours
7. An Old Betrayal
8. The Laws of Murder
9. Home by Nightfall
Julian Kestrel series by Kate Ross. Gorgeously written Regency mysteries that take the reader all over Europe. Heartbreakingly, this author passed away at a very young age from breast cancer right after writing her fourth book.
1. Cut to the Quick
2. A Broken Vessel
3. Whom the Gods Love
4. The Devil in Music
Crowther and Westerman mysteries by Imogen Robertson. Ultra creepy Georgian anatomist Crowther meets shockingly independent Harriet Westerman, and they reluctantly become a sleuthing team. A bit more grim than the other books here, this one definitely gets a violence warning.
1. Instruments of Darkness
2. Anatomy of Murder
3. Island of Bones
4. Circle Of Shadows
5. Theft of Life
Flavia De Luce series by Alan Bradley. Precocious pre-teen chemist in decaying English country house solves the disproportionate number of murders that seem to occur in her small village.
1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
2. The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
3. A Red Herring Without Mustard
4. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
5. Speaking from Among the Bones
6. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
6.5. The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse
7. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
Dido Kent series by Anna Dean. So the idea of a Jane Austen inspired mystery series is a terrible one. But Dido is a delightful spinster aunt character and the books work, though you’ll feel some deja vu about the plots. Emma, anyone?
1. Bellfield Hall
2. A Gentleman of Fortune
3. A Woman of Consequence
4. A Place of Confinement
Daisy Dalrymple mysteries by Carola Dunn. These mayyyybe are a little silly and definitely the most “cozy” of the list, but still a fun romp through 1920s England with a journalist who keeps finding dead people. Oops!
1. Death at Wentwater Court
2. The Winter Garden Mystery
3. Requiem for a Mezzo
4. Murder on the Flying Scotsman
5. Damsel in Distress
6. Dead in the Water
7. Styx and Stones
8. Rattle His Bones
9. To Davy Jones Below
10. The Case of the Murdered Muckraker
11. Mistletoe and Murder
12. Die Laughing
13. A Mourning Wedding
14. Fall of a Philanderer
15. Gunpowder Plot
16. The Bloody Tower
17. Black Ship
18. Sheer Folly
19. Anthem for Doomed Youth
20. Gone West
21. Heirs of the Body
22. Superfluous Women
Angela Marchmont mysteries by Clara Benson. I’m convinced the marketing behind these (old 1920s novels, freshly discovered!) is complete nonsense, but the books are fun, if anachronistic at times.
1. The Murder at Sissingham Hall
2. The Mystery at Underwood House
3. The Treasure at Poldarrow Point
4. The Riddle at Gipsy’s Mile
5. The Incident at Fives Castle
6. The Imbroglio at the Villa Pozzi
7. The Problem at Two Tithes
What’s missing? I’m always looking for new books to read.
I’ve read some of the Adam Dagliesh series by PD James which I enjoyed. They aren’t historical but they are British and have an older sensibility to them. Felt very classic.
Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mysteries are a fun romp through 20s Australia. Bonus: there’s also a tv series with a very, very adept actress with gorgeous costumes.
I was bedridden last year, for a month, and happened upon the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. The books take place (mostly) in a tiny town in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, and, after devouring all of them, one after the other, Three Pines almost felt like home, and the people who live there like friends. I recommend!
This is an amazing list – and dangerous. These are so many great sounding books! I am woefully lacking in my mystery knowledge, but I did have a lot of fun reading To Say Nothing of the Dog which is a delightfully silly time-travelling mystery novel, made much better if you read Three Men in a Boat first. It’s a fun world to fall into for a little while.
My personal comfort novels tend more towards the fantasy & sci-fi genera, like Sabriel/Lirael/Abhorsen, the Golden Compass series, terrible/wonderful dragon riding books, and just about anything by Robin McKinley. I’m going to dive into Maise Dobbs next time I need something comforting, thank you.
I’m super into Tana French books. Irish mysteries that jump from character to character in terms of point of view. I really enjoy the writing.
I need to check out the others you listed because the Todd novels have meant so much to me. How can anyone not realize they are writing about the devastation to my generation of the war in Vietnam, in a way that would never fly if set in today’s USA. God bless!
I’m so sorry for what you are going through Tamera. Sending good energy your way, and check out the Lord Peter Wimsey series if you haven’t already.
I hadn’t seen your earlier tweets – I am so so so sorry for what you’re going through right now xx
Thank you for sharing your burden – and your reading list. Reading is a good escape and I love mysteries!