One of the great things about mysteries is that they cover a wide range of possibilities. There are the hard-boiled noir mysteries, the cozy mysteries, the intellectual puzzle mysteries, and then there are the historical mysteries, for which I personally have a special affection (being a history buff and all). Here I’d like to call attention to some of the newest historical mysteries at the Field Library, so you can enjoy them the way I do.
There are few better and more entertaining guides to the world of ancient Rome than Steven Saylor, whose main character, Gordianus the Finder, explores both high and low society, in and around Republican Rome and the ancient world. In his latest book, Wrath of the Furies, Gordianus (who is 22 years old with all the recklessness and emotion of that age) receives a cryptic message from his former tutor, Antipas, who is now living in Ephesus and who believes his life may be in danger. Naturally Gordianus decides to go to Ephesus and rescue Antipas, and naturally things are much more complicated than the young man imagines. Ephesus is under the control of Mithridates, one of the most interesting and dangerous opponents of Rome in the ancient world. Gordianus pretends to be a mute Egyptian,with his slave, Bathsheba, as his interpreter. He’s still walking into a seething cauldron of intrigue and danger, and he doesn’t really know what Antipas’ message really meant and who might be using Gordianus and for what purpose. Intrigue, danger, some blood-curdlingly accurate and vivid descriptions of battles and slaughters, and the intrepid if somewhat naive Gordianus as a guide: what better way to learn about ancient Roman history?
Moving ahead to the Middle Ages, Alys Clare is in the middle of a series of mysteries involving a nobleman, Sir Josse d’Acquin, and an abbess, Helewise, in the 13th century in England. The latest, which just came out, is called A Shadowed Evil. Josse and Helewise go to visit the home of Josse’s uncle, who is dying. Worse, the uncle has married some horrible woman who’s cold and heartless, especially toward the uncle’s heir, a terrified six year old boy, who claims he’s being haunted by monsters. An injured young man appears at the house at the same time Josse and Helewise do, and questions arise without easy answers: what happened to Josse’s cousin, who seems to have disappeared? Where is the uncle’s stepson? Why does the house itself seem to breathe evil, and why do they feel they themselves are in danger? The book brings the period and the setting to vivid life, and even if you haven’t read any of the earlier books in this series, you can still enjoy the mystery and its resolution.
Lately it seems more mysteries are being set in the Roaring Twenties, the heyday of Prohibition and excesses of all types. One of the newest is Come Hell or Highball, a lighthearted mystery by Maia Chance, the first book in a series (always a good thing to get in on the ground floor of a series of books). Lola Woodby, the protagonist, is a 31 year old society woman whose loveless marriage ends abruptly when her husband dies suddenly. To Lola’s shock, not only is she now a widow, but instead of a fortune, her late husband left her a mountain of debt. Lola and her Swedish cook, Berta, are reduced to staying in the love nest her husband had set aside for his mistress. Desperate to make enough money to pay her rent, Lola agrees to find a missing reel of film for one of her husband’s former mistresses. Naturally this turns out to be much more complicated and dangerous than Lola could have imagined, but she and Berta, her much more sensible sidekick, navigate the tricky waters of gangsters, interfering relatives and importunate bill collectors to find the film and solve the mystery before they become the next victims of the other people who are searching for the same film. The dialogue is witty, the characters are lively and entertaining, and the mystery itself is intriguing enough to make us want to see these characters again soon.