My critique partner and I exchanged manuscripts last week. We read and marked up each other’s pages and exchanged them again at writers’ club on Wednesday. I value her comments, and hopefully, she values mine. We write in different genres, but she reads mysteries now and again, and I read Regencies and enjoy historical mysteries from 1790 to the late 1890’s (I can be had by a Jack the Ripper time period story).
Unlike my friend, I’m not an expert on either the actual events of the prince regent or Queen Victoria’s England. But Regencies, like Jane Austen, concentrate a great deal on social mannerisms and the aristocracy, and I enjoy both. When I think of Queen Victoria, unfortunately, I think of squalor and social injustice. One of the reasons I enjoyed Carnival Row on Prime TV was because it reminded me of Victorian England, which might make you think that I’d love everything Charles Dickens. But you’d be wrong. I struggled through his books, mostly because of his writing style. Now mind you, there’s plenty of squalor and social injustice around today, but it’s too real, so I only read about it infrequently, and only if it’s the background for a great mystery.
Once you hit World War I or the roaring twenties or, even worse, Hitler and World War II, it’s slower going for me unless the story tempts me so much, I bite the bullet and plow through the rest. I make an exception for Agatha Christie, who did include events surrounding World War II in her mysteries, but then, she didn’t dwell on them and they’re only there to add weight to her crimes.
I was a huge fan of Georgette Heyer, and my friend, Julia Donner, writes Regencies that remind me of hers. They mix romance and dire circumstances into a stew that keeps me turning pages. And there’s often humor. One of the reasons I enjoy Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series so much is the time period–1830. Men ruled the world and practically owned their wives. They could beat them as long as they didn’t kill them, but there were always women who proved to be the exceptions. Lady Darby’s first husband mistreated her cruelly, and his death brought scandal on her. But she’s smart and resilient, and her second marriage to Sebastian Gage allows her to become his partner in solving crimes. Her books offer intriguing chunks of history with clever mysteries.
Another writer who mines historical mysteries during the Regency years is Darcie Wilde with her Rosalind Thorne series. Again, a noble woman is reduced to restricted circumstances but overcomes her near poverty by solving crimes for wealthy ladies who’d rather keep their secrets…secret. I read and enjoyed the second book in the series, A Purely Private Matter.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t add Gothic literature to my list of time periods that tempt me. Anna Lee Huber’s novels often have that same dark, brooding feeling, often in an isolated area like the ones old Gothic romances employed. They make me think of Jane Eyre, an educated woman alone, sent to an imposing house with dark secrets, who falls for the brooding, often rude, man who employs her. What fun!
Do you enjoy historical novels? If so, does a particular period tempt you more than others? Is there a period that you’d rather avoid? I go back and forth between historical and contemporary novels. That gives me variety, which I like. Do you prefer contemporary? (I love comments.)