After the latest batch of cozy crime recommendations, I wanted to flag up a few series set in the past as well – Historical mysteries is the closest I could get for a theme, but it’s not quite right – to me historical feels like they’re written now, but set pre-20th century and these are a mix of books written now and set in a previous period, or books in a contemporary setting for the time that they were written in. And they’re also all set post 1900. And so, in chronological order…
The Lady Hardcastle series by TE Kinsey
Set in the Edwardian era, this follows Emily, Lady Hardcastle, a widow in her 40s and her maid Florence as they embark on life in the English countryside after returning from a spell abroad on diplomatic business curtailed by Lord H’s death. Emily didn’t spend her time abroad sitting around and having afternoon tea – and Florence has some special skills of her own from her time with the circus. They can’t help but stumble over murders and mysteries – and when they do they can’t resist trying to find the culprits. These are fun and frothy and a nice way of passing a couple of hours if you want something to bridge part of the gap between Veronica Speedwell and Phryne Fisher or Daisy Dalrymple. There are five novels in the series (I’ve read all five – with one as a BotW) with a sixth due in the autumn, as well as a Christmas-themed short story. Definitely worth a look – especially as there’s usually at least one or two of them in the lower end of the ebook price bracket.
Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen
Set in the later years of George V’s reign, the heroine is Lady Georgina Rannock, 30-somethingth in line to the throne, single, pretty much penniless and trying to establish a life for herself which doesn’t involve marrying an obscure European minor princeling. I’ve mentioned these here before – Royal Pain was a BotW back in 2016 and got a (very brief) mention in my 2017 obsessions post. And I still have to not think too hard about the premise (because I know far too much about Queen Victoria’s family tree) but they dash along so fast that most of the time I don’t even have time to remember that. Georgie is endearing and really quite self-aware, her sister-in-law is amusingly awful and the pen portraits of the bits of the Royal Family she comes into contact with are amusing and fact based enough to work for me. There are twelve books in the series with a thirteenth to come next month – and I’ve read eleven of them. I’m getting to a point where I want a bit of development in the running plot of Georgie’s love life, but I’m prepared to give it a couple more books to sort it out.
Flaxborough Chronicles by Colin Watson
These got a bit of a mention in last year’s anti-World Cup post, but they deserve a wider airing. There are twelve books in the series, set in the late 1950s and 1960s in a fictional market town based on Boston in Lincolnshire and apparently informed by the author’s experiences as a journalist in Lincolnshire. They’re clever and wry and have a couple of very funny reoccurring characters. They’re not as straight down the line as most of the Golden Age mysteries, but they’re not exactly comic murder mysteries either. If you like series like George Gently or Charles Paris, these may well work for you. They were all re-issued last year as paperbacks and ebooks – so it should be fairly easy to get hold of them, although I don’t know if bookshops are holding them in stock.
The Country Club Murders series by Julie Mulhern
I’ve read four of this series (there are nine currently) about a society wife – and soon widow – in 1970s Kansas City. Ellison gets sucked into investigating murders when she becomes the prime suspect in the murder of her philandering husband’s mistress, but as the series continues bodies just keep turning up in her orbit – much to the distress of her mother. I like these because it’s a really different setting – 1970s and middle America. Ellison is an interesting central character too – she’s a lady of leisure, because that’s what was expected of her as the wife of a banker, but it doesn’t really suit her independent streak and this makes for some really good cranky and antagonistic family dynamics. And the Country Club set provide for some laughs too.
So there you are. There’s a few other series that I’ve written about before that fit into this category – I’ve already mentioned Phryne Fisher and Daisy Dalrymple, but you could also add Dandy Gilver, Maisie Dobbs and Sidney Chambers series. I would add the Charles Paris series to that list – but setting is a bit slippy slidey – they are contemporary to when they were written, but Charles isn’t aging properly, meaning if you read them one after the other you’ll notice that they start off in the 1970s, but are very definitely set in the now in the latest ones – and Charles is not 40 years older…
You should be able to get hold of all of these nice and easily, ideal for binge reading on your holidays. And don’t forget, if you want your mysteries more contemporary, there’s last week’s post full of cozy crime recommendations.