History as Mystery: Part II

Yesterday, in History as Mystery Part I, I explored why I love historical mysteries so much and offered 10 of my absolute favorites as sort of a crash course reading list to get you started. Now that you’re clearly convinced of how great these stories can be, it’s your turn to start exploring topics for the next bestseller!

Part II offers some great material for the would-be writers of historical mysteries: 10 mysteries from the past that have never been solved. I’ll bet that you could craft a story around at least one of them!

The Uffington White Horse

This large chalk figure is part of the Berkshire Downs…and that’s about all that we know about it. Iron Age? Bronze Age? Who created it, and what did they mean to communicate? This might be a good story to wrap around a present-day mystery—think Phil Rickman for the kind of atmosphere I’m talking about.

The Voynich Manuscript and Rongorongo

This is a linguistic mystery. The Voynich manuscript is an illustrated codex, hand-written in an unknown writing system. Rongorongo is a system of glyphs discovered in the 19th century on Easter Island that appears to be writing or proto-writing. I can imagine a story that might somehow tie them together.

The Princes in the Tower

There are few mysteries so hotly debated as this one. Who killed the princes? Their uncle, Richard III? Or someone else acting for the Tudors? Read The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (talk about a great historical mystery and intellectual exercise!) and see what you make of it.

The Heist of the Irish Crown Jewels

Housed in the Dublin Castle, the Irish Crown Jewels were stolen in 1907. Theories around the theft ranged from an insider plot to Unionist conspirators eager to derail Home Rule to Republican plotters seeking to embarrass the British government. No one knows, of course.

The Puzzle of Shakespeare Authorship

Orthodox scholars and critics tell us flatly that Shakespeare was a Stratford man of humble beginnings. But the accumulated evidence seems to bear out Henry James's suspicion that this notion is “the biggest and most successful fraud ever practised on a patient world.”

Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper’s identity has long been a subject of debate. Some believe that respected poet Francis Thompson is the best possibility, while other suspects include singer/songwriter Michael Maybrick and Francis Spurzheim Craig, an East End reporter.

The “Lost Colony” of Roanoke, Virginia

Founded by Sir Walter Raleigh, the entire colony of Roanoke Island disappeared three years after the last shipment of supplies from England. There's no conclusive evidence as to what happened to the colonists, though there are a whole slew of theories.

The Mary Celeste

The ship was en route from New York to Genoa, Italy, when something happened. That something has inspired all sorts of theories in the centuries since then: no one knows why the crew disassembled a pump and then vanished. There was no need to abandon ship, yet one lifeboat—and all 10 crewmembers—did just that. Theories have ranged from mutiny to pirates to sea monsters to killer waterspouts. Seems there’s a mystery in that, right?

The Oak Island Money Pit

The hunt for treasure on Oak Island has been going on for over two hundred years. Without a single return, and conflicting theories of what hunters are actually looking for, the so-called Money Pit in Nova Scotia is one of the most incredible self-perpetuating goose chases in the world. However, just enough evidence has been found to keep people digging. Among the biggest discoveries were stones that were translated as “forty feet below lie two million pounds.” Who knows what’s there, and who put it there? The sinkhole keeps filling in. What do you think?

D.B. Cooper

If you can’t manage a plausible mystery tale out of this one, I despair of you. While in the air on a flight from Portland to Seattle, he hijacked the plane. It landed in Seattle where he demanded $200K in cash, four parachutes, and food for the crew, before releasing all the passengers. They took off from Seattle with marked bills, and Cooper sent the flight attendant to the cockpit while donning a parachute. He tied the bank bag full of twenty-dollar bills to himself, lowered the rear stairs and somewhere north of Portland jumped into the night. Jets, a helicopter, and a C-130 aircraft scrambled from the closest air force base to follow Cooper's plane.

Okay, You’ve got a lot of books to read and you have a lot of mysteries to explore. Historical mysteries rock my world, and I hope I’ve convinced you to let them rock yours. And while you’re at it, check out my two historical mysteries, Asylum and Deadly Jewels.


Jeannette de Beauvoir is an award-winning novelist and poet whose work has been translated into 12 languages and has appeared in 15 countries. She finds that the past always has some hold on the present, and writes mysteries and historical fiction that reflect that resonance. More information at www.jeannetteauthor.com.

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