My Top 5 Historical Mysteries of Great Influence

This post was originally going to be about my favorite/influential mysteries, but I realized that the designation was too large. In order to hone the number down to 5—such a small number—I have to specify historical mysteries … in a series. Even then, the choice is difficult—except for #1! 

Amelia Peabody Mysteries

by Elizabeth Peters

Hands down, without even having to think about it, my favorite mysteries until the end of time is the Amelia Peabody Mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. I first fell in love with Amelia and her husband, Emerson, in Crocodile in the Sandbank, and I quickly devoured the first group of books that take place in the late Victorian era. Once I had caught up, I bought each new book the moment it was released.

Barbara Mertz (Elizabeth Peters) died in 2013 at the grand age of 85, and I miss my yearly dose of Amelia’s latest journey to Egypt and her dealings with the master criminal! As far as being influential to my writing, I believe Barbara’s expert handling of quirky lovable characters (especially main characters) gave me something to aim for. Her humor was character driven, and she had an amazing ability to show the reader where Amelia was wrong in her assumptions while in first-person.

Even the titles were fabulous: The Last Camel Died at Noon; The Snake, The Crocodile & the Dog;The Ape Who Guards the Balance. I could go on fangirling, but perhaps I should continue.

Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries

by C. S. Harris

My next favorite is a much darker series: the Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries by C. S. Harris. Again, it is the characters that draw me in—Sebastian, of course, but Hero as well. I like how the author portrays her as a strong, intelligent woman with her own sphere.

This series takes place in the Regency period and pays great attention to detail. It didn’t inspire me to research and get it right, but it certainly confirmed the benefit of doing so. The author enfolds historical events within the plot and, at times, it is a pivotal aspect of the mystery.

Read a review of the latest Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery, Where the Dead Lie!

Dido Kent Mysteries

by Anna Dean

The Dido Kent Mysteries by Miss Anna Dean, is another series set in the early 1800s—a classic English country-house whodunit. I started reading A Moment of Silence, the 1st in the series, when I lived in Belgium, and I had to order my books from England. It is a wonderfully atmospheric series that runs along at a deceptively loping pace. Manners and dress are an integral part of the plots, as are hidden character flaws … murder and mayhem.

I had already written Love, Lies and Spies by the time I picked up this series, and finding a kindred spirit provided great inspiration—it spurred me on; I finished the Victorian mystery I was writing at the time and returned to the Regency period to write Duels & Deception. Though, my books are decidedly more romantic than Miss Dean’s novels.

Burren Mysteries

by Cora Harrison

I came across My Lady Judge, the 1st Burren Mystery, much the same way as the previous series. These mysteries take place in Western Ireland in 1509, and while I can’t say they influenced my writing per se, they did, once again, offer a female main character using her intellect to help and protect those all around her. Besides, the way Cora Harrison presents the legal system of the time—so very different from anything I had come across—was fascinating. It made me want to explore different avenues of justice. Ohhh … a book idea?

Royal Spyness Mysteries

by Rhys Bowen

And, last but not least—actually not even last, as I could go on at length. But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, my final entry citing influence and favoritism is the Royal Spyness Mysteries by Rhys Bowen. Again, a quirky but strong female character (I’m beginning to see a hitherto unnoticed pattern) getting herself into and out of trouble while solving a mystery along the way … and a enjoying a little romance. “Golly,” these books are fun to read.

While at times the humor is more slapstick than subtle, the characters are on equal standing with the mystery. I enjoy how the author uses Georgiana’s naiveté as a tool to contrast the more sophisticated, and sometimes diabolical, set around her. If there is any influence here, I would think it would be the recognition that detailed descriptions of bodies are not necessary to increase the drama or tension in a mystery—fear and fear of discovery are great page turners, too.

Writing out this list has helped me realize that while I am drawn to mysteries as a whole, it is strong, intelligent female characters that keep me coming back for more—something to emulate!

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Cindy Anstey spends her days painting with words, flowers, threads and watercolors. Whenever not sitting at the computer, she can be found―or rather, not found―traveling near and far. After many years living as an expat in Singapore, Memphis and Belgium, Cindy now resides with her husband and energetic chocolate labrador, Chester, in Nova Scotia, Canada.


  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    I love and adore historical mysteries, however, I would say this list is “Top Five Historical Mystery Series by a Female Author”. There are fabulous series from all eras of history of course and that you’re noting some in a list like this brings attention to an overlooked but prolific subgenre of crime fiction.

  2. Adam Wagner

    @PK the Bookeemonster: I believe the list is the author’s top 5 historical mystery series that influenced her work rather than a general top 5 list of all historical mystery series.

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