Saturday, July 23, 2011

Celebrating Mysteries: Les mystères historiques

Okay, so I'm getting a bit fancy with my post title. I just thought that, since I'm celebrating crime fiction set in the beautiful country of France, the least I could do was use a bit of my high school French!

This week, I'm looking at three authors who write historical mystery series. I've sampled two of the series, and one of the books in the third is waiting for me on my To-Be-Read shelves. Let's get started!

Sarah A. Hoyt
As a small child growing up in Portugal, Sarah Hoyt rapidly realized that her ambitions of becoming a cat or a first communion girl were unrealistic, so she focused on becoming a novelist instead. Now she lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons, and varying numbers of cats, and she writes books in different genres under different names. The name we're interested in today is Sarah D'Almeida, which is the nom de plume she uses for her excellent historical mystery series set in seventeenth century France. Who are her main characters? D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis-- the musketeers Alexandre Dumas made so famous.

There are five books in the series: Death of a Musketeer (2006), The Musketeer's Seamstress (2007), The Musketeer's Apprentice (2007), A Death in Gascony (2008), and Dying by the Sword (2008).

Publishers Weekly didn't enjoy Death of a Musketeer nearly as much as I did. Perhaps the reviewer was having an off week....

"Dumas fans eager for further details of the lives of his swashbuckling musketeer heroes may enjoy this first in a series of historical mystery novels that transforms those men of action and intrigue into the king's detectives. The concept is less far-fetched than it might seem; in one of Dumas's own sequels to The Three Musketeers, The Viscount of Bragelonne, D'Artagnan displays almost Holmesian powers of deduction. The whodunit posed for her four heroes—a young woman who closely resembles the queen has been murdered by an unknown assailant—is not especially tricky due to a paucity of plausible suspects, and the colloquial language can jar.

Carole Nelson Douglas
As a child, Carole Nelson Douglas loved the Sherlock Holmes stories, but as an adult, she felt there was something missing: strong women. So she set out to rectify that oversight.  Taking Irene Adler, the only woman to outwit Sherlock Holmes, as her main character, Douglas built a series around her as an opera singer and sleuth in nineteenth century France.

There are eight books in the Irene Adler series, the first three of which are: Good Night, Mr. Holmes (1990), Good Morning, Irene (1990) APA The Adventuress (2004), and Irene at Large (1992) APA A Soul of Steel (2006).

Publishers Weekly turned cartwheels over Good Night, Mr. Holmes (and made me find my copy that's been sitting on the shelf):

"Setting herself the task of creating a heroine worthy of Sherlock Holmes, Texas writer Douglas succeeds smashingly. In providing an inventive, believable past for Irene Adler, the one woman (and an American at that) who ever duped Holmes, Douglas writes in a voice that resonates of Dr. Watson's (or Conan Doyle's) when appropriate, and links Adler's adventures with information offered about her in Doyle's 'A Scandal in Bohemia.' Narrated with credible Victorian style and sensibility by Penelope 'Nell' Huxleigh, a parson's daughter, this lively caper establishes Adler's sleuthing skills as she solves cases that involve Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker, among others. The novel has more going for it than the usual Holmesian pastiche, presenting a truly original perspective of the one whom the great detective himself dubbed 'the woman.' She's a superior woman at that: readers will doff their deerstalkers."

Sharan Newman
Medieval historian Sharan Newman has done her homework when it comes to her marvelous historical mystery series featuring Catherine LeVendeur, a novice and scholar in twelfth century France. (She's done research in Paris and Toulouse, among many other locations.) The historical detail adds richness to a series that is also strong in plot and characterization.

The first three books in this ten-book series are: Death Comes as Epiphany (1993), The Devil's Door (1994), and The Wandering Arm (1995).

It's so much nicer when Publishers Weekly and I agree about a book like Death Comes as Epiphany:

"A medievalist breathes life and vigor into the scholastic debates and religious controversies of 12th-century France in this entrancing mystery debut. Catherine LeVendeur, a young novice and scholar at the Convent of the Paraclete, is sent by the Abbess Heloise on a perilous mission to find out who is trying to destroy the reputation of the convent and, through it, that of the abbess's onetime lover and patron, theologian Peter Abelard. A psalter created at the convent and given as a gift to the powerful abbot Suger of Saint-Denis is later rumored to contain heretical statements in its accompanying commentaries. Catherine, in the role of a disgraced novice, must find the book and copy the disputed passages to determine if they are forgeries. Further complicating her search, Saint-Denis's master stonemason, Garnulf, is murdered, a crime which may be tied to the sinister hermit Aleran and the rebuilding of the splendid Abbey of Saint-Denis. Re-entering worldly life, the young novice must face both her sometimes disapproving family and her attraction to Garnulf's mysterious apprentice, Edgar. Newman skillfully depicts historical figures and issues in a very different age, one in which piety and great beauty coexist with cruelty.

I hope you've enjoyed my journey through three historical mystery series set in France. If I've left out any of your personal favorites, please let us know which one was neglected. We all need to add to our wish lists, you know!

Join me next weekend when I'll wrap up French crime fiction month!


  1. The only one of these authors that I've read so far is Sharan Newman. I've gotten about two books into her series so far.

    I'm looking forward to being about to comment more regularly soon. I'm running like crazy getting all the move stuff taken care of. I'm skimming everyone's posts, just not taking the time to comment. Don't like that though. ;-)

  2. Kay-- I've been keeping an eye on the progress on your blog... just being quiet like I usually am! Can't wait to see the final results!

  3. I love historical mysteries and have read quite a few (including a couple of the Catherine La Vendeur mysteries) but haven't come across the first two titles. I'm a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes and the the three musketeers so I'll be checking them out!

  4. Sakura-- Great! I hope you find and enjoy them both!


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