Top Five Friday: Historical Mystery Series

In the spirit of gearing up for Pink for All Seasons, I have been thinking a lot lately about my favorite historical mystery series. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that historical mysteries were a thing – but now, they make up a surprising percentage of my reading! So for today’s Top Five Friday, here are my favorite historical mystery series. You’ll never guess which series is number one…


 pink carnation 1. Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series. I’ve talked endlessly about this series, so for now I won’t reiterate all the reasons why the books are great. If you haven’t tried this series yet, make sure to drop by in September, when we’ll start reading The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.
 vienna 2. Tracy Grant’s Suzanne and Malcolm Rannoch series. The series begins with Vienna Waltz, and I have to tell you, I was hooked absolutely from the first line. I tore through that book and have snapped up each installment in the series as it was published. The first book is set in Vienna in 1814, just after Napoleon’s defeat, when major players from the dominant European countries are getting together to determine the fate of the Continent. It’s a fascinating time historically, so Tracy’s first murder mystery has an excellent backdrop. Suzanne and Malcolm are really wonderful, complex characters, and Tracy just keeps making them more interesting with each book.
 silent 3. Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia series. How can you not love a story that begins like this: “To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.” The first book, Silent in the Grave, introduces us to Lady Julia Gray, a Victorian aristocrat whose eccentric family and unconventional interests make for really interesting reading.
 anatomist 4. Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series. This series caught my eye because I thought the premise for the first book was really unique. Kiera Darby is a widow whose ghastly late husband forced her to use her considerable artistic talent to illustrate his cadaver dissections for an anatomy textbook. After his death, she is considered a freak (or something even more sinister) by most of society, and she gets caught up in a murder investigation when her knowledge of human anatomy comes in handy. The first book is The Anatomist’s Wife, and there are now three books in the series.
 blue death 5. Charles Finch’s Lenox series. Finch’s books are set in Victorian London (no pattern to see here, folks), and they revolve around a private detective named Charles Lenox. In the first book, A Beautiful Blue Death, Lenox investigates a maid’s death in the household of his lifelong friend Lady Jane. The maid appears to have committed suicide, but Lenox discovers that the poison that killed her was rare and expensive – not something the maid would have easy access to. As Lenox tries to uncover a motive for murder, another dead body turns up in a ballroom at the height of the Season. This series is possibly “cozier” than the others (Finch describes Lenox as “an armchair explorer who likes nothing more than to relax in his private study with a cup of tea, a roaring fire and a good book”), but it is still a great one.


I have to also give an honorable mention to C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries and Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series – I’ve read several of these as well, and they are excellent. C.S. Harris is particularly good if you’re looking for fewer ballrooms and more fistfights with Bow Street runners.

I know that this list is skewed towards female protagonists and stories set in Britain. Am I missing out on a great historical mystery series? If you’ve got a favorite that you don’t see listed, let me know!

14 thoughts on “Top Five Friday: Historical Mystery Series

  1. Oh, you’ve got to include the Maggie Hope mysteries from Susan Elia MacNeal! They are fantastic – a little more recent then the fabulous books listed above, but a smart, resourceful protagonist working as a spy in WWII? Yes please!

  2. It doesn’t have quite the same panache of the Pink Carnation series, but if you haven’t checked it out already I’d suggest Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen series as it’s set in the same period and also has some spy story lines.

    • Heather, great suggestion! I got “Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas” from NetGalley a few weeks ago, and I’m about halfway through it now. You’re right that it lacks some of Pink’s sparkle, but it’s been pretty good so far.

  3. I’m glad you mentioned C.S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries as they are up there with the Pink Carnation and Tracy Grant’s Suzanne and Malcolm Rannoch / Charles and Mélanie series for me. Historical mysteries are real favourites of mine, too.

    If we’re going to include the 20th C, then I recommend Masie Dobbs by Jaqueline Winspear, too.

    • I was trying to come up with Maisie Dobbs and couldn’t remember the name. Good suggestions!
      Have you read the Charles and Melanie books in Tracy’s series? I’m worried they would confuse me since they start at a different point in the relationship between the characters. If you’ve read them all, what do you think?

      • I read them before Tracy had to change their names and begin publishing them as Suzanne and Malcolm. I think you should read them, too, to fully understand the characters. The very latest Suzanne and Malcolm is the only one which overlaps with the Charles & Melanie ones.

  4. Great suggestions, Ashley. I have read the Pink series and Deanna’s. Coincidentally, I have purchased books for each of the other series you mentioned, just need to find time to read them. I would recommend Lisa Kleypas’s Bow Street runner series – I think there are three of them, but can’t recall the titles at present (one of them is Someone to Watch Over Me). There is an order to read them, which can be found on Lisa’s website.

      • I love all of her books that I have read. The one I mentioned above is the first in her Bow Street series followed by Lady Sophia’s Lover, then Worth Any Price. Her Wallflower series is fantastic – 5 excellent books plus she lists Again the Magic as a somewhat prequel; I read it and would definitely consider it a prequel. I also like her latest comtemporary series (4 books) beginning with Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor (this was made into a Hallmark TV movie about two years ago, but the title is different. These books are set around the Seattle area and have somewaht of a magical aspect – a little hard to explain. Only the Bow Street books can be classified in the mystery/detective genre, though.

  5. I love Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford stories set during and after WWI in England. Rhys Bowen’s “Her Spyness” and “Molly Murphy” books are also excellent.

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