This summary of the Southeastern Mass. Reader’s Advisory Roundtable meeting at the Sturgis Library in Barnstable has been a long time coming! If you haven’t posted your second title in the subgenre of historical mystery, please do! You may read the list of historical mysteries that have been submitted so far now, too.
We talked about whether historical mysteries fall under the genre of mystery or should they really be considered a subgenre of historical fiction, as some RA guides say. According to Joyce Saricks in The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, “both Historical Fiction and Mystery readers choose these authors and their books for the details of a particular historical period, as well as for the puzzle and the characters.” This led to comments on how popular historical mysteries set in time periods in and around World War I and World War II are now — such as Anne Perry’s Charles Todd books, Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs books, and the Phryne Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood. About Maisie Dobbs, one member of the group commented that “the mystery is there, but what it’s really about is what life was like after the war.”
The question of time frame for a book to be considered an historical mystery came up. One of our readings said 1965 was the cut-off date, but the group decided that even though books that were written as contemporary mysteries may strike readers now as historical, there has to be a deliberate setting of a time that is not contemporary for it to be considered an historical mystery. Robert B. Parker’s The Godwulf Manuscript was brought up as an example, and it was decided that “classic” does not necessarily mean “historical”.
According to The Mystery Readers’ Advisory, historical mysteries can fall under the categories of “hard-boiled,” “cozy,” or “traditional.” This goes back to readers’ comfort level with the amount, type, and graphic nature of violence in a given book or series.
Interested in reading our secondary reading material yourself? Here’s what we read, in addition to the benchmark title and our second titles:
Charles, John, et al. The Mystery Readers’ Advisory, 2nd ed., pp. 27-30Saricks, Joyce. Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 2nd ed., pp. 223-26
Public Libraries Online: Jack of All Trades Readers’ Advisory
The Reader’s Advisor Online: Historical Mysteries
Click to see the Discussion Questions on Historical Mystery that we used to talk about the readings. We talked about GoodReads, NoveList, Fantastic Fiction, KDL What’s Next, and the Books and Authors database as sources for reader’s advisory.
The group also had a good discussion of A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters (who is a woman, we found out) and talked about why it was chosen as a benchmark title. With the 1977 publication of A Morbid Taste for Bones that launched the popular Brother Cadfael series, Ellis Peters is sometimes called the godmother of the historical mystery subgenre, although historical mysteries have been around much longer.
Click to see A Morbid Taste for Bones Discussion Questions.
We have also posted the Historical Mystery Meeting Agenda from the Feb. 3rd meeting here in case you missed the meeting and want to catch up. New members who are interested in participating may jump in for the April 15th and/or June 8th meetings. Don’t forget to register!
Thank you to Antonia and the rest of the Sturgis Library staff for hosting the February SE-RART meeting!
Murder in Retrospect (Libraries Unlimited, 2005) by Michael Burgess and Jill H. Vassilakos is a print resource specifically on historical mysteries. It won’t have new releases or new authors covered, but it’s worth checking out for its detailed descriptions of plots and characters. Indexed by author, series, title, major character, and setting, it is available to borrow through some library networks.
R.A. NEWS: Massachusetts library staff interested in reader’s advisory are invited to join a new Massachusetts Readers Advisory Group on GoodReads formed just recently by the Western Mass. RA Roundtable group. It’s by invitation, so we’ll include the link in our next email to SE-RART members.