And we come to the third and final instalment of my stroll through the murders that were committed (and written about) in the second Millennium in the United Kingdom. This forms part of the Tuesday Night Bloggers November topic of Mystery & History, something that I’m more than a little interested in. But we’re about to come to a blip in the narrative, some history that I really don’t care too much about – the Tudors.
I’ll clarify a bit – it’s Fat Harry and Queenie that I’m not really fussed about. But more on them in a bit. Let’s start at the beginning.
In 1485, Richard III, possible-usurper and subject of at least one over-flattering portrait, met his end at Bosworth Field, killed by the forces of Henry Tudor and, for a laugh, buried under a nearby car park. And Henry assumed the throne as Henry VII and…
Well, who knows? Henry VII reigned for twenty four years, but clearly not in a way that has interested mystery writers, not even those who want to tell tales of his son in his pre-king days. I can’t find a single mystery novel set in this era. Which is sort of odd, as I expect authors are keen on making their own niche. But maybe if you’re researching this day and age, then it’s easier to move ahead one King and tell tales of his son. You know, six wives, all that stuff… Because it’s the vicious circle that readers want more of Henry VIII, so writing about his time will result in more book sales. Henry VIII is when the English schools’ whistle-stop tour through the ages slows to a crawl and so the reader will know a bit more of the background already.
Despite this, however, there aren’t that many mystery books set in his time. The obvious success are the rather weighty Matthew Shardlake tomes by C J Sansom, which I will get round to at some point. I read the first one yonks ago and really enjoyed it, but the page count has since put me off returning. One day. The other primary series set in these days are the Roger Shallot journals by that man again, Paul Doherty, originally written under the pseudonym Michael Clynes. These often include an appearance from Henry, and also take a look at other parts of Europe – Scotland, France and Italy – at the time. One of them even includes another run at the Princes in the Tower mystery. And Paul takes another run at Henry in The Last Of Days, looking at the end of Henry’s life – a well-researched tale that gives a fascinating snapshot of parts of Henry’s deeds that may not be so well known.
Then we get six years of Edward VI (1547-1553) and… nope. Lots of potential intrigue with the boy king and people vying to be the real power, but nothing I can find. And the reign of Mary I (1553-1558) was looking pretty barren for a while until Michael Jecks, spotting a fruitful gap, set his Jack Blackjack series here (although I guess after a bit, we’ll move on to Elizabeth I), although it’s worth pointing out that Paul Doherty did look at her death in In The Time Of The Poisoned Queen. Not read it, but I guess she was poisoned…
And then the floodgates open. Rory Clements, S J Parris, Philip Gooden, Edward Marston, Fiona Buckley… there are many more, but these are the ones that I’ve read/heard of. Elizabethan England is clearly the time people want to read about. But why? Surely it can’t just be because of Blackadder II?
You might think it is because of the steady increase of available information as the time being written about becomes more recent, but that’s not the reason. There’s very little set in the reign of James I – only S G Maclean’s Alexander Seaton series which I think is set primarily in Scotland – and I can’t find anything set in the turmoil of the English Civil War Charles I’s time. It’s Cromwell where things kick off again, with both S G Maclean’s The Seeker series and L C Tyler’s John Grey series. It takes the Restoration of Charles II before murder kicks in wholesale, with Susanna Calkins, the most recent John Grey book, Susanna Gregory’s Matthew Challoner, Edward Marston’s imaginatively named Restoration Mysteries and even John Dickson Carr’s earliest-set works – Devil Kinsmere and The Devil In Velvet.
Oh, after Charles II came James II, William & Mary and Anne. Not that you’d tell from reading mystery fiction…
And then my interest drops off completely. After Anne, we get the Georgian period that, hand on heart, I know virtually nothing about at all – we didn’t get that far at school, jumping from Anne (1714) to Otto Von Bismarck (1870). For some reason I’ve no urge to fill that knowledge gap – partly due to the fact that the Georgian period is often portrayed as glamourous and I have no alternative knowledge to back up whether a depiction that I see is convincing or not. Other than that – I’m really not sure why the lack of interest…
So given that my interest in historical mystery fiction tales off at 1714, don’t expect a fourth chapter of this historical tour next week. Instead… well, let’s see.
Interesting post and the gaps in mystery fiction are especially intriguing, as in the gaps you mention there is a lot of fruitful material which could be used.
maybe alternative history? (:
Well, you could make the case that all historical mysteries are alternative histories as they didn’t really happen.
But to be honest, alternative history doesn’t appeal to me and I don’t know of any that have a strong mystery plot…
Robert Farrington’s War of the Roses trilogy is apparently about a spy in the time of Henry VII.
Not sure if they count as mysteries from what I can see. Could be wrong though…
Sorry to repeat myself from an earlier blog comment – but for anyone interested there is also a really useful crime/mystery book timeline at:
Blast, meant to mention this in the post. Thanks for the reminder
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