Friday, August 07, 2009


In between reading a historical blockbuster I whizzed through the 200 page How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries by Kathy Lynn Emerson.
This useful guide book contains a wealth of information, stories and quotes from writers who have become successful historical mystery authors. But it is also appropriate for ordinary readers and even amateur reviewers as the book reinforced my opinion that this sub genre is extremely difficult to write successfully. All the numerous problems and pitfalls that a writer will come across in creating a believable historical world are discussed.

The book contains a massive amount of information including definitions of cozy, hard boiled and soft boiled crime stories, as well as an appendix containing lists of historical crime from every era and every place in history.

My favourite quotation from the book is one from Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times from a 2006 review:

"Here is my standard approach to historical mysteries: Open book. Read until first anachronism. Toss."

It is good advice, and not only for historical mysteries.

Most of the authors live and breath their period of history and probably know as much as a professional historian, maybe more as their readership insists on accuracy down to the smallest detail. I think it is far more difficult than writing a contemporary novel.

Kathy Lynn talks about trying to catch a trend in historical interest being tricky due to the time taken for a book to reach the book sellers from inception. Economic trends also play a part as she states "Barrington Court [near Glastonbury and Wells] is filled with furniture made and displayed for sale by Stuart Interiors. These replicas can be touched and signs clearly date each object."

Unfortunately since the book was published the replica furniture has been removed by the receivers as Stuart Interiors ceased trading, yet another victim of the recession.
But this book remains a fascinating and worthwhile read for anyone interested in history and mysteries.


Blogger Dorte H said...

"Here is my standard approach to historical mysteries: Open book. Read until first anachronism. Toss."

This is exactly why I don´t like crimes set in too ancient times - I am unable to judge the quality of the writer´s research :O

Word verification: houroq - what you achieve when you don´t research your period properly!

11:09 AM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I ought to look for this book, since I've written often about what I imagine is the difficulty of writing historical mysteries and about my wariness of the subgenre.

Thanks for this post.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

10:37 PM  

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