I had an opportunity not long ago to do a virtual event with two historical mystery writers, Rosemary Simpson and Tessa Arlen. One of the questions that came up was, why do we write historical mystery? What drew us to this genre? Somewhere in each of our answers was the phrase, it’s our favorite genre to read.
What does draw us to historical mystery? For me, there’s a sense of escape. I read to leave the place I currently inhabit and immerse myself in another. It’s a safe escape. If I want to return to the present, all I have to do is put the book down. That can be difficult to do if the story is particularly engrossing, but I have the comfort of knowing I can always go back. I’m completely in control.
While this sense of escape is true with any work of fiction, the special draw of the past is that it provides something familiar yet foreign. Historicals take you to a place that exists. You may know the place well or you may only know about it. But that familiar place is now inhabited by people from a different era. Fascinating people who have different beliefs and social structures, use different technology or none at all, and in the case of my chosen era, so close, (100 years is nothing) yet so different.
I don’t believe the past was a gentler time and since we write crime fiction, our books aren’t either. War, murder, and other horrible events happen on our pages. But our protagonists are always seeking justice, and in our books, they find it. Wrongs are righted. Disasters are averted. The day is saved. Whether mild or gritty, I find historical mystery a comfort read.
2020 has been a rough year and I’ve spent a lot of time writing about Victorian London just to escape. Nothing could make me happier than to think my books have provided some of you with a needed escape from the craziness of this year too.
Happy holidays and best wishes for a better year in 2021!