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HaBO: Mysteries

Bitchery reader Eva says:

‘ve recently taken to reading to my grandmother who at this time is ill. However she is a bit picky about what books she is interested. I was hoping to find some romantic mysteries set in the 1920’s-1930’s, preferably in England. We’ve already read some Dorothy L. Sayers. If you know of any offhand or could point to website I could hunt down the information I would appreciate it. I’m sorry for making such a broad request.

I hope your grandmother recovers nicely – and that you find some marvelous books to share!



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  1. 1
    Throwmearope says:

    Some of Agatha Christie’s mysteries have a romantic element.  And Georgette Heyer wrote several mysteries, set in the 20’s and 30’s that are very well written romances as well.  Elizabeth Cadell wrote mainly romance, but some of her books were mysteries as well.  (Some of them set later than the 20’, 30’s however.)  Dorothy L. Stevenson had some romances with mystery plots. 

    All of these authors were British.  Hope it helps.

  2. 2
    Amanda Collins says:

    Josephine Tey wrote some lovely English mysteries around the same time as Christie’s heyday. My favorites are Brat Ferrer and Miss Pym Disposes. They aren’t quite as formulaic as some of the other mysteries of the time, but that’s what make them interesting.

    Georgette Heyer also wrote mysteries in the time period you’re looking for, but I didn’t manage to get through the one I tried.

  3. 3
    jenny says:

    Delano Ames’ mysteries with Dagobert and Jane? It has been forever since I read them, but they were wonderful. Maybe not very romantic, but the couple’s relationship is part of the story.
    I noticed that some have been rereleased fairly recently.
    These were also funny.

  4. 4
    Julie says:

    One of my favorite mystery authors who began writing in 1933 and pubished in 1934 was Ngaio Marsh. She was from New Zealand but her Cheif Inspector Allyen of Scotland Yard is all british. The first novel was A Man Lay Dead and the last pubished after her death in 1985 was Light Thickens. Thirty-two novels with Allyen as the main character. I believe somewhere around the fifth or sixth novel he meets an artist named Agatha Troy who he woos and marries. He, unlike other heros, ages along with his family.

  5. 5

    I was thinking of Christie myself; the Tommy and Tuppence books in particular might be a thought.

    Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mysteries are set in the right period—OTOH, I’ve only just run across this series by way of a new short story collection, and Phryne is apparently something of a determinedly single girl (though by no means shy or celibate).

    Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books are a trifle early in period, though Crocodile on the Sandbank, at least, might fit.  It’s been too long since I’ve looked at her Barbara Michaels titles, but one or two of those may be set near the right period as well.

  6. 6
    SusannaG says:

    Maisie Dobbs?  Part is set in 1929, the long background in the period before and during the war.  I believe there are 3 or 4 books in the series currently.

  7. 7
    Saltypepper says:

    The Masie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear is good.  The first one is set just after WWI, with flashbacks to wartime (Masie was a nurse near the front lines). 

    The Beekeeper’s Apprentice imagines that an extremely intelligent very young woman is a neighbor of Sherlock Holmes’ in the countryside after he retires to keep bees.  Adventure ensues.  I did not expect to like this nearly as much as I did.

  8. 8
    mw says:

    For English series, I recommend Margery Allingham’s Campion books. One series that is actually written today with a somewhat more modern sensibility is the Inspector Ian Rutledge series by Charles Todd (actually Caroline and Charles Todd, a mother/son writing team). It’s set immediate post-World War I, which is a bit earlier than most.

    For American series, one of my all-time favorites is the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout. She may also enjoy Ellery Queen.

  9. 9
    Dowsabel says:

    I’ve just read all Georgette Heyer’s detective stories (recently reissued in the UK) and the only one I can’t recommend to your grandmother is Penhallow, which is highly unromantic.  The others are all witty, well-written and frivolous.

    Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver books have also been reissued recently.  None of them are up to the standard set by Dorothy L. Sayers but they are very enjoyable and usually feature a romance as well as a mystery.

    Lastly, Gladys Mitchell’s books may be hard to find but they are hugely entertaining.  She was very prolific and inclined to be patchy but The Rising of the Moon is particularly good, featuring a thirteen year-old narrator and the marvellous Mrs Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, one of the great female sleuths.

  10. 10
    Celia says:

    There are a couple new ones that I really loved.  They aren’t very romance heavy, but good, and i think they’re about the right time period.  Rhys Bowen has two I have read—The Royal Pain and Her Royal Spyness.  Cassandra Chan also has three good ones—modern but with a very 30s feel to them, if that makes sense: The Young Widow, Village Affairs, Trick of the Mind.  Carola Dunn’s daisy dalrymple series, Marion Chesney’s got a series that includes “Snobbery with Violence” (I can’t remember the series name, nor the first in the series)

  11. 11
    SonomaLass says:

    I highly recommend Laurie R. King’s series about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes—the first is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, mentioned by Saltypepper above; that one starts in 1915, but there are eight books in the series now (plus a wonderful, odd cross-over book to Laurie’s contemporary detective, Kate Martinelli of San Francisco).  By the second book you’re in the 1920s, and they are excellent mysteries with a wonderful ongoing romance between Mary and Holmes.

  12. 12
    Marianne McA says:

    I agree with SaltyPepper that the Laurie R King books would be a good match for someone who likes Sayers.
    The other author that springs to mind is Mary Stewart – I know they’re neither set in the 20s and 30s, nor set in England, but they sit on my mental shelf with King and Sayers.
    (Julie, from memory, I’m thinking the book where Alleyn and Troy meet is ‘Artists in Crime’ – does that sound right to you?)
    And what about John Buchan? Again, not exactly romantic mysteries, but I reread his ‘John MacNab’ fairly often as a comfort read: three eminent but very fed-up English gentlemen adopt the persona of a Scottish poacher, and under that guise challenge three landowners that they will be able to poach something successfully from their grounds on a certain date. (Makes sense when you read it.) There is a romance, but it’s almost incidental.

  13. 13
    RfP says:

    Sayers, Christie, Allingham, and Marsh are the most famous of the Golden Age mystery authors.  Google that phrase and you’ll find lists of others in that period.

  14. 14
    jude says:

    Check out the “Stop You’re Killing Me” ( site.  You can search by genre or, if you have an author already, you can do “read-alikes”.  Also searchable by character.  The author lists give all books in series in order.

  15. 15
    evabaruk says:

    Thank you to everyone for all the wonderful suggestions.  I’m sure I can find something that she will enjoy from this list.

  16. 16
    Silver James says:

    My first thought, too, was Mary Stewart. Her books are set “contemporary” in the fifties and sixties when she wrote them. The mystery with a touch of romance is superb. Airs Above Ground, The Moon-spinners, Madam Will You Talk?, Nine Coaches Waiting, The Ivy Tree, and This Rough Magic are all good ones.

  17. 17
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    Second most of Georgette Heyer’s mysteries and the early Tommy and Tuppence series by Agatha Christie.  The latter were also filmed for TV a couple of decades ago and starred the incredibly gorgeous Francesca Annis.

    Another classically British mystery writer was John Dickson Carr, though he was actually from Philadelphia, I believe.  Many of his books have a strong romantic element.  My favorite is The Case of the Constant Suicides, which is set in Scotland during WW2 and is hystericaly funny.

    And Dick Francis’s mysteries set in the world of professional horse racing often have romantic elements, though they’re contemporary rather than period.

  18. 18
    darlynne says:

    Definite second for Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree, which is set in England. All the titles Silver mentioned above are excellent.

    Don’t forget Mary Roberts Rinehart, who wrote from the early 1900’s into the 50’s. Although they are American, I can’t recommend them enough for the mystery and gentile romance. That probably doesn’t make them sound very interesting, but they’re really good and most appropriate for your grandmother. The Circular Staircase, The Wall and Miss Pinkerton are some of the titles.

    Other enthusiastic recommendations:
    Peter Dickinson’s Some Deaths Before Dying
    Robert Goddard’s Hand in Glove and In Pale Battalions

  19. 19
    Cyranetta says:

    Another fairly new series is the Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen, whose heroine is an impoverished royal who finds herself attracted to a rather dodgy character. Rhys Bowen has several other mystery series and is known for deft humor.

  20. 20
    Tina C. says:

    I recently picked up a series by a fairly new author, Suzanne Arruda.  The first two books take place in British-controlled Africa and the most recent is set in Morroco.  The first one, Mark of the Lion.  They’re set in the 1920s, right after World War I, and follow that exploits of Jade del Cameron.  The heroine drove ambulances in the war and is now working as a writer/photographer for a travel magazine.  I thought all three books were very well written, fairly fast-paced, and entertaining.  The romantic element is there, but the main focus is the mystery and I’ve learned all sorts of things about parts of the world that I never knew a lot about.  I’d highly recommend the series to anyone that likes a good adventure-mystery with a kick-ass heroine, set in a time period that isn’t all that common.

  21. 21
    Faellie says:

    I second Dowsabel’s recommendation of Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver mysteries.  The books were written from the late 1920s until the 1950s (they can be read separately and out of sequence).  They tend to be fairly cosy country house mysteries, with a romance in each book (not at all explicit).  Dowsabel is right that they are not of the quality of Dorothy Sayers, but they are actually more notable than they would otherwise be, because Miss Silver is as far as I know the first professional woman detective in a mystery series.  I have pretty much the whole lot on my keeper shelves.

  22. 22
    Jane O says:

    You might try Mignon G. Eberhart. She’s not English, but her books are the right flavor and at least the early ones are the right period.

  23. 23
    Kerry says:

    Barbara Cleaverly has a nifty series that starts out in 1920’s India among the colonials and them moves to England with the protagonist, policeman Joe Sandilands.

  24. 24
    sandra says:

    darlynne:  “gentile romance”?  I hope you meant “genteel”. Spamword groups87:  In a group of 87 gentiles, romance is bound to occur.

  25. 25
    darlynne says:

    Oh, sandra, let me just hang my head in embarrassment for a very long time. Yes, that would have been genteel, if I’d been, you know, paying attention. My face, how it burns. Thank you for letting me know. SBSarah, can you HaBO with some quick editing?

  26. 26
    Mary B. says:

    The aren’t set in England, but the heroines are always English and the time period is right.  I suggest the M.M. Kaye mysteries.  I think there are seven of them.  Death in Zanzibar.  Death in Kenya (etc…)  They all take place in exotic locales but with British players.  The tone is similar to the ones listed and there is always a nice romance for the heroine.

  27. 27
    Dowsabel says:

    Good point, Faellie.  Miss Silver’s professionalism is one of the most interesting aspects of the stories.  Although I don’t think she was the first.  I have a feeling that would have been Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, created by Baroness Orczy in the intervals of writing the Scarlet Pimpernel books.  The stories are out of copyright and available online for anyone who wants to check them out.  They are a bit early to match Eva’s request though, having been published in book form in 1912.

    him22? – much too young for me!

  28. 28
    Linzenberg says:

    This small series isn’t set in England and can be a little hard to find, but K.K. Beck’s Iris Cooper mystery series is an absolute delight.  Narrated by Miss Cooper herself, a plucky co-ed in the late 1920s, all three books (plus some short stories) are light, charming confections.  Beck is fabulous at getting the slang and tone just right.  The romance is PG, but I have such a crush on brash reporter Jack Clancy that it’s not even funny.  Just once, I’d like a man to look at me earnestly and un-ironically say, “Gee, Bergy, you’re swell.” 

    And now I rush off to plunk Death in a Deck Chair on my wishlist.

  29. 29
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    If your Gran doesn’t mind a supernatural element, I recommend PN Elrod’s Vampire Files, featuring journalist turned vampire turned detective Jack Fleming.  They’re set in 1930’s Chicago and perfectly capture the flavor of the period without being at all campy.  There’s a romantic subplot with Jack’s nightclub singer girlfriend Bobbi, but the sex isn’t explicit and the romance never overwhelms the plot.

  30. 30
    Harlequn says:

    Definitely Georgette Heyer’s mystery novels – my favourite is Envious Casca which has a terrific locked-door mystery, is set at Christmas, has an excellent cast of extremely suspicious characters who are mostly at each other’s throats and even a romance for good measure. The dialogue and situations are witty and the characters are all well-drawn and interesting.

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