Eight excellent historical mysteries
Published on: 21 August 2023
Author Eloise Williams recommends eight marvellous mysteries set in the past. Can you solve them?
History, mystery and cups of tea are where it’s at for me when it comes to reading and writing. I like stories that take a walk into the past and root around for the unusual. Tales that have puzzles to solve and interesting clues, or questions to make you think. The kind of story that has you turning the pages way into the night because you just can’t stop.
When I wrote The Curio Collectors, I wanted to create a mystery led by strange and unusual things. What better time to set it than the Victorian era? That period of history seems to be chockful of customs we consider downright odd today, and objects which, though commonplace at the time, can now only be found on antiques programmes or washed up on riverbanks.
Tom, Lily and Ma Hawker live in this Victorian world. They travel about in a tiny caravan and because they are so crammed in together, they spend lots of time outdoors. They search for curious items to make up stories about and sell. These curios lead them into adventures. But what happens when they find a scrimshaw shell with a mystery attached to it? They are pulled into a puzzle involving a foundling with a problem, a suspicious man called Horatio Pinch, Highgate Cemetery at night, the stolen work of a female botanist, and Kew Gardens for a pistol and wheelbarrow showdown. History mixed with mystery can take you to unexpected places!
If you like to walk a mysterious line through the past between the pages of your stories, then these might be perfect for you.
1. The Mermaid in the Millpond by Lucy Strange
Evocative, eerie and everything Strange. Bess works in a harsh cotton mill and wants to escape but is there any truth in the rumours of the vicious creature in the millpond? Find a mixture of myth, friendship, and freedom when you delve into the murky waters of this brilliant tale.
2. Lizzie and Belle Mysteries – Drama and Danger by J.T. Williams
Don your historical costumes and travel to the theatreland of eighteenth-century London. Dangerous, dramatic, suspenseful, twisty, and using characters based on real people. It will keep you thinking long after the curtain falls.
3. Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll
February 1941 and Olive Bradshaw and her little brother Cliff are evacuated to the Devon coast. Secret messages, a coded note, and a mystery to solve create an action-packed and inspiring read. I love everything Emma Carroll writes so it was difficult to choose just one.
4. I, Spy – A Bletchley Park Mystery by Rhian Tracey
A fascinating glimpse into Bletchley Park with this thrilling World War II mystery. Robyn is convinced that there's something sinister going on. Can she uncover the true enemy? I was absolutely gripped by this story and quite simply couldn’t put it down.
5. Alice Éclair, Spy Extraordinare! – A Recipe for Trouble by Sarah Todd-Taylor
I adore Alice Éclair. When I was young, I would have wanted to be her. A courageous spy with excellent codebreaking skills, she’s also a dab hand at baking. What could be more delicious?
6. Rosie Raja – Mission to Cairo by Sufiya Ahmed
Undercover and on a mission to Cairo, who can Rosie trust? Egyptology, spies, traitors, and an exceptional protagonist. This is an enthralling story richly packed with fascinating historical detail. I read it cover to cover without pause.
7. The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr
Welcome to Wales! It’s September 1939 and Jimmy is evacuated from London to a small Welsh village. When he finds a skull hidden in a tree, he sets out to discover its secrets. A touching mystery with loveable characters and a superb sense of place. Wonderful! Bendigedig!
8. Digging for Victory by Cathy Faulkner
Devon, 1941 and Bonnie wants to discover the identity of the mysterious Mr Fisher. Is he a shirker? Or worse, a German spy? A highly inventive verse novel which I found surprising, emotional, and an absolute page-turner.
The Curio Collectors by Eloise Williams and illustrated by Anna Shepeta is out now.
Bookbuzz is a reading programme from BookTrust that aims to help schools inspire a love of reading in 11 to 13-year-olds. Participating schools give their students the opportunity to choose their own book to take home and keep from a list of 17 titles.