Historical Mysteries II

reading

The journal of Mystery Readers International, which includes essays on various authors’ response to a theme, compiled by Janet Rudolph, are consistent interesting and insightful. I reviewed part 1 of a pair of issues on historical mysteries a few months ago. The second one was released not long ago. The writers represent multiple points of view and provide lots to think about for other writers as well as readers looking to discover new authors they may like.

In that last category, I’m itching to read some of the work of Joe Gores after Catherine Accardi’s tempting essay in the summer 2021 issue. Similarly, David Clark opens the door on a fascinating period when he discusses Michael Russell’s Stefan Gillespie novels set in the nascent nation of Ireland in the 1930s and 40s, when the politics were rough and convoluted.

One of the benefits a well written historical novel can bestow is to bring the murky events and people of past decades into sharp relief enabling readers to see their choices and, one hopes, learn from them (without getting preached at!). As Harald Gilbers writes in the current issue, “The fact that a society with a high cultural level can descend into barbarism is a warning example and I think it is important to tell people how this could happen.” Similarly, Rebecca Cantrell writes about her World War II novels, “People always ask me how ordinary Germans could have allowed this to happen. How democracy could have been so fragile. How hatred and violence could have triumphed over truth and reason. How a civilized country could run to its own destruction.” Good questions worth thinking about. Then the kicker: “No one asks me that now.”

In “Should I tinker with the facts?” Jim Fusilli describes the tension between absolute accuracy and storytelling, when in one of his novels, reversing the timing of two events would enable a stronger narrative. “But doing so would make the story seem less real to me, making it more a work of speculative fiction.” When he wrote this, he was still deciding how to handle this dilemma. Gilbers, by contrast, has made his choice. “I am not allowed to change history for the sake of my narrative.” He see his challenge as recreating a world for his characters that nearly exactly matches what people at the time faced .

What these diverse authors and their stories have in common, is something all historical mystery writers face. As Clare Whitfield put it so well, “The events might be far away, but the people are much closer than you think.”

2 thoughts on “Historical Mysteries II

  1. I read a book that Joe Gorres wrote way back in the 60’s called Hammett. It was a fictionalized telling about Dashiell Hammett and was not at all accurate. Hammett’s granddaughter was critical of the novel, as I recall. She and Gores reached an accord, however, and he subsequently wrote a prequel to The Maltese Falcon titled, Spade and Archer. I also read that one and found it pretty entertaining. Gorres slyly included a depiction of the Flitcraft scene from the original novel. He also ends with the opening of The Maltese Falcon. Writing historicals can be tricky. I’d agree that you shouldn’t tamper with actual historical facts for the sake of developing your narrative. Incidentally, my latest historical is a western set in the 1880’s. Gunslinger: Killer’s Requiem is on sale now under my A. W. Hart bylilne.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.