Historical Mysteries: When Fact Meets Fiction Meets Murder

Weekly Lizard

We love a great historical mystery. It’s one thing to solve a crime with modern technology at your fingertips, but to catch a serial killer in Elizabethan England—before the term “serial killer” was even invented—that’s exciting. The best historical mysteries blend fact, fiction, and a little bit of mayhem to keep you riveted. And if a famous historical figure makes a cameo—well, that just adds to the fun.

If you’re looking to take a trip back in time, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite . And don’t worry, from Renaissance Italy to the American Civil War, there’s an era here for everyone.

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen L. Carter. What if Lincoln survived the attack at Ford’s Theater? Carter creates an alternate history in which Lincoln must face tumultuous post-war politics and face an impeachment trial. When one of Lincoln’s lead lawyers turns up dead, a young black woman working for Lincoln’s defense team must navigate a web of intrigue, politics, and conspiracy.

The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis. It’s the Italian Renaissance, and a string of gruesome murders have left the residents of Imola, a remote fortress city, gripped by fear. When Pope Alexander orders the courtesan Damiata to Imola to learn the truth behind the murder of his beloved son, she enlists the help of two unlikely figures—Niccolò Machiavelli and the eccentric military engineer Leonardo da Vinci.

Heresy by S. J. Parris. Italian monk Giordano Bruno is a philosopher, magician, and scientist who has taken refuge in London in order to avoid the Spanish Inquisition. When Queen Elizabeth I gets word of his arrival, she hires him to investigate a plot to overthrow her. But when a series of grisly deaths diverts Bruno’s investigation, he must attempt to outwit a killer who appears obsessed with the boundary between truth and heresy.

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. Set in Boston in 1865, here is the story of an elite group of scholars—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and J. T. Fields—who team up with Nicholas Rey, the first black member of the Boston police department, to solve the mystery of a series of murders inspired by scenes in Dante’s Inferno.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal. London, 1940. Maggie Hope graduated at the top of her college class and her remarkable gifts for codebreaking rival even those of the highest men in government–but her gender qualifies her only to be a typist in the prime minister’s office. When she stumbles upon a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Winston Churchill himself.