INDEPENDENT CHOICE: HISTORICAL THRILLERS
Saturday 26 July 1997
It shows the danger of complaining that details are not in period, but the historical murder mystery has to stand up to harsh scrutiny; the reader studies the text for clues to the mystery and for clues to the past, a level of textual attention to which only the most celebrated prose works in the language are normally subjected.
A Monstrous Regiment, set just after the First World War, provokes a further thought: what is the historical past? How far back do we have to go before an era seems "historical"? A Monstrous Regiment reminds us of how close the First World War still is to us; how modern were its people and its effects. This book is in a genre which is normally of rib-nudging coyness, the Sherlock Holmes spin-off, but here the young woman who narrates the story of evangelic fervour and drug addiction is a fitting match for the master. It's a novel which challenges the cliches of history.
At the opposite chronological extreme comes another of Lindsey Davis's series set in ancient Rome, Three Hands in the Fountain (Century, pounds 15.99), where something nasty keeps turning up in the aqueducts, while her cynical detective, Marcus Didius Falco, pounds through the mean tavernae in search of a serial killer who gets his fun outside the circus. Davis is strong on atmosphere, so although only a tiny percentage of her readers will have any idea of whether the details of ancient Rome are accurate, the rest of us are happy to take them on trust, carried along by the rush and fun of her writing.
PC Doherty's The Rose Demon (Headline, pounds 16.99) is one for medieval groupies suffering withdrawal symptoms after the death of Ellis Peters, who created the Brother Cadfael series. Much nastier things happen here, in Doherty's Gothicky tale of something unpleasant at large in 15th-century England. Doherty has a doctorate in medieval history and much academic debate goes on over whether there's any real difference between history and fiction. A working distinction might be that history is something a writer can mug up, but with fiction, if you ain't got it, you ain't got it.
And Carolyn Terry hasn't. My Beautiful Mistress (Little, Brown, pounds 16.99) drowns in a welter of cliches as the caddish murder victim, Vere Cavendish, bores his way through a family of stage-struck sisters. Curiously, the writing comes to life when Terry gets to grips with the Victorian theatre, the "Beautiful Mistress" of the title. I'd like to read a straightforward theatrical history by her: good history beats bad fiction.
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Isis 'jihadi bride' claims forced sex with Yazidi girls is never rape because Koran condones it
- 2 Woman accidentally shoots herself in the head while posing for a selfie
- 3 Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
- 4 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 5 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
Eurovision 2015: Graham Norton returns with another cutting commentary - his best lines
Game of Thrones rape scene criticised as 'disgusting' by US senator Claire McCaskill who says she's 'done' with show
Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
Eurovision 2015 winner: Sweden beats Russia and Italy to take the title from Conchita Wurst
Dheepan, film review: Palme d'Or prize goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland