INDEPENDENT CHOICE: HISTORICAL THRILLERS

Historical crime mysteries must be good fiction with the added pleasures of time travel. In reality of course, the crime of the past was the same dreary catalogue of drunken quarrels and banal nastiness as that of the present - but art has many advantages over fact. However, a convincing historical background is sometimes difficult for a novelist to create because of the reader's preconceptions about the past. I was surprised by unrestrained sexual discussions among young women in Laurie King's A Monstrous Regiment of Women (HarperCollins, pounds 15.99) which is set in 1920, until I read Frances Spalding's biography of Duncan Grant, to find Vanessa Bell writing to Maynard Keynes that in his company "one can talk of fucking and sodomy and sucking and bushes and all without turning a hair". The date of this frank extract from the real world? 1914.

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.

Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Film
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence