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.
Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Germanwings crash: Police make 'significant discovery' at home of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz
- 2 Germanwings captain Patrick Sondenheimer tried to break into locked cockpit door 'with an axe' as plane was descending
- 3 Zayn Malik already working on solo material, just days after quitting One Direction
- 4 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 5 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash live: Andreas Guenter Lubitz intentionally crashed flight 9525 into the Alps in act of mass murder and suicide – latest