19th Century Mysteries in Series

Many writers of mystery fiction have set their books in the 19th century. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books set the standard for the 19th century amateur consulting detective. Many of the titles listed below feature an amateur detective, some of them historical characters. There are also professional detectives and police officials. All of the books listed are series, following a character or characters through several stories. If you need help locating any of these titles, or finding other mysteries set in the 19th century, please ask at the Reference Desk.

  • Barron, Stephanie Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor – The discovery of several boxes of dust-covered family papers sets the stage for Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen series. The mystery is well written, though Barron’s penchant for footnotes becomes a bit tiresome. The story is told through Jane’s letters and diary entries and her observations. Barron tries to capture Austen’s style, sometimes succeeding, and sometimes coming close to parody.
  • Brewer, James D. No Bottom – Luke Williamson is a former Union gunboat pilot, who now is co-owner of a small steamship company on the Mississippi. When one of the two ships in his company goes down under suspicious circumstances, the insurance company sends Masey Baldridge, a former Confederate cavalryman, to investigate. Despite an uneasy initial relationship, Williamson and Baldridge join together to discover the links between a series of steamship sinkings. An interesting look at life on the Mississippi in the Reconstruction period.
  • Brightwell, Emily The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries – Inspector Witherspoon of Scotland Yard has a reputation for being able to solve the most knotty problems that surprises everyone, including himself. In a twist on the less-than-brilliant accomplice theme, Brightwell pairs the rather slow-witted Inspector with his housekeeper, Mrs. Jeffries, who marshals the household staff to point the inspector in the right direction. Not too much period detail, but fun, light reading.
  • DeAndrea, William Written in Fire – After being shot in the back and paralyzed from the waist down, former marshal Lobo Blacke takes up publishing a Wyoming newspaper. He brings Quinn Booker out from New York to assist him. They are drawn into solving a series of murders that seem to revolve around the wealthiest man in town, who is an unsavory character at best. The books give some interesting period details, and are often quite funny. Lobo and Quinn have been compared to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, transplanted from New York to late 19th century Wyoming.
  • Doyle, Arthur Conan The Complete Sherlock Holmes – Sherlock Holmes is the archetype of the amateur consulting detective. Written between 1887 and 1925, the stories provide wonderful atmosphere, and are still a standard against which 19th century mysteries can be judged. For more recent author’s takes on Holmes and Watson, see the library’s reading list Welcome Back Mr. Holmes.
  • Fawcett, Quinn Against the Brotherhood – The first in a series featuring Sherlock Holmes’s older, and equally intelligent, brother Mycroft. Mycroft is ably assisted by his secretary Patterson Guthrie in defeating the Brotherhood, who are trying to subvert legal governments throughout the world. Fawcett manages to capture some of the sense of the Holmes originals, and he does a good job of portraying late 19th century Europe.
  • Hambly, Barbara A Free Man of Color – Hambly ably portrays life in 1830s New Orleans, showing the interactions among all levels of society, especially pointing out the distinctions between white, black and colored, and how New Orleans society is changing with the arrival of increasing numbers of Americans. Benjamin January, a free man of color, teaches music and performs with an ensemble of mixed races. He is also a doctor by training, having studied as a surgeon in Paris, where he lived prior to returning to New Orleans after the death of his wife. He is drawn into solving the mystery of the murder of the colored mistress of a recently deceased plantation owner.
  • Heck, Peter Death on the Mississippi – The world of riverboats is brought to life in this series featuring Mark Twain as the detective. Twain sets out from New York to solve the death of a friend from his days on the river. Heck offers the reader a historically authentic portrait of life on the Mississippi.
  • Jennings, Maureen Except the Dying – Inspector William Murdoch, a widowed Roman Catholic police detective in Toronto, makes his debut in Jennings’s Except the Dying. Murdoch is highly principled, and a dedicated officer who is grieving for the death of his fiancee. A well-written police procedural.
  • McMillan, Ann Dead March – Set in Virginia in 1861, Dead March introduces Narcissa Powers, a recent widow. She is called upon to investigate the untimely death of a brother living in Richmond. With the help of a British journalist and a free black woman who is an herbalist, Narcissa unravels the tangled mystery surrounding the death. Interesting information about the early Civil War period in Virginia as well as 19th  century medicine. The mystery is also well written and holds the reader’s attention.
  • Medawar, Mardi Death at Rainy Mountain – Tay-bodal, a Kiowa healer, arrives at a tribal gathering in 1866 and discovers that he must defend a fellow tribesman against a murder charge in order to preserve peace among the tribal clans. Medawar incorporates some interesting facts about Native Americans around the time of the Civil War, but the mystery story is not as compelling as the setting and characters would lead one to expect.
  • Monfredo, Miriam Seneca Falls Inheritance – Librarian and suffragette Glynis Tryon must take time from helping to organize the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848 to solve a series of murders in Seneca Falls, New York. The details of the period and the women’s rights movement are carefully rendered.
  • Paige, Robin Death at Bishop’s Keep – In this first installment in the Victorian Mystery Series, Paige introduces Kathryn Ardleigh, an American writer of "penny dreadfuls." On a visit to England researching her latest story, Kathryn becomes involved in solving a murder in an archaeological dig, working with gentleman and amateur scientist, Sir Charles Sheridan. The story incorporates much detail of late-Victorian England.
  • Palmer, William The Detective and Mr. Dickens – Ostensibly taken from the journals of the writer and companion of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Palmer’s book "explores the relationship of Dickens and Collins with Inspector William Field of the Metropolitan Protectives of London." Dickens and Collins assist the Inspector in solving a series of murders. The ambience of Victorian London is well-reproduced.
  • Perry, Anne The Face of a Stranger – Perry introduces William Monk, a police detective, who is recovering from a severe case of amnesia. Monk is not only seeking to solve the murder of a Jocelyn Grey, but is also seeking to solve the question of who is William Monk. He is assisted in both by Hester Latterly, a nurse who served with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea. Well-written and tightly paced, Perry does an excellent job of presenting life in Victorian England around the time of the Crimean War.
  • Peters, Elizabeth Crocodile on the Sandbank – Following the death of her father, Amelia Peabody, unmarried at 32 and anticipating no change in that situation, decides to take a tour of Europe and the Middle East. Her interest in archaeology leads her to the ruins of the pharaohs in Egypt, and to a meeting with archaeologist Radcliffe Emerson. Emerson and Peabody are both strong-willed and speak their minds, and their temperaments clash from the start. But they join forces together to solve the mystery of who is trying to drive them from the site, and who is trying to kidnap or kill Amelia’s traveling companion. Interesting period detail and characters make this series exciting reading.
  • Rogow, Roberta The Problem of the Missing Miss – In the mid 1880s, in the seaside resort of Brighton, a young girl disappears from the train station. She was to be meeting a friend of her family, Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, for a visit. A young doctor, on his honeymoon, comes to Dodgson’s assistance. The doctor is an aspiring writer of amateur detective stories, who will be known to the world as the creator of the archetypal consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. Rogow’s series brings together Lewis Carroll and Arthur Conan Doyle to solve the mystery. Rogow does a good job of depicting the details of the late 19th century.
  • Ross, Kate Cut to the Quick – Julian Kestrel is the leading dandy of the 1820s, but appearances can be deceiving, and Kestrel is more than a fast-living member of the upper crust. With the help of his manservant, a former pickpocket, Kestrel is as adept a detective as he is a gambler. Ross has a fine eye for Regency period detail, and the mystery is cleverly presented. Readers who enjoy Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey will find Julian Kestrel a kindred spirit.