- Historical whodunnit
whodunnitis a sub-genre of historical fictionwhich bears elements of the classical mystery novel, in which the central plot involves a crime (almost always a murder) and the setting has some historical significance. The "detective" may be a real-life historical figure, eg. Socrates, Jane Austen, Mozart, or an imaginary character.
The first known author to have written anything that might be described as a historical
whodunnitis Melville Davisson Post, whose " Uncle Abner" stories were serialised in American newspapers from 1911 onwards. It was not until 1943 that Lillian de la Torre, an American mystery writer, did something similar with Dr Johnson and Boswell, casting the two famous literary figures into roles similar to Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. In 1944 Agatha Christiepublished " Death Comes as the End", a mystery set in ancient Egypt. In 1950, John Dickson Carrproduced a novel called " The Bride of Newgate", set during the Napoleonic Wars, and this may be called the first full-length historical whodunnit. While Georgette Heyeris generally thought of as the author of regency romancenovels, a number of her books, such as " The Talisman Ring" ( 1936), are actually historical mysteries with a romance subplot.
Such stories remained an oddity, and the current trend for historical whodunnits only really began in the late 1970s with the success of
Ellis Petersand her Brother Cadfaelnovels, set in medieval Shrewsbury. Umberto Eco's " The Name of the Rose" ( 1980) was a one-off that helped popularise the concept. Although authors such as Anne Perrywrote in the genre during the next decade, it wasn't until about 1990 that the genre's popularity saw a fairly quick ascent with works such as Lindsey Davis's Falco novels, set in the Roman Empireof Vespasian; Elizabeth Peters's Amelia Peabody novels, in which the main character is not only a Victorian lady but an early feminist and an archaeologistworking in early 20th century Egypt; Steven Saylor's " Roma Sub Rosa" novels, set in the Roman Republicat the time of Julius Caesar; and P. C. Dohertyvarious series, including "The Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan", "the Hugh Corbett" medieval mysteries, partly indebted to the hardboiledtradition, and "the Canterbury Tales of Mystery and Murder".
* [http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~soon/histfiction/mysteries.html Historical Mystery Bibliography]
* [http://www.crimethrutime.com/timelines/series.htm Timeline for all historical whodunnits]
* [http://histmyst.org/ The Detective and the Toga]
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