07 January 2007

Book Review: The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunits (Anthology)

The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunits Yes, I know, the image to the left says MORE historical whodunits. But I checked the online table of contents and it exactly matches the one in the book. I was puzzled too, until I realised I was linking to the American Amazon but reading the English edition.

The stories in the book puzzled me as well, but in the best possible way. Admittedly I wasn’t really trying, but I only picked the culprit in one and even then I didn’t spot the motive. While most of them do involve murder, there are a few other types of mystery as well, and they aren’t all necessarily crimes. The tales are arranged in chronological order, from the end of Republican Rome to the reign of James I, and include such leaps of imagination as a murder on Columbus’s ship, a Ripper-esque Elizabethan psychopath, and Macbeth as Shakespeare never imagined it - or did he?

From bloodless to gory, from sombre to comic, all the contributions are thoroughly enjoyable.

I had just one complaint about this book. Of the twenty-two stories, only three featured women, and one of those was merely a mediaeval Watson. An abundance of male detectives is perhaps understandable, given the stories’ settings ranged from ancient to Jacobean, but I’m sure there are plenty of authors out there clever enough to pull it off.

It could have an advantage, though, because it’s inspired me to try it myself . . . or it could just produce endless frustration!

Favourite story: Marilyn Todd’s A Taste for Burning

Rating: B

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776