We love historical mystery stories and are thrilled when we find some which feature females who solve crimes. Reading them provides light hearted ways to learn things about the past through the eyes of active, inquisitive female characters.
But, Why would anyone want to read an historical novel - or assign it to students?
Most historical mystery writers seemed to have always been drawn toward both mysteries and specific historical periods. In delving into the extensive research needed for their tale, they can become quite expert in their chosen period.
Those who have used crime stories as teaching tools, also point to the book's proven ability to intrigue students. William Edwards, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of San Francisco, writes, From the outset, the genre constructs a world whereby the ordinary routes of life are disrupted. Something happens that forces us to ask questions about society and the actions of its members....and invites students to probe many of these kinds of questions as the narrative unfolds. (Bouchercon newsletter 36, 2005)
Why have women protagonists? Some writers feature female sleuths as a conscious way to revise stereotypes about women. They bring attention to the fact that there always have been strong women in the past. They have strong, interesting historically verified models to draw upon, even if such women were not the norm.
If women in a particular period lived within restricted roles, writers claim that it turns out to good for the plot. The female character who is especially challenged in society has something to work against. We often find that many of the female characters weve reviewed in surprising ways have access to a variety of life styles and can pass between social classes at will.
Our reviews: Weve selected a wide variety of stories from diverse historical periods. You will note that certain periods and regions of the world loom large; regrettably mystery stories written in English thus far are limited in their geographic scope and topic.
Our reviews note the books historical themes and events, with particular reference to womens lives. We are very critical of those books which in our opinion look back and dress up women in modern clothes and speech. With good research and imagination, a book can ensure that things are presented realistically for their time, while keeping a balance between creating the ambience of the past and the abilities of modern audiences to understand and engage in the narrative. We also bring attention to books which provide an introduction or epilogue containing historic background, and which include a bibliography citing some of the resources used. And, we only review one book in the series, usually the first.
Remember these are fictional accounts. If your curiosity is piqued, see if any of our curriculum units, the books we have reviewed, or our Web links can help you find a way to judge the storys historical accuracy.
Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
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Women in World History Curriculum