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September Picks from Sisters in Crime: Historical Fiction

By Shari Randall

Ready to travel through time?

September’s tales of suspense, intrigue, and mystery from Sisters in Crime will take you to the past – from the smoldering embers of the Great Chicago Fire to Imperial China, from the campus of one of the first women’s colleges to post-war Virginia. Each story is both a journey into the past and into the darkest reaches of the human heart.

I’ve asked each author to tell us a bit about their book. Enjoy!

Angels at the Gate

by T.K. Thorne

Angels at the Gate is the story of Adira, destined to become Lot’s wife, the woman who “turned into a pillar of salt.” A daughter of Abram’s tribe, Adira is an impetuous young girl whose mother died in childbirth. Secretly raised as a boy in her father’s caravan and schooled in languages and the art of negotiation, Adira rejects the looming changes of womanhood that threaten her nomadic life and independence.

Themes about feminism, the roles of women, and the conflict between conformity, family pressures, and individuality in ancient times mirror modern conflicts. – T.K. Thorne

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Visit the Author's Website.

Asylum

by Kathryn Orzech

In 1899 twelve-year-old Maggie Delito, daughter of a wealthy Northeast industrialist, unwittingly witnesses a shocking scandal, is dragged from the family estate, and locked in an asylum to ensure her silence. Seventy-five years later, a strange old woman, cryptic messages, and a rare antique key unlock secrets from the past. Greed, corruption and betrayal—all the intrigues of the Gilded Age gone wrong in a modern Gothic thriller.

Asylum is set in 1899 and the mid-1970s when the rise and fall of manufacturing, changing mores and folkways, and struggles for equal rights provoked discussion of social issues that remain relevant today. – Kathryn Orzech

Click for a Discussion Guide.

Visit the Author's Website.

Charity's Burden

by Edith Maxwell

The winter of 1889 is harsh in Amesbury, Massachusetts, but it doesn't stop Quaker midwife Rose Carroll from making the rounds to her pregnant and postpartum mothers. When Charity Skells dies from an apparent early miscarriage, the symptoms don't match the diagnosis. Charity's husband may be up to no good with a young woman whose mother appears to offer illegal abortions. A disgraced physician in town does the same and Charity's cousin seems to have a nefarious agenda. Rose and police detective Kevin Donovan race against time to solve the case before another innocent life is taken.

Readers have much to discuss: women's access to contraception and abortion was as hot a topic in 1889 as it is today. Universal themes of betrayal and greed also run through this book. – Edith Maxwell

Discussion Questions

Visit the Author's Website.

Dangerous and Unseemly

by K.B. Owen

It is 1896, and college professor Concordia Wells has her hands full, teaching classes, acting as live-in chaperone to a cottage of lively female students, and directing the student play, Macbeth.
But dark deeds are not confined to the stage--the women’s college is beset by malicious pranks, arson, money troubles, and an apparent suicide. With her beloved school facing certain ruin, Concordia knows that she must act.

Library Journal's review describes it best: "Concordia Wells will delight fans of Laurie R. King's Mary Russell or Charles Todd's Bess Crawford series, and similarly to those works, the book contains many subplots just as compelling as the primary mystery. A fun historical whodunit with a delightful background of the early days of women's collegiate education." – K.B. Owen

Discussion Questions

Visit the Author's Website.

Deadly Relations, A Ming Dynasty Mystery

by P.A. De Voe

As Hong Shu-chang struggles to move out of poverty through the Chinese government’s merit system of examinations, his father and uncle are murdered. Facing destitution, yet determined to find their killers, Shu-chang takes a position as teacher in a nearby town’s clan school. There he meets Xiang-hua, his fascinating and enigmatic cousin. Before Shu-chang has a chance to complete his own mission to find the murderers, a burned-out warehouse and two more mysterious deaths demand his attention. He teams up with Xiang-hua, local women’s doctor, and together they delve into the dark side of the town and its families, endangering both their reputations and lives.

Deadly Relations opens a window into the relatively unknown imperial China of the late 14th century—where the role of meritocracy, gender divisions, family networks, and filial piety are interwoven to create a dynamic plot and fascinatingly diverse characters—which in giving a view of the past, also offers a better understanding of today’s China. – P. A. De Voe

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Visit the Authors's Website.

Dodging and Burning

by John Copenhaver

A lurid crime scene photo of a beautiful woman arrives on mystery writer Bunny Prescott's doorstep with no return address―and it's not the first time she's seen it. The reemergence of the photo, taken fifty-five years earlier, sets her on a journey to reconstruct the vicious summer that changed her life.
Inspired by the turmoil abroad and nationalistic unity at home that encapsulated post-World War II America, Dodging and Burning sheds light on the lives of those who were largely overlooked during this historically over-documented era: the LGBT community. It’s at once a thrilling mystery that pays homage to the pulp noir of the past; a heartfelt coming-of-age story; and an enticing forbidden wartime romance, all told from the perspective of two young women growing up in rural Virginia. – John Copenhaver

Click for a Discussion Guide.

Visit the Author's Website.

Murder by Misrule

by Anna Castle

Francis Bacon must catch a murderer to regain Queen Elizabeth’s favor. He recruits dashing Thomas Clarady to chase witnesses from Whitehall to the London streets, where everyone has something up his pinked and padded sleeve. “Will delight fans of the genre,” Kirkus said in a starred review.

This book engages real historical figures in an imagined murder investigation. The historical setting is rich and well-researched, but it might contradict some misconceptions. All the characters have big dreams, so there's a lot to discuss. Do these characters seem plausible in this time and place? Are their dreams attainable? Did the plot "play fair?" How would you like to live in the Elizabethan period? – Anna Castle

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Visit the Author's Website.

Shall We Not Revenge

by M. Pirrone

In the harsh early winter of 1872, while Chicago still smolders from the Great Fire, Irish Catholic detective Frank Hanley catches the case of a murdered Orthodox Jewish rabbi. When the rabbi's headstrong daughter Rivka unexpectedly offers to help find her father's killer, Hanley receives much more than the break he was looking for. Their pursuit of the truth draws Rivka and Hanley closer together as they uncover political corruption, crooked cops, and well-buried ties to a notorious Irish gangster from Hanley's checkered past, whose criminal scheme Hanley must expose—for his own sake, and for Rivka’s as well.

Shall We Not Revenge tackles themes of innocence and guilt, justice versus vengeance, and bridging gaps between different worlds, against a backdrop of crime, corruption, and the unsinkable spirit of a rough-and-tumble city determined to rise again. – D. M. Pirrone

Click for a Discussion Guide.

Visit the Author's Website.

Traitor’s Codex

by Jeri Westerson

Crispin is caught in a deadly conspiracy within the Church to suppress what they consider a dangerous relic from falling into the hands of the reformist Lollards. But murder and betrayal are the coin of the realm amid the turmoil stirred up by a mysterious nemesis. Crispin struggles to find a killer and might have to bring a painful truth to light while avoiding falling into the lethal hands of a shadow organization within the Church. Not only is Traitor’s Codex historical fiction--touching on religious themes and clashes within the Church-- dealing with the realities and people of late medieval England, but it is also a mystery, where a clever detective must get himself out of fixes while protecting the ones he loves. – Jeri Westerson

Click for a Discussion Guide.

Visit the Author's Website.

War, Spies, and Bobby Sox

by Libby Fischer Hellmann

War, Spies, and Bobby Sox is a collection of three novellas about World War Two at home. Each story features women who are faced with Hobbesian choices and actions they would never have faced in peacetime. They include a German refugee who is forced to spy on the early years of the Manhattan project; a farm girl locked in a love triangle with German POWs; and an actress who infiltrates the German Bund.

The stories dispel the myths about cheerful "Rosie the Riveters" in factories and shops. Instead, they raise questions about women's roles off the battlefields and how their actions helped or hurt the war effort. It won the 2017 Silver IPPY in the War/Military category. – Libby Fischer Hellman

Visit the Author's Website.

Shari Randall is the Agatha Award winning author of the Lobster Shack Mystery series from St. Martin’s Press. Her latest book is DRAWN AND BUTTERED.

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