Literature Essay

5212 WordsSep 18, 201521 Pages
http://www.historytoday.com/jerome-de-groot/signposts-historical-fiction These were some of the questions raised at a recent conference at the Institute of Historical Research at which History Today Editor, Paul Lay, hosted a discussion between Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall, and the Tudor historian David Loades. Historians often describe themselves as detectives, seeking out a kind of truth among the conflicting evidence of the past. There is, furthermore, a large and growing subgenre of historical crime fiction. From C.J. Sansom to Philip Pullman, from Orhan Pamuk to Walter Mosley, from Ellis Peters to Boris Akunin, novelists have been keen to use the past as a backdrop for their stories of detection and mystery. The most famous historical detective might be Brother William of Baskerville in Umberto Eco’s peerless The Name of the Rose (Il nome della rosa, 1980). Recently we have seen a flowering of historical crime fiction as the subgenre attains maturity and becomes increasingly popular and innovative. Jason Goodwin, Philip Kerr and Susan Hill were all shortlisted for the prestigious Crime Writers Association Dagger this year (recent historical winners include Arianna Franklin, Jake Arnott and Craig Russell). Clearly the combination of thriller, crime and historical detail is compelling. Anne Perry’s new Inspector Pitt novel, Betrayal at Lisson Grove (out in paperback from Headline this year) is a pacy, twisting thriller. It is 1895 and Pitt is up against a conspiracy in the Lisson Grove offices of Special Branch (in best le Carré tradition investigating the enemy within is more hazardous than looking outwards). The novel outlines a huge conspiracy and ranges from St Malo to Dublin. While it is often too lightly written and some of the relationships are awkwardly handled, the novel is compelling and narratively satisfying. Perry’s series of Victorian

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