10 Enticing Mystery Novels That Will Transport You To America's Past

Solving mysteries was a lot more difficult before the advent of modern forensic technology. In the past, sleuths had to rely on their wits and look closely at what little evidence they had in order to solve the crimes they were faced with. If you're looking for a great read that mixes the intrigue of mystery with the transportive power of historical fiction, check out these ten mystery novels, set in America's bygone days. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Historical Mysteries Set in America: Our 10 Picks

Title Author
1. The Old Buzzard Had It Coming Donis Casey
2. Seven Locks Christine Wade
3. Invitation to a Bonfire Adrienne Celt
4. Cordelia Underwood Van Reid
5. The Angry Woman Suite Lee Fullbright
6. Death on the Prairie Kathleen Ernst
7. See Also Murder Larry D. Sweazy
8. In Wilderness Diane Thomas
9. Murder on the Last Frontier Cathy Pegau
10. Something So Divine J.R. Lindermuth

8 Great Mystery Movies

  1. The White Ribbon (2009)
  2. Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
  3. Chinatown (1974)
  4. Dial M for Murder (1954)
  5. Minority Report (2002)
  6. Sherlock Holmes (2009)
  7. The Game (1997)
  8. Gone Girl (2014)

Why You Should Read Historical Fiction

In Depth

The allure of a good historical mystery is hard to resist. Intrigue and suspense create an exciting atmosphere, and stories set in the past enhance the mood by taking readers not only to a different place, but to a different time. In no particular order, here are ten thrilling books that will bring you into America's bygone eras.

#1 on the list is "The Old Buzzard Had It Coming" by Donis Casey. A murder in pastoral Oklahoma disrupts the lives of two families during the winter of 1912. The victim, Harley Day, was a notorious drunk and abuser. Since he made enemies everywhere he went, everyone in town is a suspect. When the investigation singles out Harley's son and his girlfriend, their families desperately search for other possibilities. Was this a cold-blooded murder or vigilante justice?

At #2 is "Seven Locks" by Christine Wade. A woman whose husband has left her was considered a disgrace in the 1700s, and the main character in this novel is no exception. She is left to care for her farm and children on her own, surrounded by the dense forests of the Hudson Valley and the shame of her situation. However, it soon begins to look like her husband did not abandon her after all. Instead, he may be missing somewhere in the mountains.

Instead, he may be missing somewhere in the mountains.

In the #3 spot is "Invitation to a Bonfire" by Adrienne Celt. The extreme nationalism and paranoia of the Red Scare greets Zoya when she arrives in the United States from the Soviet Union. Ostracized by most of her peers, the expat has only one friend. She becomes obsessed with him, and he uses her loneliness to manipulate her. In her effort to please him, she's willing to do anything he asks. This tale of romance and intrigue in the roaring twenties is full of dark secrets, complicated love triangles, and even murder.

#4 is "Cordelia Underwood" by Van Reid. When her uncle passes away, Cordelia inherits his land on the coast of Maine. Hidden somewhere on the property is a treasure, and she must follow his clues to find it. The practically untouched wilderness and the constraints of Victorian-era transportation make her journey perilous, and dangerous terrain isn't her only problem. Smuggling, kidnapping, and long-buried family secrets are all uncovered in her search for her uncle's fortune.

At #5 is "The Angry Woman Suite" by Lee Fullbright. Repeating the cycle of abuse he experienced as a child in the early 20th century, Francis is now struggling to develop healthy relationships in his adult life. He is targeting his step-daughter with the same destructive behavior he faced growing up. Through the viewpoints of multiple characters, the secrets of the past slowly unfold to reveal extortion, lies, and murder. Will sharing these truths help the family heal, or push them further into madness?

He is targeting his step-daughter with the same destructive behavior he faced growing up.

#6 is "Death on the Prairie" by Kathleen Ernst. When Chloe is given a quilt believed to have once belonged to Laura Ingalls Wilder, her love for the author compels her to research its authenticity. During a tour of Wilder's book sites, multiple people are murdered and Chloe begins to wonder if her quilt's origin could somehow be involved. Midwestern life in the 1980s is vastly different from the classic prairie stories Chloe loves, but she is determined to find the connection between the past and present in order to stop a murderer.

In the #7 spot is "See Also Murder" by Larry D. Sweazy. Life in rural North Dakota in the 1960s provides predictable routines for Marjorie. She tends her farm, cares for her husband, and works as a cataloger to earn extra money. The comfort of these daily patterns is taken away when multiple people are killed in her small town. Eager to help, she decides to investigate a strange amulet that was found in the hand of one of the victims. The peaceful setting of a ranch on the windy plains is idyllic, but isolation has its drawbacks when you're trying to solve a murder.

#8 is "In Wilderness" by Diane Thomas. Deep in the forests of the Appalachian Mountains, Katherine has moved into a small cabin to die in peace. It's the 1960s and doctors cannot identify her illness, giving her only a few months to live. However, in the remote wilderness, living off the land, her health begins to improve. The isolation is restorative for her, but she is not as alone as she thinks. A man has been watching Katherine and is becoming increasingly infatuated with her. He will stop at nothing to keep her in the woods.

A man has been watching Katherine and is becoming increasingly infatuated with her.

Next, at #9, is "Murder on the Last Frontier" by Cathy Pegau. Suffragette and journalist Charlotte Brody defies the conventions of 1919 female standards by moving alone to the Alaskan frontier. It is a far cry from the urban life she is used to, but she's determined to prove that she can thrive in the wilderness. When a local woman is murdered, Charlotte is the only person interested in finding the killer and risks her own safety to investigate the crime.

#10 is "Something So Divine" by J.R. Lindermuth. When a young girl is murdered in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania, the locals blame a man with a disability for the crime. Misconceptions surrounding mental illness are commonplace in 1897, and the investigator is the only one advocating for a fair trial. But the accused man is not cooperating with the investigation, making him appear as guilty as the townspeople claim. He has a secret, but is it his own or someone else's?