Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

2 Recent Historical Mystery Series Starters

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Jamie Canaves

Contributing Editor

Jamie Canavés is the Tailored Book Recommendations coordinator and Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter writer–in case you’re wondering what you do with a Liberal Arts degree. She’s never met a beach she didn’t like, always says yes to dessert, loves ‘80s nostalgia, all forms of entertainment, and can hold a conversation using only gifs. You can definitely talk books with her on Litsy and Goodreads. Depending on social media’s stability maybe also Twitter and Bluesky.

This list of historical mystery books was originally published in our mystery/thriller newsletter, Unusual Suspects. Sign up for it here to get mystery/thriller news, reviews, deals, and more!

Hello mystery fans! I have two different historical mystery series starters, both of which I am looking forward to continuing. While completely different in so many ways, both novels have a noir or noir-ish feel, leads this genre has historically not centered, and are set in New York pre-1950s.

Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia cover

Dead Dead Girls (Harlem Renaissance Mystery #1) by Nekesa Afia

If you’re about to skip over this one because you don’t read, or aren’t in the mood, for cozy mysteries (which the cover may make you think it is), come back this is not a cozy! 

Set during the Harlem Renaissance, Louise Lloyd has never been able to avoid the spotlight after escaping a kidnapper as a teenager, and setting free the other girls in the process. The press has remembered her, as has the Harlem community. When she’s arrested for assaulting an officer, this comes in handy for the police who recognize her and want to use her. There’s a serial killer, killing young Black girls, and the detective in charge thinks a young Black woman like Louise will make it easier to get people to help with the investigation, rather than white cops asking questions. She doesn’t want to but is backed into a corner, so she goes out asking questions, putting herself in danger…

Louise is a great character who, after being kidnapped as a teen, being forced to raise her younger siblings, and being thrown out by her father, wears no rose colored glasses when viewing the world. What she does love is dancing with her girlfriend and friend until the morning hours at a speakeasy, with zero intention of marrying or doing any of the things expected of women. 

If you’re looking for a historical mystery, set during the exciting Harlem Renaissance, with a bit of a noir feeling to it, pick up this book. I’m excited that it’s a series starter and look forward to more of Louise and the time period.

(TW attempted rape; kidnapping; homophobia; racism)

cover image of Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

Fortune Favors the Dead (Pentecost and Parker #1) by Stephen Spotswood

The characters in this story, with nods to Sherlock and Watson, bring a delightful and fun feel to this mystery. Set in 1940s New York, the most famous woman PI in the country, Lillian Pentecost, has multiple sclerosis and needs help with mundane tasks related to her job so she can continue to focus on the important things. So she offers the job to Willowjean “Will” Parker, who ran away from home and has been working with the circus.

Will narrates the story, bringing us in to see how she met Pentecost and now recounting a major case they took on: after the patriarch of a family died by suicide, the matriarch was found murdered in a locked room on fire. The murder remains unsolved and so the children, twins, and their godfather hire the detective to find out who murdered their mother, as society is now gossiping that it must have been the ghost of their father. Toss in family drama, business drama and political contracts, secrets, dating, and a spiritual advisor, and you have a twisty mystery filled with danger.

My favorite part is the voices of Will and Pentecost, complete opposites who bump heads in a loving way. Will has a quick dark humor as she navigates life and her new career, and Pentecost is cranky, smart, and resourceful while navigating life with a slowly progressing, but progressing nonetheless, disease.

(TW recent past suicide, detail; mentions of past child abuse and domestic abuse, not graphic; homophobia)