Summer is rolling through pretty quickly so I’m finishing up my list of summer reads with two favorite topics combined – here’s a list for the lovers of mystery and those of us who can’t help but enjoy getting lost in a bit of period intrigue. A Sherlockian I am, and a Downton Abbey fan I most certainly am, as anyone who knows me could tell you. So I thought it would be fun to focus on each of them with some recommended reading. I didn’t want to get too carried away and there happened to be one book I came across that rings of both Sherlock’s mystery and Downton Abbey’s strong period detail, so I decided to combine them all into one list, starting with the Sherlockian novels and ending with the Downton Abbey fare. Enjoy and, as always, happy reading!
9 Summer Reading Suggestions for Sherlockians
and Downton Abbey Fans
From a basement office in London’s notorious Bethlehem Hospital, Sebastian Becker investigates wealthy eccentrics whose dubious mental health may render them unable to manage their own affairs. His interview with rich landowner Sir Owain Lancaster, whose sanity has been in question since a disastrous scientific adventure in the Amazon killed his family and colleagues, coincides with the disappearance of two young local girls. When the children are found slain, Lancaster claims that the same dark forces that devastated his family have followed him home. It is not the first time that children have come to harm in his rural countryside town, though few are willing to speak of incidents from the past. Becker must determine whether this mad nobleman is insane and a murderer, or if some even more sinister agency is at work.
Why? London’s teeming undergrounds, a skilled detective, and stylishly crafted thrills; it all rings of a classic Gothic mystery.
London, 1890. 221B Baker St. A fine art dealer named Edmund Carstairs visits Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson to beg for their help. He is being menaced by a strange man in a flat cap – a wanted criminal who seems to have followed him all the way from America. In the days that follow, his home is robbed, his family is threatened. And then the first murder takes place. Almost unwillingly, Holmes and Watson find themselves being drawn ever deeper into an international conspiracy connected to the teeming criminal underworld of Boston, the gaslit streets of London, opium dens and much, much more. And as they dig, they begin to hear the whispered phrase-the House of Silk-a mysterious entity that connects the highest levels of government to the deepest depths of criminality. Holmes begins to fear that he has uncovered a conspiracy that threatens to tear apart the very fabric of society.
Why? The House of Silk was authorized by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate and is penned by the creative mind behind ITV’s celebrated drama series, Foyle’s War.
“Let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.” These ominous words, slashed from the pages of a book of Psalms, are the last threat that the darling of London society, Sir Edward Grey, receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, Sir Edward collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests. Prepared to accept that Edward’s death was due to a longstanding physical infirmity, Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that Sir Edward has been murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers the damning paper for herself, and realizes the truth. Determined to bring her husband’s murderer to justice, Julia engages the enigmatic Brisbane to help her investigate Edward’s demise. Dismissing his warnings that the investigation will be difficult, if not impossible, Julia presses forward, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.
Why? Switching things up with a female lead! I haven’t read this series yet, though I’ve been wanting to for years; I have heard wonderful things about it, though.
Victorian London is a cesspool of crime, and Scotland Yard has only twelve detectives—known as “The Murder Squad”—to investigate countless murders every month. Created after the Metropolitan Police’s spectacular failure to capture Jack the Ripper, The Murder Squad suffers rampant public contempt. They have failed their citizens. But no one can anticipate the brutal murder of one of their own – one of the twelve. When Walter Day, the squad’s newest hire, is assigned the case of the murdered detective, he finds a strange ally in the Yard’s first forensic pathologist, Dr. Bernard Kingsley. Together they track the killer, who clearly is not finished with The Murder Squad…but why?
Why? What’s more Sherlockian than a trip to Scotland Yard and Victorian Era London?
The daughter of a distinguished soldier, Bess Crawford, follows in his footsteps and signs up to go overseas as a nurse during the Great War, helping to deal with the many wounded. There serving on a hospital ship, she makes a promise to a dying young lieutenant to take a message to his brother, Jonathan Graham: “Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for Mother’s sake. But it has to be set right.” Later, when her ship is sunk by a mine and she’s sidelined by a broken arm, Bess returns home to England determined to fulfill her promise. It’s not so easy, however. She travels to the village in Kent where the Grahams live and passes on to Jonathan his brother’s plea. Oddly, neither Jonathan, his mother, nor his younger brother admit to knowing what the message means. Then Bess learns that there’s another brother, incarcerated in a lunatic asylum since the age of 14 when he was accused of brutally murdering a housemaid. Bess rightly guesses that the dying soldier’s last words had something to do with the fourth brother. Because the family seems unwilling to do anything, she decides that she will investigate. It’s her own duty to the dead.
Why? The first in the Bess Crawford series by Charles Todd (a mother-and-son writing team under the pen name of the son). This series garnered a lot of attention from Downton Abbey fans while offering plenty of intrigue for mystery fans.
Summer 1924: On the eve of a glittering society party, by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again. Winter 1999: Grace Bradley, ninety-eight, one-time housemaid of Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet’s suicide. Ghosts awaken and old memories – long consigned to the dark reaches of Grace’s mind – begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge, something history has forgotten but Grace never could. Set as the war-shattered Edwardian summer surrenders to the decadent twenties, The House at Riverton is a thrilling mystery and a compelling love story.
Why? Another novel largely compared to Downton Abbey – I haven’t read this one yet (or any of Kate Morton’s books, for that matter), but I hear it’s absolutely wonderful.
The most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh’s novels, “Brideshead Revisited” looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder’s infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them.
Why? If you’re someone who, like me, enjoys a bit of classic lit in the summer then Brideshead is a great choice. The luxurious lifestyle of the Marchmains calls to mind the situation of the Crawleys in Downton Abbey.
The Forsyte Saga is John Galsworthy’s monumental chronicle of the lives of the moneyed Forsytes, a family whose values are constantly at war with its passions. The story of Soames Forsyte’s marriage to the beautiful and rebellious Irene, and its effects upon the whole Forsyte clan, The Forsyte Saga is a brilliant social satire of the acquisitive sensibilities of a comfort-bound class in its final glory. Galsworthy spares none of his characters, revealing their weaknesses and shortcomings as clearly as he does the tenacity and perseverance that define the strongest members of the Forsyte family.
Why? An undoubtedly hefty choice for a summer read (three novels are presented here), The Forsyte Saga would be a great summer reading challenge that will likely enrapture fans of the layered drama of Downton.
It’s the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is forced to leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlor maid in England. She arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay, where servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn. But war is coming, and the world is changing. When the master of Tyneford’s young son, Kit, returns home, he and Elise strike up an unlikely friendship that will transform Tyneford – and Elise – forever.
Why? Much more focus here on the downstairs portion of the great English estates of the nobility, which gives it another appealing connection to Downton. The era, the setting, and the story’s promise of poignant drama make it the full package!