Baby, Baby, Baby, You're Outta Time:
Retro (Historical) Eyes

What makes an historical eye "historical"?

The late (and much missed) Sue Feder, founder of the The Historical Mystery Appreciation Society and editor of Magical Mystery Tour, cheerfully used a rather loosey goosey definition of historical, rather than a cutoff date or specific number of years. In a short essay on this very topic, she concluded that:

(I have some) discomfort with a 1983 book about 1978 being historical. But perhaps...the perception of a sense of "different-ness" (is enough)... Perhaps I may have to concede that a certain percentage of my life has slipped over that line between past and history -- what other conclusion can I reach when, after a recent viewing of the Woodstock movie of a scant 20 years ago, I think, "How quaint -- how innocent we were then."

I'm not convinced, after all, that there is a more definitive answer -- I'm not sure one can pick a number and say this is the "line of demarcation." I do think that the recognition of an entire generation of legal adults who were not yet born when my well-remembered younger days were The Present serves to put the passage of time in perspective.

Perhaps the answer is that, if one can say from the vantage point of when the book was written about the events in the book, " 'Those sure were different times' -- it is history."

From a practical point of view, one would think this would be at least one full generation -- 25 years, making it the effective "cutoff," if you will, the mid-70s. Lots of P.I.-wiggle room there, I think!

That sounds good enough for me. so here, without further ado, is my first stab at a list of historical eyes. Be patient, and feel free to join in at any time...



  • 1st Century A.D.
  • Marcus Didius Falco by Lindsey Davis (Rome, circa 70 AD)
  • Flavia Albia by Lindsey Davis (Rome, circa 100 AD)

  • 14th Century A.D.
  • Crispin Guest by Jeri Westerson (London, circa 1380)

  • 19th Century A.D.
  • William Monk by Anne Perry (1850's London)

  • 1870-1880 A.D.
  • Masey Baldridge & Luke Williamson by James D. Brewer
  • Harp by J.D. Christilain (1870's New York)
  • Maggie Maguire by Kate Bryan (1875 San Francisco)

  • 1890-1900 A.D.
  • Oscar Schiller by Douglas C. Jones (late 1800's Arkansas)

  • 1900-1910 A.D.
  • Fremont Jones by Dianne Day (early 1900's, U.S.)
  • Molly Murphy by Rhys Bowen (early 1900s, New York City)
  • Valentin St. Cyr by David Fulmer (Storyville, New Orleans, turn of the century)

  • 1910-1920 A.D.
  • Sam Klein by Allan Levine (1911-20, Winnipeg, Canada)
  • Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (WWI-era England)

  • 1920-1930 A.D.
  • Philip Beaumont and Jane Tanner by Walter Satterthwait (1920's Pinkerton ops, U.S., Europe)

  • 1930-1940 A.D.
  • J.J. "Jake" Gittes by Robert Towne (1930's Los Angeles)
  • Bernie Gunther by Philip Kerr (1938-1947, Berlin, Vienna, South America)
  • Nate Heller by Max Allan Collins (1930-70's, Chicago, etc.)
  • Jack LeVine by Andrew Bergman (1940-s-50's New York, Hollywood)
  • Toby Peters by Stuart Kaminsky (1940's, Hollywood)
  • Easy Rawlins by Walter Mosley (1945-present, Los Angeles)
  • Lucien Caye by O'Neil De Noux (post-WWII Louisiana)

And here are some write-in votes by some helpful historical mystery fans (and their comments):

  • Bronwen Llyr by Miriam Grace Monfredo
    A female Pinkerton op.

  • Captain Nash by Ragan Butler (1770's, England)
    Arguably England's first private detective in Captain Nash and the Honour of England (1975) and Captain Nash and the Wroth Inheritance (1977).

  • Benjamin Weaver by David Liss (early 18th century London)
    Appearred in A Conspiracy of Papers.

  • Lord Meren by Lynda Robinson
    I guess he's more directly part of the pharaoh's government , but most of Falco's cases come from on high, however independent he is. Open this door, though, and you have to check Robb's Owen Archer and C.L. Grace's soldier-investigator.

  • Sister Fidelma by Peter Tremayne
    A case could be made. She is in fact a trained investigator, though her "employment" seems to be thrust upon her either because she's the king's sister and is given an assignment or because it's her duty to investigate when she stumbles over a body exactly because she is an authorized (licensed?) investigator. I can't remember that she gets paid, though.

  • Kyra Keaton by Teona Tone
    A 1899 female sleuth runs her own detective agency (two mid-1980s books), and Marian J.A. Jackson's young woman wants to be the first female investigator in the series opener. Though she's dissuaded by Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain encourages her. I think she actually gets some high society cases, but memory fails.

  • Masey Baldridge by James D. Brewer
    In this post-Civil War series, alcoholic insurance-claim investigator (and Southerner) Masey Baldridge teams up with Yankee riverboat captain Luke Williamson to eventually form a detective agency.

  • Sigismondo by Elizabeth Eyre
    An Italian Renaissance mercenary in the series.

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