One of my deficits as a reader of literary and crime fiction is that I am unable to read books set very far in the past. It seems too much of the text is taken up with the presentation of arcane material on how people lived in that time.
As a former history major, I am embarrassed at this failing.
Is there a series or even a single book that does this job very well, balancing crime and a evocation of the time period? I would like to read something different this summer and maybe this is the time for historical fiction. I am talking about a book set before 1900 and probably even earlier. Thanks.

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Tasha Alexander's' AND ONLY TO DECEIVE. Great story, great job of weaving period details in with the mystery. Her second book A POISONED SEASON is just out. I don't have it yet, but expect to pick it up this weekend at the Southern Kentucky Book Festival.

And of course for Medieval mystery, it's hard to beat Brother Cadfael.

I know what you mean, though. Much as I've tried to like Linsdey Davis's Falco books, and as fascinating as I find their evocation of life during the Roman Empire, I end up putting them down unfinished because the plot just bogs down.
My favourites are:
Lindsey Davis' Marcus Didius Falco (PI) series - set in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian. Light (but not fluffy) and quite humourous.
David Wishart's - Marcus Corvinus - set in Rome (and the Roman Empire during the latter part of Tiberius' reign). Again, funny in a dry way.
Molly Brown's INVITATION TO A FUNERAL - wonderful book and sadly not a series - set in Restoration England and featuring Aphra Behn. Excellent story, very witty, and a great cameo appearance by the Earl of Rochester (played so wonderfully in film by Johnny Depp).
Fidelis Morgan's Countess Ashby de la Zouche series - also set in Restoration London. Ribald, bawdy and funny.
Simon Levack's Aztec series - wonderful historical detail, great stories and, again, witty and interesting. Featuring a slave called Yaotl during Montezuma's reign.
It is possible to set a book in the past and make it real by bringing in casual references.
And the problem exists equally for me with literary fiction. The plot there gets just as bogged down with information about serving dishes and practices of the time. A good plot should exist outside of time constraints, but it doesn't usually for some reason.
What about the Historian ... I thought it was very well done and interesting at the same time.
None of these books really fall into the definition of "crime fiction," but they include stories of crimes.

I enjoy creative nonfiction from time to time, and can recommend THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN: A TALE OF MURDER, INSANITY, AND THE MAKING OF THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY and THE MASSACRE AT SAND CREEK by Bruce Cutler. Both authors use narrative well in building a platform for their research. A while back, I had also picked up a biography, TYPHOID MARY, but was a bit disappointed. I think there's much that can still be written about the woman who was accused of spreading typhoid (and I don't mean the comic book character).

One of my favorite Japanese writers is Natsume Soseki (circa early 1900s) and although he wasn't a crime writer, he wrote about the lonely condition of the human heart. KOKORO is his masterpiece, although some western readers may not get his pacing.
I forgot to mention that I really love Dianne Day's Fremont Jones series. It's definitely more of a cozy with lots of juicy stuff about San Francisco history in the early 1900s. If you try her, definitely start with the first, THE STRANGE FILES OF FREMONT JONES.
Naomi, I was naturally enough attracted to this topic and came to post about someone else (see below), but it's a pleasant surprise to see your mention of Fremont Jones here.
Try Laurie King's series of books about Sherlock Holmes' Jewish wife. King does an excellent unobtrusive job of creating the time of the story, but it doesn't get in the way of the suspense. My only quibble is that in one book the heroine is shot in the shoulder and soon recovers. Anyone shot in the shoulder is likely to foreverlose the use of that arm, if they don't bleed todeath outright.
IJ Parker's Akitada series set in 10th century Japan. Will Thomas's Cyrus barker series set in Victorian England. These are two series that spring to mind. I try not to miss new entires to either series.
Oh, and John Maddox Roberts's SPQR series set in ancient Rome. That is an excellent series.
Thanks, Steven. That is very generous. And I'm very much a fan of yours also. It's one of the most memorable police procedurals for local color and characters.

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