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Mysteries set in history

BOOKS | Engaging tales that send readers back in time


Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Mysteries set in history
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“The past is a foreign country,” L.P. Hartley famously wrote: “They do things differently there.” Three recent mystery ­novels offer uniquely engaging tales in settings that range from a 16th-century Virginia settlement to a 1970s walk on the moon.

The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare by Kimberly Brock brings a captivating contribution to the mythology of the real life Lost Colony of Roanoke. Alice, a recent World War II widow, and her 13-year-old daughter Penn return to the family’s Savannah home, Evertell, to settle the estate after the death of Alice’s father. Having abandoned Evertell after the tragic death of her mother when she was Penn’s age, Alice is reluctant to face her fractured legacy as a descendant of Eleanor Dare.

Eleanor left England in the 1500s to settle in the New World, bringing with her a commonplace book passed down through 15 generations of Dare descendants—until it was lost. Finding the book and its missing pages holds the key to Eleanor’s fate and what it truly means to be an Evertell heir. Told in dual-time, Brock’s story beautifully captures the emotional struggles of the mother-daughter bond.

In The Cartographer’s Secret, Tea Cooper expertly crafts a fictional ­historical tale weaving in another true unsolved mystery. When Lettie Rawlings’ brother dies in a tragic accident, she drives her Ford Model T to inform the family matriarch—her great-aunt Olivia who lives at the family estate in the Australian backcountry. During her visit, Lettie discovers a handmade map created by her long-lost aunt, Evie Ludgrove, who disappeared 30 years earlier looking for proof of where the real-life Australian explorer Dr. Ludwig Liechhardt met his demise.

Lettie retraces Evie’s steps to solve the mystery of her disappearance. Through the alternating stories of both women, Cooper transports readers to a wild and beautiful time in the history of the Land Down Under.

Fast-forwarding in time and technology, Chris Hadfield’s The Apollo Murders presents an impressive look at the U.S. space program in the early 1970s. Hadfield’s account of a fictional Apollo 18 lunar mission is a page-turner for space and mystery fans alike. Former Navy pilot Kazimieras “Kaz” Zemeckis has been assigned as liaison between the three-man astronaut crew and the NSA when a moonwalk turns into a military operation.

A fatal accident prior to launch may not be what it seems, casting doubt on who can be trusted. Perfectly capturing the ethos of the Cold War era, Hadfield educates readers about the early days of the manned space program. Older readers will enjoy the nostalgic excitement of those days and recognize space pioneers such as Alan Shepard. Filled with intricate but accessible details of astronauts, aircraft, and imagined moon exploration, Apollo offers a long but satisfying read.


Maryrose Delahunty

Maryrose is a WORLD correspondent, a graduate of World Journalism Institute, and a practicing attorney.

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