The best new historical fiction

  • 3 min read
  • Dec 17, 2022

The best new historical fiction

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The Jim Crow South, the Golden Age of Hollywood and WWII-era Britain are among the destinations we travel to in some of the best historical novels of 2022.

“Miss Del Rio” By Barbara Mujica

Hollywood’s Golden Age shines brightly in this beautiful biographical novel that brings to life Mexican-born Dolores del Rio, the silver screen’s first Latina superstar. In the 1920s, Del Rio was voted the most beautiful woman in the world, but her acting talent was not fully recognized because “foreigners” were viewed with suspicion in xenophobic America. When talkies became popular, few actors who spoke English with an accent expected to succeed in Hollywood. He eventually left California and returned to Mexico, where he thrived during its golden age of cinema and was able to make the serious films he had always dreamed of. Mujica, who has also written novels about Frida Kahlo and Saint Teresa of Avila, offers a fascinating portrait of the stunning Del Rio. The inclusion of other celebrities in Del Rio’s circle, including Greta Garbo, Ramon Novarro, and Kahlo, adds to the novel’s appeal.

“Wherever you run,” by Wanda M. Mauritius

The Jim Crow South is the poignant backdrop to this thriller, which in its opening pages stares us at the freshly dug graves of three civil rights workers murdered in Neshoba County, Miss., in 1964. Described scenes in Morris’s second novel, which focuses more on Violet and Marigold Richards, young sisters struggling with racism, sexism, and poverty during an explosive period in American history. After killing the man who raped her, Violet escapes. Marigold marries an abusive man, then leaves. Danger follows them as one of them can prove who killed the Freedom Riders. Morris’s novel is a master class in reminiscing about a time period that still resonates.

“Golden Mountain” By Keith Manning

Manning’s prose is so evocative that your fingers might freeze as you read his depiction of the brutal winters in the fictional Moonstone, Colo., where miners, mostly immigrants, work a marble quarry in the early 1900s. They do and die. Working conditions are terrible, and just like today, workers who fight to form unions are opposed by the rich and privileged. The rising star in this tale of haves and have-nots is Sylo Pelletier, a miner’s daughter whose ambitions are as big as the western sky. As a teenager, he wakes up to the injustices of the world and soon reads WEB Du Bois and Booker T. Washington and fights for workers’ rights alongside mother Jones, a labor activist. The social issues of the novel’s time period, including the wealth gap, women’s rights, and freedom of the press, artfully reflect the issues of 21st century America.

“Devil’s Flame: Sherlock Holmes 1943” By Robert J. Harris

The most famous fictional detective of the Victorian era jumps to World War II Britain as the irrepressible Sherlock Holmes in Harris’s second novel. In this delightful story, Holmes and John Watson must determine how and why four government officials died of self-immolation. Could this be a new terror weapon developed by the Nazis, or is something else afoot? Harris writes as if possessed by the ghost of Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle. Die-hard fans will enjoy the iconography, as Harris brings to life Holmes’ arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty and sets up a final showdown at Reichenbach Falls, one of the most infamous locations in the Holmesian canon.

“Nurse Lindbergh” By Maria Frederick

The kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. in 1932 became known as the crime of the century, and in his tense portrayal of the horrific event, Fredrick focused on one of the suspects, the Scottish toddler nurse Betty Gow. Bruno Hauptmann was sentenced to death in the kidnapping and death of Baby Lindbergh, but the police always believed, but never proved, that someone in the Lindbergh family was also involved. “Nurse Lindbergh” is told from the cow’s point of view as she tries to discover the traitor in the house. As Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the baby’s parents, are painted with enigmatic brushstrokes, this gripping novel focuses more on Go’s heartbreak at the loss of his beloved Charlie.

Carol Mammoth is a writer in Austin.

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