Tuesday, March 17, 2015

HISTORICAL CRIME FICTION

I have read a few historical crime fiction but can recall only the books of C.J.Sansom at present. He has written a fictional series set in 16th century England ruled by Henry the 8th. The main protagonist is a hunch backed lawyer Matthew Shardlake  and there are 6 books in the series.

Dissolution 2003
Dark fire 2004
Sovereign 2006
Revelation 2008
Heartstone 2010
Lamentation 2014


I have read and loved each of these books! Hats off to this writer ! The characters are so believable. I learnt a lot about life in those days i.e. the life of ordinary people and royalty.

Since childhood, I have always wondered about life in ancient times, in India and all over the world. But the absolutely shallow social studies texts I had in school, which only focussed on names of kings, dates of deaths of kings and  dates of wars, with zero information about anything else, left me dissatisfied & ignorant. I also had a terrible memory and barely scraped through the tests! If the history lessons had some depth of information, I am sure I would have enjoyed and learnt and remembered a lot more ! The  DRY, B-O-R-I-N-G texts never gave any information about how people lived in those days, the prevalent economic system, agricultural practices, etc.  I am referring to the social studies text books  published or prescribed by the Karnataka State Government in the years 1971 to 1980. I also think that the kids who had access to Amar Chitra Katha comics probably scored more  in social studies tests than the ones who had only boring texts,  boring teachers and boring notes to rely on!
I had several questions in childhood and  I never got answers until decades later when the  internet came to India. My questions were also answered when  I  borrowed history books by British authors from the  Toronto public library.  (I learnt about Indian history in Canada...no access to books and no books in India about India! The Indian public libraries are appalling and people cannot afford to buy all the books they want to read). I am now getting information about life in India, the caste system, the superstitious beliefs, the agricultural practices by reading online things like the Karnataka Gazette, etc. There is such a wealth of documentation of all aspects of life in all parts of India, done by the British and now available online! One can also read from the British library archives online.

Some questions I had in childhood for which I never got answers from my history text books for a long time were:
(1)How did people stitch blouses for women and shirts for men? Needles were invented in the west and we were apparently wearing clothes even before the British came. So how did we stitch?
(2)Another question which bothered me was how did we know where to dig for iron, gold, diamonds, etc?
(3) I know that villagers shit and piss in the fields. But I was always curious about where the people in cities and the kings and queens especially went to shit and piss in the past centuries. This question haunted me for years of my childhood but no one knew the answers! Even with lots of 'educated' people around me,  I could not get this answer. The elders would say things like, " Why do you want to know?" or say "Indians were smart. I am sure they had some  sort of toilets".

(4)How did we know we had to melt the stuff to get metal? ( I never had any questions about diamonds as I was ignorant enough to think that the diamonds were shiny and we simply dug them out! I blame Indian movies for my ignorance.

Reading historical crime fiction by good authors makes history fun and exciting instead of dead and boring.  And C.J.Sansom is one great author!

I will add other books to this list as I recall. I know I have read a few others related to Christianity (Knights Templar) but cannot recall now.

The Far Pavilions by M.M.Kaye is a  romantic and  adventurous historical fiction set in British India I   enjoyed ! I have read it more than once though it is a huge book. I am sure all Indians who love romance, adventure and want to know about life in India in British times would enjoy this . I am saying Indians as I think Indians would be more interested than others in reading this.

I am looking forward to reading three crime fiction set in British India by Australian writer Brian Stoddart i.e.
A Madras Miasma 
The Palampur Predicament
Straits Settlement

Other books set in Pre-independence India are:
Barbara Cleverly's
The last Kashmiri rose
Ragtime in Simla
The Damascend blade
The palace tiger

Leigh Copeland's
Where Gods dwell
The body in the Bokhara

Upendra Dharmadhikari & Changali Anand
The princess in Black:An unheard story of the Mughals(2014)

George Macdonald Fraser
The (Harry Paget Flashman)Flashman series by this author are more funny adventures than crime fiction and there are 12 books in this highly acclaimed series.
The ones set in pre-independent India are
The Flashman papers book one 1969
The Flashman series book 4 Flashman and the mountain of light 1990
The Flashman papers-book 8 Flashman in the great game 1975


Rudyard Kipling:
|Kim(not sure if this would be crime fiction exactly)


Sharath Kommaraju
The crows of Agra(set in the times of Akbar, Mughal emperor of India)

Michael Kurland
The empress of India(British India)

Alun Lewis
In the green tree (some short stories are crime fiction set in British India)

Madhulika Liddle
The Englsihman's cameo
The eigth gang and other Muzaffar Jang mysteries
Engraved in stone
Crimson city

John Masters
The deceivers 1966(set in British India)
Bhowani junction 1954
The lotus and the wind 1953


Abir Mukherjee's
A rising man

Currently(fall 2015) I am reading a crime fiction set in New York of  the 1890s  called Murder on Washington Square by Victoria Thompson. I am enjoying it and it's a pleasure to know the life of people, especially women in those days. The days when women were not considered equal to men and good enough for work men did such as police work.
There is a whole lot of historical crime fiction being written all over the world and I will add to this list as I read them.
 I hope these historical crime fiction set in New York of over 200 years ago will keep me happily engaged this cold fall!

I finished Murder in Gramercy Park and I find her style of writing very similar to Georgette Heyer's. Many phrases and words to capture certain emotions are exactly the same as Georgette Heyer. I am enjoying these books as it's a pleasant way to discover New York's history..the life of the rich, the middle class and the  poor, the rich, women's lives and the challenges they faced due to society's attitudes toward them, the life of the immigrants such as the Chinese and the racism they faced, even the racism faced by Europeans such as  the Irish in New York about 100 odd years ago!
 I am sad that many of the current New Yorkers are ignorant and remain uncurious about New York's fascinating history.
The entire list of 17 crime fiction books by Victoria Thompson, set in New York of 19th century are:


Murder on Astor Place 1999
Murder at St. Mark's Place 2000

Murder on Gramercy Park 2001
Murder on Washington Square 2002
Murder on Mulberry bend 2003
Murder on Marble Row 2004
Murder on Lennox Hill 2005
Murder in Little Italy 2006
Murder in China Town 2007
Murder on Bank street 2008
Murder on Waverly Place 2009
Murder on Lexington Avenue 2010
Murder on Sister's Row 2011
Murder on 5th Avenue 2012
Murder in Chelsea 2013
Murder in Murray Hill 2014
Murder on Amsterdam Avenue 2015
Murder in Morningside Heights 2016

 
Every single one of these Thompson books emphasizes the corruption in the New York City's police force of those days. I believe that today's NYPD  is not corrupt. These books give me some hope that one day, the Indian police force  too will change and be more honest.
As of now, the Indian police is a lot more corrupt than the police force depicted in the Victoria Thompson's New York of a century ago.

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HISTORICAL CRIME FICTION IN TV AND MOVIES

There is quite a bit of historical crime fiction movies and TV shows being aired these days. I am using historical loosely and am adding any show set even early 20th century here.

I have seen many episodes of a Canadian TV show called Murdoch mysteries set in Toronto, Ontario where I live!
It is nice but for some reason, I always find something lacking in Canadian shows when compared to American TV shows. The Canadian shows have good acting, good plots, good direction, etc but they seem so lacking in fieriness or drama and seem so understated. I like this show but if a different show was being aired at same time as this, I would go for the other show! But I do like the main character, his boss, his assistant and the lady doctor in this show.

I saw a few episodes on Netflix an Australian show called Miss Fisher's murder mysteries where a female is the main protagonist set in 1920 Melbourne, Australia. I saw a few episodes and for some reason, I cant explain, I stopped seeing it. I really cannot explain why I stopped...the acting is good, the costumes are great, the actors are nice looking and act well, yet, it din't hold my interest. Maybe, just because it's set in Australia, I could not feel like relating to it.
LA Confidential a movie set in 1950s LA is one of the best crime movies I have ever seen.



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