Why historical crime fiction should go heavy on the history — or not
When I do enjoy a historical crime novel, I ask myself what the author did to hold my attention. Carlo Lucarelli strips his De Luca novels of almost all historical detail. Instead, he lets the paranoia and confusion of story convey the atmosphere during the decline and fall of Fascist Italy.
Peter Tremayne, on the other hand, stuffs his Sister Fidelma novels so full of detail about the sights, sounds, laws and languages of seventh-century Ireland that the sheer joy of observing and learning becomes part of the fun. He talked about his technique a few years back in an interview in Solander: The Magazine of the Historical Novel Society:
"Accuracy is the first principle. My characters can do nothing that is not consistent with the time, place and social system. I would say that I have probably done the bulk of general background research during the many decades I have been writing of this period of Irish history. When it comes to the setting of each individual novel, I will only write about places I know – places that I’ve been to. Spirit of place is very important to me. On the technical side, I have to ensure that any law that Fidelma quotes can actually be verified in the ancient law texts. This is something that happens as I go along. An argument on law might arise in the story … then I have to start checking my library to see what the interpretations are."
Today's questions: Carlo Lucarelli is a stripped-down minimalist when it comes to historical detail. Peter Tremayne is a beefed-up maximalist. Which approach do you prefer in historical crime fiction? Why? And what influences your choice?
© Peter Rozovsky 2007