Historical Fiction Look at Police and Justice Systems

I have been listening to a Victoria Thompson mystery, Murder on Sisters’ Row, set in late 19th century New York City. One of the most interesting features of the story is the look at how the police operated during that time. Crimes were solved by those who could pay to have them solved and the upper-class, rich criminals were not brought to justice. Teddy Roosevelt is police commissioner, set upon rooting out corruption, in the early books of the series.

It made me think of other historical mysteries and books that deal with the development of our system of justice as we know it today. While the police departments didn’t come into existence until 18th and 19th centuries, there were other people in government who were assigned the task of meting out justice.

Early Civilizations

Saylor, Steven             The Gordianus the Finder mysteries take place in 1st century BCE Rome. The first book is Roman Blood.

Robinson, Lynda        Lord Meren is the Eyes and Ears of Pharoah, in this case King Tut. The 1st book is Murder in the Place of Anubis.

Reed, Mary                 John the Eunuch is the chamberlain of Emperor Justinian in 6th century Byzantium. Emperor Justinian decided that existing Roman law be collected into a simple and clear system of laws, soon called Justinian Code. The 1st book in the series is One for Sorrow.

Middle Ages

Doherty, P. C.             Hugh Corbett is a clerk to the King Edward’s chancellor in 14th century England and Scotland. The 1st one is Satan in St. Mary’s.

Tremayne, Peter          Sister Fidelma is an Irish brehan, or judge, in 7th century Ireland. The Irish or Celtic Catholic law is different from the Anglo-Saxon and  Roman Catholic law that she sometimes comes into conflict with. The 1st book is Absolution by Murder.

Franklin, Ariana          Adelia, an early medical examiner called a Master of the Art of Death, is sent for by Henry II, who is reforming the justice system of England. The 1st book is Mistress of the Art of Death. The author has recently died.

Sedley, Kate               Roger the Chapman is a former monk turned peddler in  The 1st book is Death and the Chapman.

Peters, Ellis                Brother  Cadfael was made into a wonderful PBS series. The monk solves mysteries during the English war with Maude and Stephen in the 12th century.

Van Gulik, Robert      Judge Dee is the magistrate in 7th century imperial China. The 1st is The Chinese Maze Murders.


Alexander, Bruce        Sir John Fielding is a blind magistrate and brother to Tom Fielding who founded the Bow Street Runners in 18th century England. The 1st book is Blind Justice.

Buckley, Fiona            Ursula Blanchard, during the time of Queen Elizabeth, is a lady-in-waiting and an investigator for Elizabeth’s secretary of state. The 1st book is To Shield the Queen

Rowland, Laura Joh    Sano Ichiro series, an samurai detective for the 17th century Japanese shogun. The 1st book is The Fire Kimono.

Victorian Age

Perry, Anne                 William Monk and Hester Latterly and Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. The politics of the police force is a major character in the books set in Victorian London. The Pitt family series starts with The Cater Street Hangman and the Monk/Latterly series begins with Face of a Stranger.

And, of course, Sherlock Holmes.

Early 20th Century

Winspear, Jacqueline Maisie Dobbs works with the police, using psychology, to solve mysteries in post-WWI Great Britain. The 1st book is Maisie Dobbs.

Thompson, Victoria    Sarah Brandt and Sgt. Frank Malloy solve problems in late 19th century New York City. The 1st book is Murder on Astor Place.

A new nonfiction book that might be interesting is The Big Policeman by J. North Conway. It is the story of a New York City policeman, Thomas Byrnes, who became “one of the most celebrated detectives in American History, and paved the way for modern-day police methods, both good and bad.”

Book count: I’m up to 69 books for the year, but I’ll probably finish another one by Sunday. I feel like I’ve started a lot more, but didn’t enjoy them much. Still no classics read this year, however.