5 Best: Historical Fiction Novels

Novels ELLE loves that merge fact and fiction

As Baileys Prize shortlisted author Emma Donoghue's new novel, Frog Music, is inspired by historical events, #ELLEBookClub picks the best historical fiction

Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue (Picador)

After Jenny Bonnet is shot through the window of a railroad saloon, burlesque dancer and sometime prostitute Blanche Beunon takes it upon herself to bring her friend’s murder to justice. Blanche pieces together Jenny’s sordid tale while desperately attempting to survive in the underbelly of society. Frog Music, based on real events, places this intricate whodunit within a snapshot of post-gold rush San Francisco.

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Set in the legendary 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, this chilling book presents two interlinking tales; that of the architect Daniel Burnham, and the murderer who haunted the fair, Dr. Henry H. Holmes, who lured fairgoers to their deaths in his sadistic but ingenious World’s Fair Hotel.

Did She Kill Him?: A Victorian tale of deception, adultery and arsenic, by Kate Colquhoun (Little, Brown)

In the summer of 1889, Florence Marbrick’s trial for the alleged murder of her elderly husband worked the British public into a frenzy. Delving deep into a case heaped with circumstantial evidence and distorted notions of Victorian respectability, Historian Colquhoun opens up this controversy, and questions the legitimacy of Florence’s conviction.

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In the tense religious minefield of Restoration England, 14-year-old Lady Bette is forced to marry degenerate Thomas Thynn, a man three times her age and a key player in the Protestant rebellion. After Thynn is gunned down by three unknown assassins, the story explores political and spiritual complexities of the period.

One year after the New York police fail to find the killer of beautiful tobacco store clerk, Mary Rogers, whose body was found mutilated in the Hudson River, the near-destitute author Edgar Allen Poe sets out to dig up the famously unsolved case, and turn his fortunes around by reconstructing it as a fictionalised, serialised detective mystery. The Beautiful Cigar Girl uncovers the fate of Mary Rogers whilst presenting a vivid portrait of Poe’s literary genius. And it's really, really good.

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Read the 2014 Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction shortlist here