The best new historical fiction



The Jim Crow South, Golden Age Hollywood and World War II-era Britain are among the destinations to which we time travel in some of 2022’s best historical novels.

‘Miss del Río,’ by Bárbara Mujica

Hollywood’s Golden Age is aglow in this elegant biographical novel that brings to life Mexico-born Dolores del Río, the silver screen’s first Latina superstar. In the 1920s, del Río was named the most beautiful woman in the world, but her acting talents weren’t fully recognized because, in a xenophobic America, “foreigners” were looked upon with suspicion. When talkies came into vogue, few actors who spoke accented English could expect to succeed in Hollywood. She eventually left California and returned to Mexico, where she thrived in its cinematic Golden Age and was able to make the serious films she always craved. Mujica, who has also written novels about Frida Kahlo and Saint Teresa of Ávila, serves up an alluring portrait of the dazzling del Río. The inclusion of other celebrities in del Río’s orbit, including Greta Garbo, Ramon Novarro and Kahlo, adds to the novel’s glitz.

‘Anywhere You Run,’ by Wanda M. Morris

The Jim Crow South is the noirish backdrop for this intense thriller that, in its opening pages, has us staring into the freshly dug grave of three civil rights workers who were murdered in Neshoba County, Miss., in 1964. It’s one of many vividly described scenes in Morris’s second novel, which mostly centers on Violet and Marigold Richards, young sisters struggling with racism, sexism and poverty during an explosive period in U.S. history. Violet goes on the run after killing the man who raped her. Marigold marries, then leaves, an abusive man. Danger follows them because one of them can prove who killed the Freedom Riders. Morris’s novel is a master class in evoking a time period that still resonates.

‘Gilded Mountain,’ by Kate Manning

Manning’s prose is so evocative, your fingers may begin to feel icy as you read her depiction of the brutal winters in fictional Moonstone, Colo., where miners, mostly immigrants, work and die in a marble quarry in the early 1900s. Working conditions are horrific, and, just like today, workers fighting to unionize are rebuffed by the wealthy and the privileged. The rising star in this story of the haves and have-nots is Sylvie Pelletier, daughter of a miner, whose ambitions are as big as the Western sky. She awakens as a teen to the world’s injustices and soon she’s reading W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington and fighting alongside labor activist Mother Jones for workers’ rights. The social issues of the novel’s time period, including the wealth gap, women’s rights and freedom of the press, artfully mirror those in 21st-century America.

‘The Devil’s Blaze: Sherlock Holmes 1943,’ by Robert J. Harris

The most famous fictional detective of the Victorian era time-jumps into World War II Britain in Harris’s rollicking second novel starring the irrepressible Sherlock Holmes. In this delightfully outrageous tale, Holmes and sidekick John Watson must determine how and why four government officials have died through spontaneous combustion. Could it be a new weapon of terror concocted by the Nazis, or is something else afoot? Harris writes as if he’s been taken over by the spirit of Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle. Die-hard fans will delight in iconography as Harris brings to life Holmes’s archenemy, Professor Moriarty, and sets a final showdown at Reichenbach Falls, one of the most notorious locations in the Holmesian canon.

‘The Lindbergh Nanny,’ by Mariah Fredericks

The 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. was dubbed the crime of the century and, in her tension-filled reimagining of the horrific event, Fredericks spotlights one of the suspects, the toddler’s Scottish nurse, Betty Gow. Bruno Hauptmann was sentenced to death in the kidnapping and death of Baby Lindbergh, but police always believed, but never proved, that someone within the Lindbergh household was also involved. “The Lindbergh Nanny” is told from Gow’s perspective as she attempts to uncover the traitor in the household. Because Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the baby’s parents, are painted in enigmatic brushstrokes, this gripping novel focuses more on Gow’s heartbreak at the loss of her beloved “Charlie.”

Carol Memmott is a writer in Austin.

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