In my years working as an archivist I came across a lot of genealogists looking for convicts in their family tree (it had become fashionable in Australia to be able to trace one’s roots back to the era when the country was a penal colony for England) but I don’t think I ever came across one who was saving the world from a killer. In crime fiction though there are a few such hardy souls.
For my face to face book club last year we read Dan Waddell‘s first book to feature genealogist Nigel Barnes, The Blood Detective, and it was my favourite book club read of the year. Barnes is called in to help London police when a series of bodies are found to have references to birth and death records carved into them. Having fled the world of archives primarily due to growing tired of a certain kind of genealogist I was particularly taken with Waddell’s depictions of the profession but I also liked the way he incorporated the historical research into his story of a serial killer on the loose. I’m looking forward to reading the second book in this series, Blood Atonement, which looks to incorporate one of the world’s foremost genealogical research institutions, the Morman Church’s archives in Utah.
In more of a cosy mystery Fiona Mountain‘s Pale as the Dead introduces Natasha Blake as a professional genealogist called in to assist with the search for a missing artist’s model. Once you get past the rather implausible premise (why a genealogist not a private detective) the fictional investigation is quite fascinating and the details about both the art world and the profession of genealogy are incorporated well into the story.
A series I haven’t yet read but which looks interesting is English author Fay Sampson‘s series featuring Suzie Fewings who is an amateur family historian. The blurb for the first of three books in the series so far, 2009’s In the Blood, says “Keen family history researcher Suzie Fewings is delighted when she discovers an ancestor with the same name as her teenage son. But what she finds out about the seventeenth-century Thomas casts a darker shadow than she expected. Then her own Tom’s girlfriend is found dead in mysterious circumstances, and Suzie finds it hard to suppress her growing fears that Tom has inherited more than a name from his predecessor”.
The longest running series I know of to feature a genealogist is Rett MacPherson‘s which so far consists of 11 books featuring Torie O’Shea who is a museum docent and amateur genealogist in Missouri. In the third book of the series, A Comedy of Heirs, Torie discovers that her great grandfather was shot on his front porch and the crime never solved (partly due the long list of people who hated him). When Torie starts to investigate the 50-year old crime she uncovers a conspiracy of silence within the family and things are less than humorous when new deaths occur to cover up the old crime.
Do you know of any other crime fiction to feature a genealogist? Or perhaps one where genealogy plays a pivotal role? Perhaps Arnaldur Indridason’s Jar City would qualify in the second category as it involves the use of Iceland’s genealogical database to solve the investigation at the heart of the novel.
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Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting the crime fiction alphabet meme which requires the posting of an article relating to the letter of the week. Do join in the fun by reading the posts and/or contributing one of your own. You don’t have to write every week.
This is the second round of the meme which was first run from late 2009 to early 2010. My contributions that time were discussions of books with one word titles.