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Six Novels to Immerse Yourself in the Vibes of the Past


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I have always loved period pieces. When I set out to write Dead Dead Girls, I knew it was because I wanted to challenge myself and write something about which I was very passionate. The idea of time travel has always appealed to me, and the best way I could do that was by reading period pieces.

The thing about period pieces is that the worldbuilding, or as I like to call it, the vibes, has got to be impeccable, or I’m not going to believe it. I immersed myself in the 1920s, the clothes, shoes, and dance moves, to make Louise’s world real. I’m a very finicky and detailed reader, but I like my vibes.

While doing my research for Dead Dead Girls, I spent a lot of time reading historical mysteries and contemporary fiction from around the eras I was focused on. Surrounding myself with fiction from the time really helped me strengthen my writing and my story.

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A Tip For The Hangman, Allison Epstein
(Setting: Elizabethan Era-England)

I’m not biased, even though Allison and I are in the same debut class. (And honestly, every 2021 debut has been a stunner.) I’m not too familiar with the 1500s as a period in history, except for Henry VII and his wives. Epstein brilliantly brings the world of Kit Marlowe to life. The different universes of espionage and theatre are wonderfully blended, and Allison brings vibes that are completely masterful. From the author herself, “A Shakespeare in Love–style spy thriller for people who wish Wolf Hall had more theater afterparties, queer love, and backstabbing grad students.”

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And Only to Deceive, Tasha Alexander
(Setting: Victorian Era-England)

The premise of this novel had me hooked instantly. There are fifteen books in this series, and, while I can’t claim to have read them all, the thing I was most wowed by was the worldbuilding in every book. Lady Emily’s insistence that she’d rather be a widow than marry again and wanting to finally be in control of her own life endeared me to her instantly. The major mysteries taking place in the upper class of England’s society is a vibrant and intriguing setting. Alexander has characters of all classes and she brings period-accurate hobbies and daily life to her series.

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 Murder in Greenwich Village (A Louise Faulk Mystery), Liz Freeland
(Setting: 1913)

When I first heard of this series, I was a little concerned, as I also have an early 20th-century sleuth named Louise. But I binged the first two books in a weekend. I enjoyed following this Louise, who is NYC’s first policewoman. She has drive and determination in spades. What I found intriguing was how different and yet similar the worlds our books take place in. It’s the same roughly the same time period, and yet the two stories and circumstances couldn’t be more different. When reading, you can tell Freeland has done her research, bringing in historical figures to her fiction.

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Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear
(Setting: 1929)

There are sixteen books in this series, spanning from just after World War One well into World War Two. I’m obviously partial to this time period. And, again, I cannot claim to have read every book in this series, but from what I have read, I can tell you that the vibes are exquisite. Maisie is a plucky and determined heroine starting her own private investigation business. Jacqueline Winspear is able to keep the momentum going throughout the series and really nails the First World War descriptions and the jazz-age era England in which the series begins.

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Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
(Originally published: 1938)

“Last night, I dreamed I went to Manderly again.” This is the first, iconic line of Rebecca. I’m not much for the unsettling feeling this novel presents, but this is a novel I read every October. Manderly, the big, foreboding house, is classic gothic mystery setting. The way du Maurier builds the creepy, suspenseful setting is nothing less than masterful. Putting the reader directly into the new Mrs. de Winter’s eyes and shoes was ingenious.

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The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
(Originally published: 1939)

Philip Marlowe has style. That’s not really relevant to this list, but when creating Dead Dead Girls I had to make sure that Lou and everyone around her also had style. I’m so picky about the types of mysteries I read, and this one knocked it out the park for me. This mystery is easily the epitome of classic detective fiction. The way Chandler writes is arresting and I loved following Marlowe as he solved this mystery. The rainy LA atmosphere only enhanced the novel and once I got into it, it was impossible to put down.

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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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