The Mammoth Book of Historical Crime Fic - By Mike Ashley


Return to the Crime Scene

The stories in this anthology cover over four thousand years of crime. We travel from the Bronze Age of 2300 BC to the eve of the Second World War, passing through ancient Greece and Rome, the Byzantine Empire, medieval Venice and seventh-century Ireland, before heading for Britain and the United States.

All except one of these stories are brand new, written especially for this anthology. This is my fifteenth anthology of historical crime and mystery fiction (for those interested there is a full list on the ‘Also in the series’ page), and this time I wanted to feature longer stories. This allows the author to concentrate on the historical setting, character and mindset of the period, so that not only do these stories present fascinating crimes and puzzles, but you also get to know the people and their world in more detail. There are twelve stories in this volume compared to the usual twenty or twenty-five; they are almost like mini-novels, allowing a greater understanding of the time.

I’ve also broadened the coverage. Rather than focus solely on a mystery and its solution, here we have a broader range of crimes and a wider variety of those trying to solve them. Hence you will find, among others, a young girl in Bronze Age Britain trying to understand whether a series of deaths over a period of time were accidental or deliberate; an icon-painter in ancient Byzantium, suddenly out of work when all icons are banned, who becomes embroiled in a case of deception; a priest-finder trying to track down attempted regicides; Charles Babbage and the young Ada Byron trying to crack a coded message and stop a master criminal; and New York detectives on the lookout for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Your guides are twelve of the leading writers in historical crime fiction who are about to bring the past alive. Let us return to the scene of the crime.

– Mike Ashley

Archimedes and the Scientific Method

Tom Holt

Tom Holt is best known for his many humorous fantasy novels, which began with Expecting Someone Taller (1987) and include Who’s Afraid of Beowulf? (1988), Paint Your Dragon (1996) and The Portable Door (2003) – the last heralding the start of a series featuring the magic firm of J. Wellington Wells from Gilbert and Sullivan’s light opera The Sorcerer. But Holt is also a scholar of the ancient world and has written a number of historical novels including The Walled Garden (1997), Alexander at the World’s End (1999) and Song for Nero (2003).

The following story, which is the shortest in the anthology and so eases us in gently, features one of the best known of the ancient Greek scientists and mathematicians, Archimedes. He lived in the third century BC in the city of Syracuse, in Sicily, under the patronage of its ruler Hieron II. It is a shame that the one enduring image we all have of Archimedes is of him leaping out of his bath shouting “Eureka”, meaning “I have found it.” But it does encapsulate how Archimedes operated. When presented with a scientific problem he applied his whole self to it using scientific principles, many of which he had propounded. Archimedes unified much scientific theory into a coherent body of thought which allowed him to apply what he regarded as the scientific method. It probably made him the world’s first forensic investigator.

“No,” I told him. “Absolutely not.”

You don’t talk like that to kings, not even if they’re distant cousins, not even if they’re relying on you to build superweapons to fight off an otherwise unbeatable invader, not even if you’re a genius respected throughout the known world. It’s like the army. Disobeying a direct order is the worst thing you can possibly do, because it leads to the breakdown of the machine. You’ve got to have hierarchies, or you get chaos.

He looked at me. “Please,” he said.

He, for the record, was King Hiero the Second of Syracuse; my distant cousin, my patron and my friend. Even so. “No,” I said.

“Forget about the politics,” he said. “Just think of it as an intellectual problem. Come on,” he added, and that little-boy look somehow found its way back on to his face. Amazing, how he can still do that, after the life he’s lived. “You’ll enjoy it, you know you will. It’s a challenge. You like challenges. Isn’t that what it’s all about, finding answers to questions?”

“I’m busy,” I told him. “Really. I’m in the middle of calculating the square root of