As I begin to write my first historical mystery, I look back on some of my favorites: the Hilda Johannson series by Jeanne Dams, Steven Saylor's and Lindsey Davis' Roman mysteries, Sharan Newman's mysteries, and my recent discovery: "Dark Fire," by C. J. Sansom. Each series is written about a very different time and place, but all these books provide signposts for me in how to research and what to include or not include.
My goal is to create a story rich in historical detail, where the setting draws the reader in and make him want to read more, without overwhelming him with facts that have no relationship to the plot. A delicate balance, indeed. Jeanne Dams, who has recently given me advice on how to use the wonderful Sanborn maps of the Midwest, does it very well (thank you, Jeanne!).
My topic: 1920's central Illinois, with a male physician who is an amateur archaeologist as my protagonist. This gives me all sorts of new territory to explore: the history of my own home town and county 80 years ago, history of medicine (with a little help from my ex-pathologist husband), Prohibition, women's fashion and flappers, and Illinois archaeology.
It helps that I work for an organization that employs both archaeologists and historians of the discipline of archaeology in Illinois, the Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program. For a little taste of what they do, check out this on line exhibit .