If you’re a writer, not only of mysteries, but any form of fiction, “The Timetables of History” by Bernard Grum, would be a fabulous addition to the reference section of your library.
Not a writer but you LOVE history? This is the book for you. It’s very easy to get lost while paging through Timetables. This fat tome has snippets of life starting at -5000 and up to the 1900 that are fascinating. I have the Third Revised Edition, so I’m sure the book has been updated and revised since then. The book is divided into six sections: history/politics, literature/theater, religion/philosophy/learning, visual arts, music, science/technology/growth, and daily life.
I’m currently noodling ideas for a mystery novel set in the 1980’s in Florida, so I looked up 1985 and found out that: this was the first time the Titanic was photographed by a remote controlled camera. Treasure hunters found the undersea wreck of the Atocha, a Spanish galleon that sank off the coast of Florida in 1622 with its contents of 400 billion dollars worth of treasure, and that there was an earthquake in Mexico city that killed 7000 people. Now, I may not use any of that information, but I might. In any event, it was fun reading.
Say you’re writing a historical mystery set in 1920. You might want to work into the plot that F. Scott Fitzgerald published “This Side of Paradise” that year. Or, perhaps that Babe Ruth was sold by the Red Socks to the Yankee for $125,000. Did you know one of the most popular songs in 1934 was “Blue Moon?” You could work that into your story easily.
In 1974, Nelson Rockefeller was nominated by President Ford to be vice president? Neat, huh? Sprinkling your novel with a few concrete facts makes your work not only interesting but also more authentic. You’re readers will know you took the time to research the time period you’re writing about. I love to learn facts while reading fiction and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
You might be writing a romance set in 1191 Japan. You’ll definitely want to know that tea arrived from China in that year. Or how about this; U.S. copyright laws were amended in 1831: 28 years, renewable for 14 years. Of course you don’t want to simply plop facts into your text. By looking up what happened in the year or years you’re writing about can be a jumping off point, a place to start doing more defined research. And these facts might spark plot ideas, settings or personality traits for characters.
The Timetables of History isn’t a book you’ll sit down and read and you may not use it often, but believe me it will be an invaluable addition to your reference library.