Nearly three years ago Lynn asked, “Is the 20th Century “Historical” Enough Yet?” I’ve written here about my love of Post-World War I and World War II era mysteries and have indicated I would like to read more romances set in those eras. But until recently I would have said I’m not ready for a romance set in the late 1960s or early 1970s. In fact, just last month in a post I wrote here about whether contemporaries could become historicals, I commented, “I’m not sure if I’m ready for a romance — written today — set much before 1990. I know too much about the time period and the limitations many women faced. On the other hand, I won’t reject it outright.”
There’s just so much about the late 1960s and early 1970s that’s turbulent: the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, race riots in major U.S. cities, the Vietnam war and the bloody protests in the U.S., political turbulence such as the chaos both inside and outside of the 1968 Democratic national convention and the beginnings of the Watergate scandal just four years later. What’s romantic about any of that? For many who lived through it, it’s a time period they’d prefer to forget.
Yes, I’ve read and enjoyed books such as The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart, which was written during that time period. But with its exotic locale of Damascus, it has almost a timeless feel, and seems far removed from the events of the time. With a few exceptions such as that, I figured World War II was about as late in the 20th century as I might want to venture for romances.
Then last week I began reading this month’s selection for my mystery book group: P.M. Carlson’s Audition for Murder, the first in her Maggie Ryan mystery series. While Ms. Carlson wrote Audition for Murder in 1985, the mystery is set on a college campus in 1967.
The plot involves the mysterious events – and ultimate tragedies – that occur at a college as the drama students, faculty, and some imported New York actors, produce Hamlet over the course of a semester. The focus is squarely on events that occur in the theater and in the characters’ private lives, but the time period is never forgotten.
In one brief scene, the drama instructors discuss the implications of giving a grade lower than a C to a male student. In 1967, student deferments still existed; failing a student could ultimately send him to Vietnam. In another short scene, the students and New York actors head to New York City and join a massive peace march. The march is covered in just a few short paragraphs, but it’s a reminder of the events of the time. And drugs play a prominent role, both in past events and present ones.
There’s a fair amount of sadness in the book, and things definitely don’t end happily in this first entry for some of the main characters. But I truly enjoyed the book and found myself intrigued by both the mystery and the characters. The time period never overwhelms the story, but helps explain various actions taken by the characters.
The minute I finished the first book I picked up the second in the series – Murder is Academic – set on another college campus in 1968. This book seems to feature female characters even more prominently, as they deal with both the promise and limitations of the time for women. I’ve found myself wondering how a romance novel might work in a similar setting, with the late 1960s or early 1970s as a backdrop.
What do you think? Would you be interested in a romance set in the late 1960s or early 1970s? I’m starting to think I’m ready.
– LinnieGayl Kimmel