The first is "The Return of Captain John Emmett" by Elizabeth Speller.
This novel tells the story of an execution during the Great War. Laurence Bartram, himself consumed by grief at the loss of his wife and young son, is approached by a friend's wife to unravel the mystery of why he committed suicide. His investigations lead to the gradual piecing-together of an incident in the war. Similar to a detective mystery, most of the action is told by reports from characters who were at the scene, very much like examining the scene of a crime. In the novel references are made to Agatha Christie and Poirot, and this book has all the intricate plotting of a who-dunnit, except better, and with a much more moving revelation of the true conditions of war. As a historical fiction writer I enjoyed the fact that long parts of the book were reportage - how often are we told to show not tell? But these re-tellings in the characters own voices were gripping, and show that the author had really done her research. The horrors of trench warfare and the subsequent abandonment of trauma casualties post-war were brought chillingly to life. In the afterword she tells us that she used the papers of W.H.R Rivers who treated psychiatric casualties of the war and Jonathan Shay's Achilles in Vietnam as sources.
Which brings me neatly to the second of my favourites - Madeline Miller's "Song of Achilles".
The third of my favourites is "Honour and the Sword" by AL Berridge.
Of the three, this is the most swashbuckling of my choices. It is written as a series of interviews or memoirs from France during the time of the 30 years war and so includes a number of different voices put together by a fictional professor - Edward Morton. Sounds complicated? Perhaps, but it works brilliantly. Like a patchwork this method gradually builds up the picture of events from all the partisan points of view. Told in the first person present tense, some of it is written in very modern-sounding English but this has the effect of drawing the reader in. Mostly told from the point of view of Jacques the stable lad, and his erstwhile employer's son, an aristocrat called Andre de Roland, the slow development of the relationship between these two boys is what glues the book together. We watch them through the highs and lows of warfare, through heroism and despair as Andre de Roland seeks to avenge his parents death at the hands of the Spanish. This book has some excellent set-piece action scenes, with gripping sword fights, pistols and cannon.At the climax the action zips from person to person in a few lines - and this filmic technique like cutting from shot to shot, was breathtaking.
Three great pieces of historical fiction, I recommend them all.
You can read an interview with AL Berridge here about why she enjoys to write books more normally associated with a male readership.