The Bay Area is not only home to tech geniuses, entrepreneurs and cutting-edge chefs. It also includes a sizable number of authors. Their areas of interest are as diverse as the communities they chose to call home.

Interestingly, the three mystery writers included here look to the past for their stories.

  • "Heirs and Graces" by Rhys Bowen (Berkley Prime Crime, $24.95, 296 pages): The adventures of Lady Georgiana Rannoch, 35th in line to the English throne but struggling to support herself, continue to be engaging.

    Georgie's skills don't lend themselves to employment in 1934 England, but fortunately, she is able to take on a commission or two from her cousin, the queen.

    This time, she is sent to Kingsdowne Place to teach manners to the recently discovered heir to the dukedom, a young Australian sheep rancher. Not surprisingly, not everyone in the family is pleased by the introduction of this unrefined outsider. That makes Georgie's job more complicated.

    In the years after World War I, whose killing fields decimated the English aristocracy, more than one family had to hunt for an "heir of the body" to fill a hole in the family.

    Georgie, who is brave and clever, also gets some time with her boyfriend, the elusive Darcy.

    The author divides her time between San Francisco and Arizona.

  • "Death Rides the Zephyr" by Janet Dawson (Perseverance Press, $15.95, 232 pages): This historical mystery is really a love song to a bygone way of life, when the luxury train known as the California Zephyr was in its heyday.

    Each train came with a hostess, known as a Zephyrette. In Dawson's story, that's Jill McLeod, a young woman still grieving the loss of her fiancé in Korea. Still, she loves her job. The train is headed to Chicago in time for Christmas 1952. The passengers are a mixed lot, including some families and their rambunctious children. When one passenger dies, it is up to the staff to keep things on an even keel, even while they try to figure out which one is a killer.

    The plot is not very complex, and readers will spot the potential victim well before the deed is done. But the real star is the train, which is lovingly described, from its layout to its ingenious bedrooms to its cuisine. That's worth the price of admission.

    Jill lives in Alameda, as does author Dawson.

  • "Covenant with Hell" by Priscilla Royal (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 230 pages): This medieval mystery series (this is No. 10) has a very well-done background, detailed and nuanced enough to make you feel at home in 13th-century England. The author, who lives in the West Contra Costa area, clearly knows her history.

    Prioress Eleanor, accompanied by Brother Thomas, has left her home at Tyndal Priory to go on a pilgrimage to a shrine in East Anglia. Soon after their arrival, a nun falls to her death from the bell tower.

    Some evidence suggests it wasn't an accident, which naturally prompts Eleanor to investigate, much to the dismay of the local prioress and priest.

    The problem here is that the characters are nowhere near as interesting or well-developed as the background. They don't sound or act like real people, but more like puppets on a stage. An attractive stage ... but still.

    Roberta Alexander is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Reach her at ralex711@yahoo.com.