As readers, we expect contemporary fiction to be up to the minute. So how can it contain history and still entertain in a modern way? History is bound to drag things down and bore the reader, isn't it?
Not if it is done well. Some very good, and very popular, writers are using history to give their modern books depth. Depth that consists of much more than their characters' back story. A few writers who have done this with great success are Robert Goddard, in Days Without Number , AS Byatt, in Possession , and Arturo Perez-Reverte in The Flanders Panel.
Taking these three books as examples, we can see how it is done.
The main observation is that these books are not historical fiction: their main action takes place in current times, and their protagonists are placed in the present. But the mysteries they try to solve, and the material they are fascinated by, takes them on a historical route. Some of what they unearth is true - did happen - so the reader has the added fun of examining something from the past that has a basis in actuality.
Is it entertaining to research as you read fiction? Far from being a distraction, looking things up during or after reading a novel can send a reader on some very fascinating journeys. And it's not just historical events: these authors write in depth about trades, tools, procedures, legends, myths and also cultural aspects that no longer figure much in modern society. Looking them up - and checking their authenticity - can make for some interesting studies.
There's food, music, clothes, jewellery and even books from other times that can be inserted into the fiction of today to make it entralling... intriguing... captivating!