I love it when well-known historical figures pop up in books I am reading. Since I could (and probably will!) write several posts on this topic, I thought I’d start with one of the most popular ways that famous people of the past get cast in novels: as amateur sleuths.
Let’s begin with Eleanor Roosevelt, who appears as the chief mystery-solver in the Eleanor Roosevelt Mystery series written by her son, the late Elliot Roosevelt. This enchanting series is a blend of fictionalized history and cozy mystery with a strong dollop of the atmosphere of the Roosevelt White House years as it can only be portrayed by an insider.
Going back in time to 18th century London, we encounter Benjamin Franklin in the mystery series by Robert Lee Hall. Books like, London Blood: Further Adventures of an American Agent Abroad, tell of Franklin’s detective experiences. His illegitimate son Nick, the narrator, is at Franklin’s side through the seven adventures that take place during the time Franklin was in England to intercede for the American colonies with the British government.
Who’s next? Jane Austen, of course, in the series by Stephanie Barron. Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor is the first in this series that depicts Jane as a sleuth with a subtle sense of humor and an eye for noticing, with excruciating exactness, nuances in the behavior of others.
And then there’s the ultimate real-person-as-fictional-sleuth genre in which famous authors cast themselves as the main crime solving character! Famous for this type of series are Steve Allen and Ed Koch. Allen penned a series featuring himself and his wife, Jayne Meadows. Books like Die Laughing are written with Allen’s trademark humor and wit. Former mayor of New York Koch also starred himself in stories such as The Senator Must Die, in which Hizzoner out-sleuths everyone around him.
I have to admit, though, my favorite mystery series that highlights the famous is Stuart Kaminsky’s Toby Peters mystery series. Although Toby Peters is a fictional character, his cases in the Hollywood of the thirties and forties bring him in contact with famous clients such as Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Salvador Dali and many others. These famous people often help him solve the case. I especially loved To Catch a Spy featuring Cary Grant, who may or may not be spying for the U.S. government during the early days of World War II, and A Fatal Glass of Beer, featuring a hard-drinking, hard-talking, shotgun-wielding W.C. Fields.
Looking for more? Try these:
The Beatrix Potter mystery series by Susan Wittig Albert
Blue Suede Clues: A Murder Mystery featuring Elvis Presley by Daniel M, Klein
Hemingway Deadlights by Michael Atkinson (featuring Ernest Hemingway)
The Color of Death by Bruce Alexander (featuring Sir John Fielding, founder of the first police force in London in the 1700s.)
A Marked Man by Barbara Hamilton (featuring Abigail Adams)
Escape Artist: an Edna Ferber mystery by Ed Ifkovic
The Illusion of Murder by Carol McCleary (featuring reporter Nellie Bly)