We love mystery!

Celebrity Authors

What happens when someone famous for something else writes a mystery? In this week’s episode, Brook and Sarah discuss mysteries written by authors famous for other achievements.


David Walliams
State of Terror (2021) Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny
Mycroft Holmes (2015) Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse
Mycroft and Sherlock (2018) Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse
Thursday Murder Club (2020) Richard Osman
Kitchen Confidential (2000) Anthony Bourdain
The Bobby Gold Stories (2001) Anthony Bourdain
The President is Missing (2018) James Patterson and Bill Clinton
Jeffrey Archer
Katrín Jakobsdóttir
Ragnar Jónasson
Anne Holt
Tom Bradby
Michael Dobbs
Run, Rose, Run (2022) Dolly Parton and James Patterson
The Apollo Murders (2021) Christ Hadfield
Full Disclosure (2018) Beverley McLachlin
Denial (2021) Beverley McLachlin


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Music: Signs To Nowhere by Shane Ivers – www.silvermansound.com


This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook. And we both love mystery.
SarahHi Brook.
BrookHi Sarah. How have you been?
SarahI’ve been okay, how about you?
 BrookYeah, really good. Getting settled in after the holidays and um, yeah. Just kind of getting back into a normal routine feels good.
SarahI agree. Yeah. It’s nice to be out of a routine but it’s also kind of nice to be in it.   So today we are going to talk about um celebrities who are also mystery authors and I’ll just start with a brief overview.   Last season we discussed mysteries where the sleuth is a celebrity. We talked about Obama and Biden or Queen Elizabeth solving crimes. Today, we are talking about ones where a celebrity, or at least someone who is notable for a reason other than writing, is the author.   When researching this I found several examples of politicians who’ve released books. Perhaps the most notable is Winston Churchill who had over 40 books published though. With the exception of one novel and a couple of short stories, they were nonfiction. He received the Nobel prize for his writing in 1953.   Children’s stories are also a favorite for actors and other celebrities who want to be authors. The list is long and includes Reese Witherspoon, Kristen Bell, and Madonna and one of the UK’s leading children’s author David Williams was already established as a comedian and an actor before his first book was published countless household names including politicians athletes actors and a former senior royal have published memoirs. So people who are already accomplished in one area of life are no strangers to success in publishing but we’re here today to discuss mystery and there are several examples of celebrities who have published mysteries many choose to set their stories in a world that’s familiar to them I’m thinking of Hillary Clinton’s book State of Terror, which was co-authored with Louise Penny.   And features a US secretary of state or Bill Clinton’s books featuring former or current or Bill Clinton’s books featuring former or current presidents co-authored with James Patterson and which featured oh my god sorry. Or Bill Clinton’s books co-authored with James Patterson and feature current or former presidents others choose settings that are entirely different to the one that they became established in such as Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the former NBA star who wrote episodes of Veronica Mars and has co-written three novels featuring Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes.   And, Brook, I know that you and probably many of our listeners have read a couple of mysteries written by celebrity. Although he wasn’t famous in North America before his first book came out. Richard Osman was a comedian and a television personality before the Thursday Murder Club was released. And I actually saw an article yesterday saying that two of his books were amongst the most requested from the Overdrive app last year. And that’s the app that serves many libraries.   Another name that might surprise you is Anthony Bourdain who was a chef, but actually released a couple of crime novels in the mid 1990s before Kitchen Confidential came out in 2000 and released a book featuring a mob tough guy about a year later and though those stories are a little different from what I usually read they are they are well written.   So I thought we would start our conversation today by talking a little bit about the appeal of reading a mystery written by someone who is already famous so Brook would you rather read a mystery in ah in the world that the author is familiar with. Or one that is completely outside it like Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s books which are actually quite good.
BrookYeah, thanks for that, Sarah that was that was so good. I think that I tend to enjoy the ones where it’s put in the world that they’re such an accomplished person in like because that gives me that feeling of you know this is behind the scenes. This is the real deal because this person has lived in this. Um I think it’s similar to the way that um, what Agatha Christie did in the golden age as far as she took readers inside the drawing room of the you know the wealthy elite and these, when it’s written by a famous politician or um, a famous journalist it takes us inside their world. And it makes it feel more realistic and like as if it could really happen. So I think that I prefer those.
SarahI think you’re right I think it adds a richness if you know that yeah, they’re familiar with whatever the story that they’ve crafted is and I think that gives and there are a lot of examples of you know people who started out as lawyers and then and then wrote books or people who were medical examiners and then and then wrote books. There’s lots of examples of those but I think when you have that other layer of them being really well accomplished and really well-known for that work. It just adds to that Ah, adds to the enjoyment of reading that book.
BrookExactly. Yes, we’re already intrigued with that person because they’re so highly successful and so then um to have a mystery written by them just makes it all that more fun.
SarahAnd I think they also it feels as a reader like they’re bringing some truth. So you know I think about Hillary Clinton’s book. And as you’re reading it, you think well you know she’s probably exorcising a little bit of maybe exorcising a bit of frustration or. Ah, you know, saying some things that she wished she’d been able to say when she was um, actually in that in that role or Bill Clinton’s book where there’s a scene where um, his character is escaping from his secret service detail and you think like he probably I mean maybe he did that and we’ll never know but um, maybe he just kind of dreamt of being able to do that. And you can, I don’t know, just get a little insight into the ah the author’s personality as well.
BrookOh that’s totally true. In preparing I read an article about the work collaboration between Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton and you know there were batting ideas back and forth about what they could base this book on. And Penny finally asked Hillary Clinton “what were your nightmares when you were secretary of state? What kept you up at night?” and apparently Hillary came up with three things that were you know high and on that list I’m sure the list is incredibly long when you’re in that ah position. But she gave Louise Penny three and from that three they chose one. But I thought that was a fascinating way to approach it. And it’s exactly like you said, it’s like very much a window into what they go through as um, as people in those positions.
SarahSo if she came up with a couple of other ideas, Brook does that mean that they’ve got a couple of other books that they’re going to be working on?
BrookYou know that thought struck me too and then the article ended by both of the women saying that at this point they um they were just happy with the way it was right now. And I I think it’s very endearing you pointed this out, Sarah. They are friends. And actually they had they were acquaintances had been acquainted before they wrote the book together and now they’ve retained that friendship. And I think that they you know they’re very um, they have a nice strong friendship. So maybe there’s still hope down the road.
SarahSo one thing that struck me, Brook is the risk that the co-author takes in agreeing to be on the cover with someone who’s established. Because you know I think like we mentioned readers are going to pick up this book, probably with a bit of skepticism that it’s not going to be very good. Particularly if they were critical of that celebrity and I’m thinking about the politicians who who write crime novels. If you weren’t a fan of this person as a politician you’re going to pick up that book and expect that you’re not going to be a fan of their of their writing.
BrookExactly. Or just the simple fact that it’s “oh it’s one of those celebrity writes a book projects”. And just kind of have a jaded attitude about those types of projects.
SarahYeah I think if I ever were to have the opportunity to co-author a book with someone who is famous I think I would just work so hard to make sure that that was the best book that I had ever published, for that reason.
BrookAbsolutely. And I think it’s very important to know that whatever information that that um the celebrity is giving, assisting with is going to make that book stronger. It’s going to make it um more rich and um, believable. Like we like we were referring to it builds the world and so it’s a huge um area of information for that author I mean that none he or she couldn’t gain otherwise. So I think that yes that celebrities name is there but we also have to remember that hopefully they’re contributing a lot to the work as well.   After I read the Bill Clinton Patterson book I um I always try to read it first before I go in to see what other readers thought of ah of a book, but I went in to check out Goodreads. And um, I thought it was really interesting because a lot of the reviews it had has great reviews. This was the first um is it The President Is Missing is that the title it’s the first one that they wrote together and the reviewers were a lot of them saying. “Wow. I didn’t expect to like this book but I actually did it was really good.” And it was good because you know it had so much detail and inside information.
SarahYeah I so I’m like you I try to read a book first before I take a look at what the reviews were. And so after I read the Louise Penny Hillary Clinton book I looked it up on Goodreads and I was surprised at the passion that some of the reviewers shared and there were several who made comments. Um, you know that they were never going to read another Louise Penny book because she had collaborated with Hillary Clinton because they just so much disagreed with Hillary Clinton’s politics. And I do think that that’s a risk particularly if you’re writing with ah a politician that um because politics people can be so passionate and it can be so divisive that um, you know there could be a whole group of people who will never. Entertain the idea of picking up your book because that other um name is on it.
BrookAbsolutely it is a definite risk that you would run to put your name side by side with someone because um because you know you’re uniting with them on in some level. Um, but it always surprises me when audiences do that. I try to separate you know that part of me that has maybe um, you know my own my own views on things with what we’re really getting down to is entertainment. So um, it kind of surprises me when people do that. And you know there are lots of examples of even specific authors who people will write them off because of something they did in public. Or a celebrity. You see that a lot of times a celebrity speaks out about something and then someone will say well I’m never going to see their movies ever again. I’m like really you kind of have to separate those two things in my mind. But yeah, it would be risky. And you would have to just I think either be so well established that it didn’t matter if you lost a little bit of your audience or so um, committed to working with this person and wanting to to write this book that you that you could weather that storm if it came.
SarahYeah, I agree.
SarahUm, so Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton are not the only politicians who’ve written books. Ah. So Jeffrey Archer who was a member of the UK House of Lords has sold over 270 million copies of his books. Um, and that’s just according to his website. The current Icelandic prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has a book coming out later this year that she co-authored with Ragnar Jónasson who he’s an established crime writer and Anne Holt. The former Norwegian minister of justice has published over 20 mysteries. And some of those were coauthored and some of them some of them were not um. And you know I’ve read one of her books and it was it was quite good. I think I’ll read another.
SarahThe book that I read did feature some politicians as part of it but it really was focused on the police aspect of the investigation which I thought was interesting that um and actually I looked her up and she was a lawyer and so would have worked closely with the police. So She you know she had some experience in that as well.
BrookSo I I like your distinction that you made that some of these authors stay in their lane and really play off of their area of expertise where they have gained success and notoriety. Some of them kind of take on the classic detective police procedural and write over there and then in um, thinking about this I think then then there’s another layer of different categories and um, one of them are the collaborations or like you said the co-authors so this is would be like. But president Clinton and Hillary Clinton did with having a very successful um crime writer collaborate with them then we have some that are probably most likely ghost written so the person has their name on the front. But you know. Keep it under wraps that it’s likely ghostwritten and I think that those two categories feel like they’re much more for commercial reasons. Um I wouldn’t put the um books by Patterson or um Patterson or Penny in the area of gimmick. But we do see some gimmicks right in the marketplace for from other titles. But then we have a kind of a third category, and I would probably put um Anne Holt and Tom Bradby, Michael Dobbs these are all people who have worked in the political sphere who as far as we can tell and I think it’s highly likely are you know, full time authors. They’ve created an author career for themselves. So um I don’t know I just thought that those distinctions were interesting because I think sometimes these. Books can get a bad reputation, especially when you look at and you know you mentioned the children’s sphere I started out writing for kids still still do but in the picture book sphere I guess I would say. And there are a lot of picture book authors who turn their noses up to the fact that if you’re a celebrity then you know the answer is an automatic yes at the publishing house. You get your picture book done and there are all these fantastic writers out there and and illustrators who would love to start their picture book career. But it’s difficult because the celebrities have all the good slots right? Um, so anyway getting us back to the mystery genre, I think that there are some different levels to that. So, what do you think about that, Sarah?
SarahYeah I I was reflecting on something similar, particularly around um the as you say the children’s books where you know it seems that celebrity just kind of needs to raise their hand and and they get to publish their book and you know I think. I think the publishers like you say like that there’s some easy sales as a result of the platform that the that the celebrity that the celebrity has. And you know readers pick up those books. And because they’re curious right? Like what what kind of a book would um would Madonna write for example, um, but I think when you look at particularly around around the mysteries. I think if they’ve published multiple books, that’s a signal that readers have responded really well to those books. Because you can assume that you know the first book is going to sell a bunch of copies because of the name that’s associated with it. But if it wasn’t that great of a book, you know you’re not going to buy the second book. Um and certainly wouldn’t buy the third. So yeah I think it’s probably easy money for publishers but also a little bit risky.   I think the co-authoring is really interesting because there are a lot of examples of celebrities who co-author with established authors. So James Patterson and Dolly Parton had a book that came out over the summer in 2022. Maybe that’s a shift that we’re going to see more of is more of those high-profile collaborations because I think James Patterson has done a lot of collaborations with other authors. Because his model is a little bit different. I think he comes up with the idea and then has someone else do the bulk of the um of the actual writing um and you know maybe we’re going to see a shift and his books will feature some more well-known names on the covers. I understand why someone would co-author with an established crime writer because you’ve got you know someone who knows what they’re doing. But also particularly, you know I think about the Icelandic Prime Minister. She’s probably pretty busy doing that job. Let’s say she has a bit of time every day to work in a book if she’s got a co-author that that whole process is accelerated I would imagine.
BrookYeah, good point. Yeah in an um interview between James Patterson and President Clinton. They described their process and it was really fascinating to me because um.   James Patterson kind of put together the outline they must have collaborated on the idea of the storyline then he put the outline together and then he would send little assignments back and forth to President Clinton and he would fill in the blanks and then you know James Patterson would massage it and send it back and I thought well you know that’s just. Exactly what you would expect if you were coauthoring a book. Um I also really appreciated because um, President Clinton was so um, let me think I want to write use the right word.   You could tell that President Clinton was just a huge fan of James Patterson or I shall say um, mystery authors in general. He’s a fan of the genre a big reader in the genre and the comments he made you know those are some of his heroes those authors and. Got me. Um you know, kind of proud to think like even the president of the United States is impressed by what an author ah a good author can do to hook the reader and keep them you know turning the pages and on the seat on the edge of their seat. Um. I thought about making some bumper sticker, Sarah that said “Authors because even the president needs heroes” but that might be taking things a little too far.
SarahI love it. Brook. I love it. But, I mean you’re right like actually I read um an article about Katrín Jakobsdóttir the Icelandic prime minister and ad you know she said the reading mysteries is something that she’s done her whole life. She’s um, you know she’s loved the genre and for her um you know, probably because of the the stress that comes with her job sitting down and writing is just a stress release for her.
BrookBecause at the end of the day you know we put these people on such a pedestal which in and they deserve it. You know they are world leaders or you know very impressive successful people. But at the end of the day, they’re just a person and I think we forget about that like. You know whoever it is. Wow they love Agatha Christie too they’re just like me. It really personalized it I think and like brought it back down to like just a the human the human level.
SarahYeah, absolutely I I think you can kind of imagine having a having a conversation about your favorite Agatha Christie novel with one of these authors and you know because there’s not much else that I feel like I would be able to talk to them about.
BrookThis is true. We could have that in common.
SarahSo, I have a couple of Canadian examples that I wanted to share, Brook. Chris Hadfield is the former commander of the international space station and he released a cold war thriller, I don’t know if it was last year or in 2021 but called The Apollo Murders and so there’s lots of technical detail about space travel. But the story was I thought it was quite good.   And the first female chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, has published two crime novels both of them featuring a defense lawyer and I enjoyed both of those and definitely would read another if she if she published a third um and it was just really interesting reading the books by both of those authors and definitely seeing their experiences in those in those books.
BrookYeah, thank you for suggesting those titles especially the space. Um the space title like that is a area that I feel like is maybe a little um Void We don’t hear about the people who have been astronauts and things like that like and get to hear. About their experiences and then you put a mystery in there. Yeah, that sounds fantastic.
SarahSo I will admit that originally I thought it was going to be more of a like cozy whodunit but it is much more of a um international Cold War Thriller. Um, but yeah, really good. And um I hope he I hope he publishes another. But apparently it was a pandemic project for him because he you know, kind of everything shut down is like well what am I going to do I guess I’ll write a book.
BrookLike many people we started turning towards some of those bucket list items during the pandemic when we were … we had a lot of time on our hands. So that’s that’s really fun.
SarahSo I have a question for you, Brook. What celebrity would you like to see as a crime author.
BrookOkay, so this is really in fantasy land because um, our dear Alex Trebek has already passed but wouldn’t it be fun to have the game show murders because there would be lots of trivia. There would be like all these clues that he would have to figure out in order to solve the mystery. So um, I’m going to say Alex Trebek.
SarahOh that’s such a good pick. But yeah I think um that that ship has sailed. But, perhaps you know there’s an opportunity to write ah your own mysteries with him as the sleuth.
BrookOh now we’re back to our celebrities as sleuth category I like the direction you’re taking this, Sarah.
SarahSo for me I think I would choose I think it would be fun to see Taylor Swift author a mystery series.
BrookMy first thought when you asked me the question was somebody in like the entertainment world. So I think that would be really fun and you know you could envision the concerts and um, yeah, that could be a lot of fun.
SarahAnd I mean we know again from our celebrities as sleuths episode that there. Yeah, there are a couple of books featuring her as the sleuth. So um, you know she wouldn’t necessarily need to star in her own books. But it’d be. It’d be fun to See. Um. Yeah, her or really as you say anybody in the entertainment industry writing a couple of books about some crimes and mysteries in in their world.
BrookBecause that’s what it gives us as we so as we started with you get an interior look at that world. You get to step inside and I cannot imagine that there aren’t all sorts of interesting things that go on in the world of Hollywood or the entertainment industry. That would just be fascinating that we know nothing about. So yeah, great pick, Sarah.
SarahSo, Brook, thanks so much for today’s conversation I think it was really fun to talk about ah people who are high profile or well known in their in one industry writing mysteries as well.
BrookYes, thank you Sarah this was so much fun and thank you all for listening today to Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah. And we both love mystery.