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Re-release: Celebrity Sleuths

This is a re-release of an episode originally published November 22, 2022.

Can you imagine a famous singer solving crimes? Or a former president and vice president? Brook and Sarah discuss this fun sub-genre of mystery fiction featuring real celebrities. Listen to find out who they would write as their own celebrity sleuths.


Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery (2018) Andrew Shaffer

White House Pantry Murder (1987) Elliott Roosevelt (featuring Eleanor Roosevelt)

Pale Blue Eye (2003) Louis Bayard

The Windsor Knot (2020) S.J. Bennet

Magpie Murders (2016) Anthony Horowitz

Laura Ingalls Wilder

For more information

Instagram: @cluedinmystery
Contact us: hello@cluedinmystery.com
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. It’s that day of the week again when we get to chat about our favorite topic mysteries.
SarahI know! It is my favorite day of the week and today we are going to be talking about celebrity sleuths.
BrookI know mine too! And I’ll just start us out with a little summary here.
In a recent episode of Clued in Mystery, Sarah and I discussed novels where the amateur sleuth is or was a real-life author. We discovered that these titles drew us in because of the fact we already felt a connection to or had an understanding of who that main character was. There was built an interest for us as readers to follow along with the author sleuth to unravel a mystery.
Not only authors have been put in the role of detective. Real life celebrities, politicians, and historical figures have been fictionalized to act as sleuths as well. And similarly this notion is very attractive.
Face it. We read People magazine or watch tabloid news shows because we’re interested in famous people’s lives behind the scenes. What could be more interesting to mystery fans than to accompany one of these already popular people on the hunt for a killer or missing treasure? Some of the titles we’ll discuss today border on parody or fan fiction, rather than being serious attempts at detective stories. And listeners will remember that parody is an imitation of an art form or style with deliberate exaggeration in order to create a comedic effect and fan fiction is a story written by a fan of a character or series to expand the story or place those characters in new inventive situations.
Interestingly, there is likely a mystery with one of your favorite famous people in the lead role to prove this here is a list of real-life figures that we’ve found fictionalized as detectives. Benjamin Franklin; Jane Austin; Clara Claremont, who was Lord Byron’s mistress; Abraham Lincoln; American explorer Matthew Henson; Barack Obama and Joe Biden as sidekicks of course; Eleanor Roosevelt; Mark Twain; Edgar Allen Poe; NBA Hall of famer Bill Walton; Taylor Swift; Groucho Marx; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Steve Allen, who was a comedian and radio personality in the 1960s; Nelly Bly, famous female reporter; Abigail Adams; Sir John Fielding, who was the founder of the first police force in London; Ernest Hemingway; Elvis Presley; Beatrix Potter; WC Fields; and last but not least the queen of England herself queen Elizabeth the Second.
So, you see, if there is a famous figure that you’re especially interested in I would do a bit of investigation if I were you. A mystery writer just may have reimagined them as a sleuth. Sarah and I both read a selection from this sub-genre and we’ll talk about our experiences today.
But I’m wondering why authors and readers find this concept so interesting. In the authors as sleuths category, there was a more obvious connection for me. A bookish literary connection at the least. And then of course some of those authors take, Agatha Christie for example, were mystery fiction authors themselves. But when we get into political figures and pop stars. Why is placing them in a mystery such a tantalizing idea? And I will admit that I’d like to sample several more of those on that list. So, let’s talk about it, Sarah. What do you like about this category?
SarahThanks, Brook. That was a really great introduction and I’d come across some of the names on your list but not all of them. For me, I love the idea of these celebrities not only excelling at whatever they’re known for. So whether it’s politics, being a royal, singing, but also solving mysteries. I think we build celebrities up in our minds as these super people. And so why wouldn’t they also be able to solve mysteries?
BrookYeah, I think you’re right. They are so excellent in whatever their field is that it makes you think “well heck they could probably solve a mystery too?” and because of those special skills that they have—I know that that showed up in the title that I read this week—that then maybe that can become part of their toolbox as a sleuth.
SarahWell exactly. And you know, you think of this setup for certainly for mystery series where there’s some situation that the sleuth finds themselves in where there’s a body or some other some other mysterious circumstance. The life of a celebrity, someone who’s traveling a lot, who’s in different locations, meeting lots of different people—that seems like a really easy entry into that kind of a mystery scenario.
BrookYeah. That’s a great point and they also have all the resources at their fingertips, right? You know if they need to get on a jet and fly across the country or they need a specialist, they probably know of someone or could afford to employ someone’s specialty. So yeah, it makes it really fun. And like I said at the top, I think that we are so intrigued and we found this with the authors as well. We want to know what’s going on in the background of these people’s lives. We like to know what they do on the weekend and you know what they eat when they go out to dinner. And so, it’s this idea of “what if this was happening in their personal life that they were also solving these mysteries?”
SarahTotally. And the other thing that I think about is you know there’s lots of books where the sleuth is fictional but is a celebrity right? Or someone who’s well-known.
SarahAnd so it’s kind of logical to think “Ok well, what if we extend that and we say well let’s put a real person in that in that scenario, right?” But I think there’s a risk like you mentioned, in the introduction there’s a risk of crossing that line into fan fiction or parody because we don’t really know what their lives are like. And, I read the first book the about Obama and Biden as the sleuths. So, I’m reading that as a Canadian and I have you know some knowledge of US politics and US politicians but you know I’m not they’re not my politicians. But I definitely felt like it was very close to that line of fan fiction. You know, trying to imagine what that relationship between the two of them was like. And there was a lot about Biden that I didn’t know that came through in this book and I don’t know how much of that was based in truth or based in the author’s imaginings.
BrookAnd even just the cover, right? You know you have this like Obama and Biden crime fighters feel to it. So even the cover gives it just a little bit of that parody feel.
But I experienced some of the same because I chose to read the Eleanor Roosevelt as sleuth. It’s written by Elliot Roosevelt. And the title I read—there’s a series—and the title I read was the White House Pantry Murder. And you know I started thinking the same thing like how much of this is true because there are events that get talked about in the story. And so I dug a little bit and there are is a lot of true references to some of the things that they underwent this one is set right at the beginning of the entry of the US in World War Two. And Churchill is a side character. And so, one thing that I was struck by is that I expected this sub genre or category to be really similar as are to our “authors as sleuths”. But what I didn’t anticipate is that it has some overlay with our “continuing the story” episode because of the research and the reference to real life events and kind of that adding to the legend of a person. There’s a crossover there as well.
BrookAnd maybe that was more so maybe that was more so um I can’t think of the right word Maybe that was demonstrated more in the Roosevelt book because it wasn’t quite as a parody leaning. It was done as more of a serious detective fiction. And so maybe that is why that I felt that way because there were definite references to historical events and personas in characters. You know they would say things that you know that they’ve been quoted in history of saying and things like that.
SarahAnd that brings up a really good point, Brook, in terms of which celebrities have been written about as sleuths. Because you think about the immediate appeal of someone who is a celebrity right now. And people are familiar with them. But if their popularity fades with time the appeal of that book may also dwindle. I’m thinking about the series you mentioned. Or sorry, the person you mentioned, Steve Allen, so that character or that series of books is likely to have a limited appeal to anybody who’s, I don’t know, younger than 50. And so that hook doesn’t really work as well. Because I hadn’t ever heard of him. And I wonder how, unless that celebrity is legendary. And I’m trying to think. Well, I guess like the Queen. If you were writing that series using a celebrity as a sleuth, you’d have to be really careful I think about choosing who your celebrity was if you wanted longevity in that series unless you chose someone who is historical and continues to have some relevance or some resonance now.
BrookRight? And there I think is where we borderline on fan fiction right? And when you’re talking about fan fiction, the author isn’t necessarily wanting to market to the masses. They’re wanting to reach other fans. And I thought of that definitely with the and NBA star that I listed and then Steve Allen that the talk show and comedian. if you aren’t already a fan of those people you’re probably not going to be interested. But I’m sure they’re a really fun ride.
SarahYeah, totally. And I like you like I am definitely going to read some others in this subgenre if for no other reason than to just see how someone else is imagining a celebrity’s life to be.
BrookYeah, exactly. Well and you will not be surprised in the least that I am interested in reading The Pale Blue Eye which puts Poe as a detective sidekick. The premise is he’s a young cadet at West Point, which we know he Poe actually did attend West Point. And as this young cadet he helps a detective investigate a series of murders. And I would like to read this this the novel came out in 2003 apparently written by Lewis Bayard but Netflix is going to create this into a film, and I believe that it’s going to release in January 2023. So it would be fun to read the novel first. And here we’re overlaying that author celebrity. Once again, the idea of Poe as a young person helping with these series of investigations and then you imagine how did that influence his becoming a gothic mystery author himself.
SarahYeah, totally. And maybe that’s why that author is sleuth category works really well, if we’re still reading their work. And so, there’s that they’ve retained that presence in our minds. I love reading the author notes at the end of books. And I often will visit an author’s website to just learn a little bit more about them. And so, I think that’s part of the appeal of even the celebrity sleuths right? It’s that yes, I know it’s a fictional imagination or a fictional imagining of their life. But if as you say if like you’re a real fan of someone then. It’s definitely appealing to read a little bit more and and kind of imagine what that? what? what their life might be like
SarahSo, I have read both of the books in SJ Bennett’s series and that’s the series where Queen Elizabeth is the sleuth and I love them. I think it’s such a wonderful premise. The idea that while she was the queen, she was also managing investigations into mysteries. It’s just so brilliant.
BrookAbsolutely yeah and coincidentally enough, The Windsor Knot showed up in my inbox this morning for a promo and I thought how perfect is this? The SJ Bennett book shows up on the day that we’re talking about this. This trope if you want to think of it that is very popular and at a time I don’t what was missing everything else.
BrookSo, Sarah if you were going to fictionalize a real-life person and put them in the role of sleuth who would you choose?
SarahOh, this is a good question, Brook. I think maybe I’d go super meta and I would choose Angela Lansbury and I would have her investigating crimes while she was filming Murder She Wrote.
BrookOh my gosh. I love this and Anthony Horowitz would be really proud of this idea, Sarah. It has a very Magpie Murders feel to it.
SarahWell, he’s already put himself as the sleuth, you know? We talked about this in the “Author as Sleuth” episode where he’s written himself as the investigator in one of his series. So yeah, he’s already done a pretty meta version of this.
BrookDefinitely but your idea is fantastic and I imagine like how popular that could be because let’s face it the Murder She Wrote fandom is immense. You only have to poke around a little bit on social media to find lots and lots of fans of this and I imagine how much fun that could be for fans of not just Angela Lansbury but the show Murder She Wrote. I mean this could be a whole franchise. Sarah, I think you should go for it.
SarahAh, thanks, Brook. What about you?
BrookOkay, so I think that I would choose this is kind of I was thinking about the Taylor Swift girl detective title that we discovered in our research and I’m taking it back to Nancy Drew of the eighteen hundreds. I want to have Laura Ingalls Wilder Pioneer Girl Detective.
SarahOh, I love it. Yeah.
BrookYes, I think that could be really fun. That was one of my favorite um television series. Ah growing up. But, of course, Laura Ingalls Wilder is an actual person. She wrote her series about pioneer life, based on her own life. And so, I think that she needs to solve some crimes in Walnut Grove.
SarahOh, yeah. I think that would be great. Yeah. I mean I think there’s so many people that could be that could be chosen. I do think if I were to do this I would do like the idea of choosing someone who historically is significant.
BrookYeah, that it’s like what you mentioned earlier that their um notoriety is will be enduring either because there’s somebody that you study in history class or you know they’ve just reached that legendary level, such as Mozart. You know he’s not going away. I think you’re right, you need to pick someone who is enduring.
BrookThis episode is scheduled to release the week of Thanksgiving here in the US. And on that note, I would just like to express how immensely thankful I am, Sarah, that you invited me to join you in this endeavor to begin Clued in Mystery just about a year ago. And we’ve accomplished a lot together. We’ve met some amazing authors and other mystery fans and I can’t wait to see what the future brings for our partnership.
SarahWell thank you, Brook. I was reflecting on something similar. It was about a year ago that that we decided to do this and it has been—it’s been a great year. And I too look forward to continuing to see it what great things we’re going to do.
BrookI know. I can’t wait.
SarahSo, Brook, thanks. This has been another really great conversation. I think we’ve got a couple of other celebrity sleuths we can read. I think I’m going to see if I can track down the Taylor Swift one because I think that that sounds like so much fun.
BrookYeah, that looks great. And I hope we’ve inspired some of you to look up some of your most favorite famous people to see if they have been cast as the sleuth. But for today, thank you for listening to Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah. And we both love mystery.