Cozy to Cold-Blooded: Celebrity Sleuths

by Sara Farmer
published in Reading

Well, it took me a couple of years, but I found more author sleuths for you! This time, however, I mixed in some sleuths who, while famous, aren’t authors or at least aren’t famous because of any books they wrote. It turns out I used up most of the author sleuths in my first installment, but don’t worry. These celebrity sleuths are intriguing, funny, and engaging. 

Just like last time, I rated the celebrity sleuths in deerstalkers, ranging from 5 (pretty much solved the murder single-handedly) to 1 (Where have you been since the corpse turned up?).

Beatrix Potter in The Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Wittig Albert (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter series)

Miss Abigail Tolliver dies while reading a letter and eating tea cakes after her birthday party, thrown by her friends in the village. She leaves behind her home Anvil Cottage and her cat Tabatha Twitchit, one of a network of village animals who can speak to each other. (The humans don’t know this.) Her heir is her nephew, a draper from Kendal, who does not make a good impression in the village. 

Having recently purchased a farm in the area, Beatrix Potter arrives with her animals (They also talk to each other.) and boards with the Crooks, since the Jenningses still live in the farmhouse she just bought and the late Miss Tolliver can’t board her now. She soon discovers that some are suspicious of a lady farmer and worried about what she intends to do with the place. 

Rumors begin to spread that Miss Tolliver was poisoned. One of the village cats sees the nephew trying to break into the cottage one night. Miss Potter realizes one of Miss Tolliver’s paintings is missing and reveals that it was a rare miniature done by Constable. This right after the Parish Register and the School Roof Fund money go missing. 

This book is charming and readable, perfect for cozy mystery fans. I also enjoyed learning more about Potter and her life. The characters are typical village types without being stereotypes. 

First in series: The Tale of Hill Top Farm 

Number of books in series: 8

Actual sleuthing done by author: 1 deerstalker (Other characters, including the village animals, do most of the sleuthing, but Potter contributes a little.)

Taylor Swift in The Secrets of the Starbucks Lovers by Larissa Zageris and Kitty Curran (illustrator)

Swifties (raises hand) will love this romp of a mystery novella. Taylor Swift and friend Lorde—yes, the famous singer—are writing a song in a New York City Starbucks when they hear a scream. 

A young woman dropped her drink in a state of great fright. Lorde and Taylor (I like the references to the defunct department store chain that pop up in the book) find out her name is Bianca and she is an actress. She has been receiving threatening messages written on her cups instead of her name, no matter which Starbucks she goes in. She has been looking for her missing sister and someone obviously wants her to stop. 

Taylor decides this is a perfect case for Taylor Swift, girl detective. Amid Swiftie-delighting injokes, punny chapter titles, and self-aware banter, Taylor, Lorde, and the rest of the squad solve the mystery without having to “breakup song” anyone. 

First in series: The Secrets of the Starbucks Lovers (only one so far)

Number of books in series: 1

Actual sleuthing done by one of the best singer/songwriters: 5 out of 5 deerstalkers 

Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Murders by Heather Redmond (A Dickens of a Crime series)

Charles Dickens, 23 and working at two newspapers, not yet the legendary writer, feels ready to be married. He is interested in the oldest daughter of his editor, 19-year-old Kate Hogarth. (Fun factL she later became Dickens’s real-life wife.)

During dinner with the Hogarths, a scream rings out. Charles, Kate, and her father go to investigate. The neighbors of the Lugosons are having an Epiphany dinner and Christiana, the daughter of the house, has become seriously ill. She is a young woman who will be “out” soon and is heiress to fortunes from both her parents. 

Charles and Kate stay to help tend Christiana that night, but she dies in the morning. The next day, Charles’ colleague and neighbor William Aga tells him that another young woman, the same age and from the same neighborhood, died in a remarkably similar fashion on Epiphany night the year before. Her name was Marie Rueff. 

Charles and Kate embark on an investigation of the deaths, discovering adultery, children born out of wedlock, and the possibilities of parents or siblings killing their own family members for money. It’s a strange courtship, but it seems to work for them. The story unfolds a bit slowly, but I enjoyed the journey. 

First in series: A Tale of Two Murders 

Number of books in series: 4

Actual sleuthing done by author: 4 deerstalkers (Future wife Kate assisted him as much as propriety would allow. Sometimes a bit more.)

Claire Clairmont in Claire’s Last Secret by Marty Ambrose (Lord Byron Mystery series) 

Claire Clairmont, stepsister to Mary Shelley and former mistress to Lord Byron, is living out her waning years in Florence with her niece Paula and Paula’s little daughter Georgiana. Neither is accepted by society due to having children out of wedlock. (Claire is the mother of Allegra, her daughter with Byron, who died at the age of 5). Consequently, they live in a state of genteel poverty and need money. 

A man named Michael Rosetti (sibling to Dante and Christina) visits, saying Claire’s friend Edward Trelawny sent him. He wants to buy her letters from Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley for research for the Shelley biography he is writing. After he leaves, Claire discovers a note under her teacup that reads “Your daughter lives.”

It causes Claire to begin thinking about 1816 when the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora caused weather changes that stole summer from the young group living by Lake Geneva—Claire, Mary and Percy Shelley (although they weren’t married yet), and Lord Byron. 

To escape from the dreariness they wrote ghost stories. Mary’s became the classic Frankenstein, but this book is not about that. It’s about family and society and the cruelties both could visit upon women who dared to follow their hearts. Also, the lengths they would go to cover their actions, as Claire discovers when she begins to investigate her daughter’s death and a dear friend who helps her is murdered before he can reveal all he knows. 

Claire persists in discovering what really happened to her daughter and who murdered her friend. In the process, she discovers that everything and everyone were not what they seemed in that long-ago summer. 

I cheated a bit with this one, since the famous authors involved aren’t really celebrity sleuths. Claire is a real historical figure who played an integral role in that summer that saw the birth of Frankenstein as well as more of Byron’s poetry. How could I resist that? Mary, Percy, and Byron do play important roles in the story. 

This book is the first in a trilogy concerning the mystery of Allegra Byron and her fate. (Although I think in real life no one doubts that she died at 5.) I found it compelling and I always enjoy discovering female figures who were sidelined from their place in history. 

First in series: Claire’s Last Secret

Number of books in series: 3 (Amazon lists 4, but the last is by a different author and doesn’t seem connected, except by the fact that Byron is the sleuth. The Claire series is named for him for some reason.)

Amount of sleuthing done by historical figure: 5 deerstalkers (She received help from her niece, Mr. Rossetti, and their household helper Raphael, but I still gave her 5. Claire did most of the work at an advanced age with considerable danger involved.)

Joe Biden and Barack Obama in Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer (Obama/Biden Mysteries)

Joe Biden doesn’t quite know what to do with himself now that he is no longer vice-president. He and Obama don’t hang out like he thought they would and the aging process bothers him. 

One night, he sees a mysterious spark of light among the trees in his backyard. Turns out Obama is paying him a visit and he has bad news. Biden’s old friend, Amtrak conductor Finn Donnelly, is dead. He was lying on the tracks and a train hit him. Biden is sure Finn wouldn’t kill himself and knows he was a teetotaler, so unlikely to be passed out on the tracks. 

Obama felt Biden needed to know because a map with Biden’s address on it was found on Finn’s desk. Biden knows Finn would never hurt him, but Obama wants to make sure and to help him keep his name out of the papers. 

Obama and Biden, along with trusty Secret Service agent Steve, end up investigating. This book is very fun, although it is a little weird to picture the two doing and saying some of the things they do and say in this story. The imagined complexities of their post-administration relationship are interesting. 

First in series: Hope Never Dies

Number of books in series: 2

Amount of sleuthing done by the current and former POTUS: 5 (Especially Joe as the narrator working with a serious knee injury for most of the book.)

Queen Elizabeth II in The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett (Her Majesty the Queen Investigates series)

A young musician is found dead in a compromising position at Windsor Castle the day after one of Queen Elizabeth II’s “dine and sleeps.” It soon becomes clear this was no accident, but the head of the investigation thinks Putin is responsible. The Queen knows this to be very unlikely based on her experience. It turns out, she’s not just talking about her experience as Queen. 

The Queen started solving mysteries at the age of 13, when she was still Princess Elizabeth. With the help of a succession of Assistant Private Secretaries (APS) to do the legwork and keep the investigation secret, the Queen uses her instincts and knowledge of people and international diplomatic and social protocols to find the answers. 

This time, her competent, kick-ass, intelligent new APS Rozie Oshodi proves an able sidekick. Along the way, the reader gets a delightful glimpse into the workings of Windsor Castle and the preparations for the Queen’s 90th birthday back in 2016. (This is especially fun for followers of the royals, of which I am one.) Royal cameos are few (mostly just Prince Philip), but most of the main royals are mentioned at some point. 

It’s interesting to know this book was written with the knowledge of the 2016 U.S. election and its aftermath, as well as Meghan Markle’s entrance into the Royal Family and her and Prince Harry’s subsequent exit. Bennett provides foreshadowing that feels natural to the narrative, such as the Queen musing that it would be interesting for the US to have a female President (sigh) and thinking that all of the younger royals are doing so well and now they just need Harry to “find a decent girl.” Boy, did he ever. 

First in series: The Windsor Knot

Number of books in series: 2

Amount of sleuthing done by Her Majesty, the Queen: 5 deerstalkers (The Queen can’t openly sleuth and doesn’t have time to do the legwork anyway, so she has help from Rozie and others. However, she comes up with most of the ideas and lines of investigation. Also, she’s Queen Elizabeth II and I greatly admire her. So she gets 5.)

Tell us in the comments: What famous figure would you like to see solving a mystery?

Sara Farmer lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, three kids, and two cats. When she’s not chasing kids and cats, she reads and writes mysteries. You can find her at and on Twitter @avonlea79.

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