Cozy to Cold-blooded: Famous Authors as Sleuths

by Sara Farmer
published in Reading

One of my favorite types of books is historical fiction, so it stands to reason that I love historical mysteries. Imagine my happiness at discovering mystery series starring famous writers as sleuths. I’m surprised I was able to stand my excitement when I discovered mystery series with mystery authors as the sleuths. 

The following seven books feature a mixture of fiction and mystery writers. Sometimes they are the primary sleuth and sometimes not. I’ve rated each one between one and five deerstalkers, in honor of Sherlock’s iconic hat. After all, wasn’t he one of the first “real” detectives to star in mystery stories? (In his case, the accounts Watson wrote of their exploits.) Five means “Pretty much solved the murder singlehandedly.” One means “Where have you been since the corpse turned up?”

1. Being a Jane Austen Mystery series by Stephanie Barron 

In Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, Jane visits a newlywed friend. The groom dies of an illness. It turns out he was murdered. But who murdered him? Jane is a compassionate, intelligent sleuth. This reads like a cozy, but Jane is not insensible to the emotional fallout of murder. Barron also nails the tone of a Jane Austen novel. I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn’t actually written by Austen. 

 First in series: Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor

No. in series: 13

Actual sleuthing done by author: 5 out of 5 deer stalkers 

 2. Louisa May Alcott Mysteries by Anna Maclean

Maclean’s Alcott finds time to solve murders while also running her own school, helping her mother, assisting runaway slaves, and honing her writing skills. In the first book, Alcott is writing lurid thrillers, but a tomboy named Jo pops into her head. Jo has to wait, though, because one of Alcott’s oldest friends drowns. As with Austen, it turns out to be murder and Alcott must unmask the culprit, even if it puts her own life at risk. Alcott’s feisty personality and sense of integrity make her a satisfying sleuth. 

First in series: Louisa and the Missing Heiress

No. in series:

Actual sleuthing done by author: 5 out of 5 deerstalkers 

3. Brontë Sisters Mysteries by Bella Ellis 

 In The Vanished Bride, all three sisters are back at home after working away as governesses. A woman at a neighboring estate goes missing. A school friend of the Brontës works in the home and discovers the bedroom empty and covered in blood. Charlotte decides they must investigate. Emily takes ghoulish delight in this. Anne goes along to please her sisters, but is soon determined to see justice done. Due to the messiness of the crime, this one is not really a cozy, although the rest of it has some of that feel. I loved Emily’s delight in the more Gothic aspects of the investigation and the bickering between her and Charlotte. 

First in series: The Vanished Bride

No. in series: 1 (second installment in Feb. 2021)

Actual sleuthing done by author(s): 5 out of 5 deerstalkers 

4. Agatha Christie Mysteries by Andrew Wilson 

Wilson’s first Christie mystery utilizes her 11-day disappearance in 1926, which remains a mystery. Christie said she lost her memory and it was not restored until her husband, Archie, found her in the northern England spa hotel where she had been the whole time. She never spoke of it again. Many have speculated about what took place during those lost days. Wilson’s explanation is outlandish (and he does not intend for it to be taken as truthful), but it works both within his narrative and the established events in Christie’s life. This is more of a thriller and Christie does not function as a sleuth. I believe she does in the other entries in the series. 

First in series: A Talent for Murder

No. in series: 4

Actual sleuthing done by author: 3 out of 5 deerstalkers (I gave her an extra for resourcefulness and bravery. And because she’s Agatha Christie.)

5. Josephine Tey Mysteries by Nicola Upson 

In An Expert in Murder, mystery writer Josephine Tey travels to London to attend her hit play Richard of Bordeaux and see friends, some of whom are among the cast. But murder arrives with her and one by one, people involved with the play become either suspects or victims. This is a complex mystery with many characters. It’s worth the effort to keep track of the threads and people. But I was disappointed that Tey did not do much sleuthing until the end. I did like her police detective friend Archie Penrose who did most of it. I hope the other books will give her more of a chance to investigate. 

First in series: An Expert in Murder

No. in series: 9

Actual sleuthing done by author: 2 out of 5 deerstalkers 

6. Detective Daniel Hawthorne Mysteries by Anthony Horowitz 

Anthony Horowitz pulls off a unique feat here. He inserts himself into one of his own mysteries. Along with a taciturn detective named Hawthorne, Horowitz works to solve an unusual case – a woman who went to a funeral home to plan her own funeral then was murdered mere hours later. 

Horowitz is a reluctant sleuth at first. He is supposed to shadow Hawthorne and then write a book detailing the investigation. But he is drawn in first by the circumstances, then by empathy with the victim. The fictional Horowitz seems identical to the real one. Same TV and film credits, same novels. It’s a risky device, but it works. Hawthorne and Horowitz are a great odd couple and cameos by Hollywood luminaries are an extra delight. 

First in series: The Word Is Murder

No. in series: 2

Actual sleuthing done by author: 5 out of 5 deerstalkers 

7. The Mitford Murders Mysteries by Jessica Fellowes

Jessica Fellowes, author of several companion books to Downton Abbey, pens this series about the famous Mitford sisters – Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Decca (Jessica), and Debo (Deborah). Each book in the series features one of the sisters, beginning with Nancy, the eldest sister. Nancy went on to write books of her own, but in Fellowes’ book we meet her at 16 and eager to grow up. She and nursery maid Louisa Cannon join forces with police officer Guy Sullivan to solve the murder of Florence Nightingale Shore. Shore was a real person, a nurse in both the Boer and Great Wars and relative of Florence Nightingale. Shore was found murdered on a train. In real life, the murder remained unsolved, but Louisa, Guy, and Nancy discover an intriguing solution in this engrossing book. Nancy does participate enthusiastically in the sleuthing and capture of the culprits, but Louisa and Guy are the main detectives. 

First in series: The Mitford Murders

No. in series: 3 (fourth due in Jan. 2021)

Actual sleuthing done by author: 4 out of 5 deerstalkers 

There are many more series featuring real authors. I plan to read some featuring Charles Dickens, Dashiell Hammett, Henry David Thoreau, and Edgar Allan Poe. Are there any that I missed? Let me know in the comments!


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 www.kittymomma.com and on Twitter @avonlea79.

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