“So anyway, after my divorce, everyone said I should have a hobby. Until I told them that I was planning to write a mystery novel where Alf solves crimes.”
~Some of These Writers, Basically
Mystery novels serve many important functions in American society. They’re read on our sandy beaches, they’re packed and probably not read on our family vacations, and they’re an easy way for lazy screenwriters to fast track a screenplay in Hollywood. We, as a nation, love a good mystery, be it the deductive sleuthing of Sherlock Holmes, or trying to figure out why there are used condoms in the bathroom garbage can when you and your wife have been trying for kids the last three months. If that sentence took a shocking turn, that wasn’t this feature’s writer oversharing about his debilitating divorce, it was a twist that you didn’t see coming!
Americans love mystery novels because they’re light, easy to read, enjoyable, and there’s something genuinely exciting about finding yourself shocked by an outcome you never saw coming. Which is why it is such a popular genre for not only American readers, but for American writers. We don’t have the numbers to back this up, because it’s not like we make enough money on this site to hire an actual research team, but every year roughly 900,000 mystery novels are written by recently retired business men and women who have not yet decided to take up fishing.
And sure, every once and a while we’ll get a Gone Girl out of this slurry of mid-life crises, but more often than not we’ll get someone that just goes, “Okay so it’s a mystery, but like, what if the detective was David Duchovny?”
Which, duh, if Duchovny was the detective it would have to feature aliens. Actually, there’s some nuggets there, we could make that work. So while we work on our masterpiece Murder on the X-Files Set, here’s a list of eight detective novels that have actually been published where the detectives are fictionalized versions of real-life people.
8 Craziest Detective Novels (Featuring Celebrity Sleuths)
He have to make one thing clear before we launch into the rest of this article—we are well aware that the very reason fanfiction on the internet exists is to flood the web with thousands upon thousands of mystery novels starring all sorts of celebrities. Well, okay, that’s not true at all. The reason fanfiction exists is so we can all write horny books about figures in pop culture that we’d like to have bone.
But, still, among all the Harry Potter and Ron sex scenes out there, thousands of detective novels have seeped through as well. None of those will be listed here, because we wanted a challenge, so we had to limit ourselves to books with celebrity detectives that actually were published.
That’s right, these are all real books, most of which you can purchase, right now! But you probably shouldn’t!
Detective Steve Allen in Murder on the Atlantic by Steve Allen
Steve Allen was a lot of things to a lot of generations. If you’re a Baby Boomer, you know him primarily as the first host of The Tonight Show. If you were born in the 70s, 80s, or mayyybe the early 90s he was that guy who was the subject of those Simpsons jokes in the Bleeding Gums Murphy episode. And if you’re “young” and have “yet to have your dreams dashed by an unfeeling universe” he’s a guy with a generic name you have just heard for the first time reading this article.
Truth is, Steve Allen had a pretty diverse resume. He was a comedian and a radio personality. He was a prodigious talk show host, appearing on such programs as What’s My Line?, I’ve Got a Secret, and The Steve Allen Show. He even once won a Grammy for a Jazz album. But, most importantly for our purposes, he wrote over 50 books throughout his career. Cue that Simpsons joke!
These books included nine murder mysteries, and while you might rightfully roll your eyes at the idea of a famous comic writing himself into a series of murder mysteries, his first novel did not actually include him as a character, despite being called The Talk Show Murders. He eventually decided to center the action around himself, his wife (the actress Jayne Meadows), and their chauffeur, Cass.
We’re not sure if the “loyal chauffeur” is based on the couple’s actual chauffeur, or was just a convenient fictionalized assistant, but no matter the answer we’re pretty sure we’ll walk away from that information feeling a little gross.
Anyway, we could have picked any of Steve Allen’s mysteries, which typically involved himself being caught up in a murder and having to clear his name, or the name of his friends. There’s Murder in Manhattan, Murder in Vegas, Murder in Hawaii, wait a minute we’re starting to see a theme here…
Anyway, most of these were released in the 1990s, in the twilight of Allen’s career, and that includes Murder on the Atlantic, which was published in 1995 and follows Steve and his “vivacious” wife (that’s from the Amazon blurb, that’s not us) as they take the maiden voyage of a “reclusive billionaire’s luxury liner” where a body is discovered on a lifeboat. Given that Steve Allen was actually a pretty talented writer, we’re sure the books are light enjoyable reads. But we do feel incredibly sad for poor Robin, who wrote one of the three Amazon reviews this book has received in 2017 (or seventeen years after Allen’s death.)
Oh honey, we’ve got some bad news for you…
Detective Amadeus Mozart in Dead, Mr. Mozart by Bernard Bastable
When you think of Amadeus you think of three things. You think of the Oscar-winning film that shares his name. You think of his brilliant career only amplified by his tragically young death. And of course you think of the time he wrote a six-voice canon titled “Lick Me in the Ass.”
Bernard Bastable ignores all of these things, and instead asks the hard questions that you non-creatives just don’t have the inspiration to think of yourselves. Like, “What if Mozart actually lived in England, and didn’t die, and never became famous, and somehow becomes involved in investigating an adultery accusation against King George IV’s wife at the age of 65?”
Now you might think to yourself, that literally sounds like such a completely different character, like it seems like the only “Mozart” thing about this story is “the detective is a conductor at a crappy theater, and dreams of staging a famous opera one day.” And you’d be 100% correct. But we’ll cut Bastable a little slack, since “some random detective in England in 1820” is a lot less sexy of a pitch than, “Okay, well everyone knows that Wolfgang Mozart died in 1791. What this book presupposes is…maybe he didn’t?”
Anyway, if you’ve ever listened to The Magic Flute and found yourself thinking, “Man, I love the music here, but what I’d love more is to see the composer solve a sex-crime as a 65-year-old British man in the early 19th century” well guess what, Bernard Bastable’s estranged son, we’ve got a fucking book for you.
Detective Groucho Marx in Groucho Marx, Master Detective by Ron Goulart
You got that right, Groucho Marx, the comedian, slash, lazy costume accessory has his own novel where he gets to solve crimes! We haven’t read it (nor have we read any of these books, like we said, y’all do not pay us enough for that shit) but we’re worried, because “making a historically famous funnyman your protagonist” screams like an invitation for a writer who’s not half as funny as he think he is to just, make us squirm in our seats. Maybe he nailed the voice! But like, the odds are against him, just saying.
Anyway, Groucho Mark’s ahem, sorry, “beautiful” co-star (eye-roll) on a radio serial is found dead before the first episode can air, and he becomes determined to find her killer. Or at least that’s the plot for novel pictured.
Because, yes, this is a theme in this article, there are many books with old Detective Groucho. Six to be exact, with three alone coming out between the years 1998 and 1999. Frankly, six books with a bunch of “here’s what it would sound like if Groucho solved crimes, but funny” sounds goddamn exhausting. That said, we aren’t sure if it’s better or worse than…
Detective Taylor Swift in The Secrets of the Starbucks Lovers by Larissa Zageris and Kitty Curran
Sigh. So yeah, these writers wanted to write a modern detective story set in New York City with Taylor Swift as the “girl detective” so they put it on Kickstarter and got $10,000 from 480 people to do that. We feel so tired right now for some reason.
Oh you want the plot? Ugh, of course you do. *puts on our most fake perky voice ever* a struggling actress receives threatening messages on her skinny mochas! And Taylor Swift is there to take the case! Listen, we know that this is very tongue and cheek, and it actually was pretty well-reviewed on Goodreads, but if you need us for the next fifteen minutes we’re going to be out chucking rocks at cars to calm ourselves down.
Detective Bill Walton in Friend of the Devil by James Kirkland
We know you just willingly clicked on a site that writes primarily about pizza and that literally just now made a factually correct joke about Mozart writing dirty song lyrics, so you might not know who Bill Walton is. For the 25% of readers unfamiliar, here he is.
He is a 6-foot-11, 66-year-old Hall-of-Fame NBA Basketball player. And, as of February 24th this year, he’s a detective. Well, okay, not really. And to be honest, none of the individuals in this whole article are actually detectives. But they play the detective role in the story, and language is semantic, so chill. Anyway, Bill Walton and his play-by-play partner Dave Pasch find out that the daughter of one of Bill Walton’s former teammates went missing, and he has to do something about it.
Honestly, we have nothing much to say about this other than it’s sort of silly to have this pair in a detective novel, but, surprisingly…this actually got good reviews? Huh.
Detective Mark Twain in Death on the Mississippi: The Mark Twain Mysteries #1 by Peter Heck
Yes, that cover says “volume one.” Peter Heck, a science fiction and mystery writer from Brooklyn, wrote six different mystery novels that had Samuel Clemson himself solving murders. Published between 1995 and 2001, these six volumes included some titles we’d absolutely read.
Tom’s Lawyer, where the inspiration for Huck Finn is on trial for murder? We’d read that! The Mysterious Strangler? We don’t have to click that synopsis, we’re pretty sure we got it, that’s fine. Anyway, Death on the Mississippi is pretty straightforward. Someone is murdered in New York, with Mark Twain’s address written on a piece of paper found in his pocket . It somehow ends up on a steamboat from there. We’re sure it’s gripping and the plot more or less makes sense if you actually sit down and read it. We have no issue with that.
We do have one giant issue with this series however, and that’s the two books in the series whose title alone make us want to punch a hole into a cement wall. Brace yourself…there is A Connecticut Yankee in Criminal Court (oh god, groan, fucking groannn) and…The Prince and the Prosecutor. You’ll have to give us a moment of reflection while we wait for the rage to subside. We cannot overstate how mad we are that we just had to type out those titles.
And honestly, outside of the titles, which have us seething, we’re not that upset about this series? As a general concept, it doesn’t enrage us, it’s the execution that we’re mad about. Because after all, if you’re going to take an important American historical figure, there are few people we’d rather see on the page than Mark goddamn Twain. Although speaking of historical figures…
Detective Eleanor Roosevelt in Murder and the First Lady by Elliott Roosevelt
Folks, we have to be straight with you here. We’re not here to waste your time. So yeah, there’s not a detective novel where Eleanor Roosevelt solves crimes. There’s twenty fucking detective novels where Eleanor Roosevelt solves crimes. Behold, the Eleanor Roosevelt Mystery Series! And that’s just the beginning of the insanity here, because about half of these books were published posthumously, and all but one of the twenty books were written by…Eleanor Roosevelt’s goddamn son, Elliott.
We discovered Elliott Roosevelt while researching this article, and in doing so we literally stopped writing the article you are reading now so we could write THIS mini-biography of his life. We literally posted it a few weeks ago, but if you haven’t read it we’ll give you the abridged version.
He was the middle child of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt, attending private school and then refusing to go to Harvard, instead taking a series of jobs in advertising and broadcasting before joining the Air Force in 1940, where he would achieve the rank of Brigadier General, flying a total of 89 combat missions despite the fact that he had shitty eyesight and was deemed unfit to fly.
He went on to get married five goddamn times, became mayor of Miami Beach, Florida for a few years, oh and at one point was seriously accused of orchestrating an assassination plot against a Bahamanian Prime Minister.
Then, randomly, as he hit his 70s he decided to write nearly two dozen books where his long-dead mom solves crimes. We’ve written a lot of patently insane sentences in our many years writing on America Fun Fact of the Day, but that might just be the most batshit bananas combination of words we’ve ever had to piece together that didn’t involve playing Mad Libs with someone suffering from aphasia.
Who even cares what this book is about? Amazon says “First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt embarks on an undercover investigation” (wait, does she have disguises? How does that even work? Fucking everyone knew what Eleanor Roosevelt looked like. Anyway.) “into the White House murder of a crooked New Jersey congressman’s son after her young British secretary becomes the prime suspect.” Cool! We will gladly read every single one of these books, that’s how much we’re obsessed with Elliott Roosevelt now.
Oh, and speaking of, um, White House detectives…
Detectives Barack Obama (and Joe Biden) in Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
Hahah okay you know what, is there even any reason to tell you what this is about? It’s basically a buddy-detective novel with Obama and Biden that came out in July of 2018. It’s written by a best-selling author, and it’s described as “political fanfiction” and an “escapist fantasy that will likely appeal to liberals pining for the previous administration.” It essentially the Obiden Bromance, only set to…mystery. Or something. We honestly don’t know, again, we’re too busy reading each and every one of the Eleanor Roosevelt Mysteries. That’s our life now, and we’re totally fine with it.