When writers turn detective: five great reads

Here at CFL we like to explore crime fiction in all its forms. In recent months we’ve highlighted one or two crime stories that have taken a work of classic fiction and transformed it into a crime novel. We thought we’d take this concept one step further and delve into a world in which well-known writers have been turned into a detectives and then go around solving crimes.

The idea of using a real person as a character in a work of fiction is far from new. In crime fiction, a variety of well-known personalities including Eleanor Roosevelt, and writers including Mark Twain have been transformed into amateur sleuths. To give you a flavour of just what is available we’ve put together a list of five fascinating mysteries in which a well-known writer has embarked on a new career…

Nevermore by Harold Schechter
We travel to Baltimore in the 1830s where Edgar Allan Poe is a struggling young writer who is troubled by terrifying visions, which ultimately lead him into a quest to hunt down a killer, whilst being dragged ever deeper into his own nightmarish imaginings. This is a journey into the gothic world that Poe’s works inhabited. This book won’t suit everybody’s taste, and at £8.99 it isn’t what we’d call a bargain buy. We think it’s good, but our advice is definitely try before you buy with this one.
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Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders by Gyles Brandreth
When Oscar discovers the naked corpse of a 16-year-old boy in an attic, he determines that he must investigate and enlists the help of his friend Arthur Conan Doyle, with the latter taking the role of Dr Watson as compiler of the casebook. The victim is known to Wilde and it is this connection that sparks the detection, which takes us to some of the most prestigious addresses – ones that only Oscar Wilde could lead us into.
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Jane and the Stillroom Maid by Stephanie Barron
A pleasant ramble in the Derbyshire hills turns out to be anything but for Jane Austen when she discovers a young man’s corpse. Her suspicions are raised when the victim’s body is removed to a town outside the locality and is subsequently discovered to be female. Rumours of witchcraft and ritual killing are rife, but then a key witness disappears. This case is far from clear cut.
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Louisa & the Missing Heiress by Anna Maclean
The Louisa in question is Louisa May Alcott and in this story, which is recounted 30 years after the actual events, we find Louisa going through the diaries she kept as a young writer. In this, her first case, she turns amateur sleuth when her newly married friend, Dorothy Wortham’s mysteriously disappears and is subsequently found floating in Boston Harbour. Suspecting there is more to her death than a fortune hunting husband, Louisa feels compelled to discover the truth.
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Murder on the Canterbury Pilgrimage by Mary Devlin
Finally, we go back through the centuries to a book where The Canterbury Tales meets Cadfael. When the body of a murdered gypsy turns up on the pilgrimage route, the great English poet Geoffrey Chaucer enlists his fellow travellers to help him track down the killer, but could it be one of his companions?
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Have you read one of these books or another book where a famous author has been re-envisaged as a detective? What did you think?

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1 Comment

  1. Rough Justice Reply

    Great article Spriteby, really informative. I haven’t read any of these and am going to pick one up. How about as well the Edgar-winning Hammett by Joe Gores, and The Patient’s Eyes by David Pirie featuring a young Conan Doyle. This was a novelisation of the Murder Rooms tv series

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