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Real People Make the Best Book Detectives
Imaging the private lives of historical figures is good fun. No matter how detailed the record of someone’s life is, there’s still room to pretend. Turning real-life royals, artists, and especially authors into book detectives seems to be a particularly favorite pastime of mystery writers. In addition to their busy fact-based lives and the demands of their time (which range from the 15th century to the 1930s), these characters now have a wealth of crimes and clues to sort through. If you can’t get enough of a favorite old-fashioned celeb, all you have to do is turn these pages and play Watson to their Sherlock.    Print this list Print this list
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Groucho Marx, master detective
Hollywood, 1937. Groucho Marx (1890-1977), the cigar-smoking, wise-cracking, fake-mustache-wearing brother of Harpo, Chico, Gummo, and Zeppo, is about to star in a farcical radio show called Groucho Marx, Master Detective. It’s supposed to be an ironic title, but Groucho does in fact have quite the nose for mystery. When young starlet Peg McMorrow is reported to have killed herself, the comedian’s interest is immediately piqued. He didn’t know Peg well or for long, but he knew her well enough to rule out suicide. And sure enough, Peg’s death is being covered up quick—no news story, no police report, no funeral. Groucho enlists crime-beat-reporter-turned-script-writer Frank Denby to assist in his amateur investigation. Frank’s just fallen head-over-heels for a pretty young thing of his own, but like Groucho, his sense of right demands that justice prevail. Nothing, however, not murdered actresses nor gun-toting assassins nor corrupt policemen, can drown Groucho’s rapid-fire wit and comedic word play. Familiar with the Marx Brothers or not, author Ron Goulart’s cunning mystery series is sure to make readers chuckle and puzzle as they follow Groucho through the behind-the-scenes intrigues, passions, and crimes of glamorous old-world Hollywood.
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Cover Art: The tale of Hill Top Farm /
The tale of Hill Top Farm
Albert, Susan Wittig.
The village of Near Sawrey is like many English villages—seemingly sleepy, but ready to jump to life at the slightest hint of scandal. When a resident dies unexpectedly, the rumor mill kicks into high gear. Into this frenzy of speculation comes Miss Beatrix Potter. It’s 1905, and the author is beginning to make a name for herself with her tales of Peter Rabbit and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. But she’s chafing under the protection of her snobbish parents and mourning the death of her fiancé. Seeking solace, Beatrix arrives in Near Sawrey (pet rabbits in tow) as the new owner of Hill Top Farm. Locals add her to their mix of gossip but Beatrix fits in quickly, especially when her quick eye and growing self confidence land her smack in the middle of a puzzle involving a trio of important missing items. It’s a cozy little mystery made even sweeter by the addition of village animals, who have as much to say as their human counterparts do. Author Susan Wittig Albert includes a biography that is sure to make readers as keen to explore the real life of Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) as they will be to solve mysteries with her.
Adult Fiction ALBERT
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Cover Art: Jane and the unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor : being the first Jane Austen mys
Jane and the unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor : being the first Jane Austen mys
Barron, Stephanie.
Author Stephanie Barron sets her fictionalized Jane Austen in the seemingly mild-mannered world of 18th century polite society, with manor houses, horse-drawn carriages, and formal visits galore—and then gives her heroine lots of adventures and mysteries to solve. In the series opener, Jane has just caused a scandal by accepting a marriage proposal only to change her mind the next morning. Seeking refuge from wagging tongues, Jane goes to visit an old friend, Isobel Payne, who has just married the wealthy—and much older—Earl of Scargrave. When the Earl suddenly dies and anonymous notes accuse his young bride of murder, Jane determines to stay on and help her dear friend through this dark hour. There’s a tangle of suspects and motives to unravel—greedy nephews, airhead aunts, scoundrels, and ne’er-do-wells—not to mention a dashing Lord with a decided interest in Jane the detective. Janeites will recognize names and characters from the author’s life and novels and will surely get a kick out of seeing the prim-and-proper Miss Austen (1775-1817) turn snoop. It will come as no surprise that with her reputed wit and critical eye, Jane makes a formidable detective indeed.
Adult Fiction BARRON
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Cover Art: Oscar Wilde and a death of no importance /
Oscar Wilde and a death of no importance
Brandreth, Gyles Daubeney, 1948-
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was an author, poet, playwright, and due to his flamboyant style, a major celebrity of his time. The scandal that brought about his downfall—his affair with an aristocratic young gentleman was publicly exposed—made him an even hotter item of gossip. But between his fame and his decline, Oscar Wilde (at least according to the mystery series penned by Gyles Brandreth) was one of the most intuitive detectives solving crime on the mean streets of Victorian London. For his first case, Oscar investigates the death of sixteen-year-old model Billy Wood. Oscar walks in moments after the murder, but when he brings friends Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) and Robert Sherard (poet and eventual Wilde biographer) back to the scene of the crime, the room has been wiped clean of all evidence—including Billy’s body. Oscar, with his contrary nature that has him waxing poetic one moment and making Sherlockian deductions the next, follows clues and culprits while his pals and the police try to convince him that nothing can possibly be done. Of course Oscar prevails, and the result is a stylish, authentic, and highly entertaining mystery.
Adult Fiction BRANDRE
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Cover Art: The ninth daughter /
The ninth daughter
Hamilton, Barbara, 1951-
Rebellion is brewing in 1773 Boston, and founding mother Abigail Adams is a very busy woman. She’s the wife of one future U.S. president and mother to another. Her husband John Adams is a member of an undercover society of gentlemen whose aim is to overthrow British rule of the American colonies, and Abigail is privy to all their secrets. And one cold morning when she stops to visit her friend Rebecca Malvern, a fellow patriot who has committed the unthinkable act of leaving her abusive husband, Abigail finds herself up to her ears in murder. There’s a dead woman on the floor of Rebecca’s kitchen and Rebecca herself is missing. Redcoats quickly link the rebels to the murder and John Adams is at the top of the list. To clear her husband’s name and find her friend, Abigail abandons hearth and home and scours the city streets for clues—while the brutal killer lingers somewhere very close by. The tension mounts as author Barbara Hamilton seamlessly weaves historical fact and dramatic fiction. Abigail Adams (1744-1818) is well-documented as a supremely competent and intelligent woman, which means, of course, that she makes an excellent and intrepid sleuth.
Adult Fiction HAMILTO
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Cover Art: The poyson garden : an Elizabethan mystery /
The poyson garden : an Elizabethan mystery
Harper, Karen
Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of “off-with-their-heads” King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (later beheaded), was pretty much guaranteed to have an interesting life. So when author Karen Harper imagines the young Elizabeth (1533-1603) in the days leading up to her reign, when her half-sister Mary was still on England’s throne, readers know there’s drama a-comin.’ Elizabeth is supposed to be under house arrest in the country, far away from court where her claims to rule cannot be heard. But Elizabeth—just twenty-five years old, ambitious, and intelligent—is not one to play by the rules. When a perplexing note summons her to the bedside of a relative she thought was already long dead, the young royal is quickly plunged into all manner of intrigues and deceptions. There’s a murderer afoot, armed with a deadly arsenal of poisons and targeting anyone and everyone connected to the Boleyn family. But Elizabeth is a curious, spirited young queen-to-be with loyal servants, stoic relations, a look-alike herbalist, and a band of plucky actors on her side—unless, of course, one of them is the killer. Don’t expect historical accuracy from this series, but do be prepared for lively, atmospheric mysteries featuring a likable and rousing heroine.
Adult Fiction HARPER
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Cover Art: Wicked Will /
Wicked Will
MacDonald, Bailey
Thomas Pryne is a young actor traveling in a players’ troupe through jolly old 16th century England. Except that Tom is not what he appears—he is actually Viola, a girl in disguise under the protection of her actor-uncle. When they arrive in the little village of Stratford, Viola’s secret is threatened by an all-too-observant, overly-inquisitive, and rather annoying boy—who just happens to be named Will Shakespeare. Will is quick to drag Viola into his schemes and adventures, but when the town curmudgeon is found murdered, Will quickly turns from mischief-making to investigating. Viola, though skeptical of Will’s skill, is more than willing to play along—because her dear uncle is accused of the crime, and the brash young playwright-to-be just might be their best chance at uncovering the truth. Author Bailey MacDonald sprinkles her clever mystery with snippets from familiar plays and stays true to the lively spirit of the real William Shakespeare (1564-1616). As irresistible as the boy Shakespeare super-sleuth is, MacDonald has no current plans for a sequel. She does, however, have plans for a young Benjamin Franklin, who stars in his own rousing mystery debut, The Secret of the Sealed Room.
Children's Fiction MACDONA
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Cover Art: The queen's gambit : a Leonardo da Vinci mystery /
The queen's gambit : a Leonardo da Vinci mystery
Stuckart, Diane A. S.
Serving as an apprentice to the great Leonardo da Vinci, master of arts and engineering for Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, is a dream come true for a young nobody like Dino. But the dream turns to nightmare when, during a living game of chess staged for visiting nobility, Dino stumbles across the murdered body of one of the chess “pieces.” Sforza quickly appoints Leonardo as detective, and Leonardo quickly enlists Dino as his personal crime-solving assistant. Leonardo da Vinci is an imposing figure—enormously gifted, attentive to detail, and coolly analytical. Confident that no one is better equipped to sift through the web of courtly intrigues and political motives than the great da Vinci, Dino is in awe of “The Master.” And Leonardo will need all that confidence to find the culprit—especially when his talented young apprentice is also in possession of a dangerous, defiant secret. Author Diana A.S. Stuckart has a marvelous time bringing Renaissance Italy to life, complete with vivid glimpses into the masterful mind of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and his many brilliant frescoes and ingenious inventions. It’s a rollicking good mystery too, with lots of period drama and dangerous surprises around every corner.
Adult Fiction STUCKAR
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Cover Art: An expert in murder : a new mystery featuring Josephine Tey /
An expert in murder : a new mystery featuring Josephine Tey
Upson, Nicola.
Josephine Tey, acclaimed mystery writer on par with the likes of Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, is on her way to London to celebrate the triumphant run of her play, Richard of Bordeaux. On the train she meets an avid fan, a young haberdasher named Elspeth whose enthusiasm and optimism make an impression on Josephine despite their brief acquaintance. So when Josephine learns that Elspeth was murdered shortly after they parted company, the shock hits hard. Detective Inspector Archie Penrose is a friend of Josephine’s, and the author of fictional mysteries is swiftly drawn deep into the dangers of a true crime that strikes far too close to home. Author Nicola Upson conveys the atmosphere of 1930s England to a tee. The mystery, too, is smart and genuine—Upson even went so far as to interview Richard of Bordeaux’s real-life players, though their names have been changed for the book. The real Josephine Tey (1896-1952) was one of the Queens of Crime back in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, and mystery lovers unfamiliar with her novels will be flocking to the shelves for the likes of The Man in the Queue (1929) and The Daughter of Time (1951).
Adult Fiction UPSON
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