Friday, March 02, 2012

by Jennie Bentley

This idea struck me the other day. I can’t really say why, other than that someone – on Twitter, where else? – was talking about Martha Washington, and my mind made some sort of strange connection wherein I started thinking about what kind of sleuth Martha might make.

Using real people as fictitious detectives isn’t anything new, of course. From Amadeus Mozart to Elvis Presley and the entire Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., etc.) the artistic element is well represented in fiction, as is the political sphere, including both Theodore and Eleanor Roosevelt, at different times and in different series. My personal favorite might be Lizzie Borden, solving crimes thirty years after being acquitted of murder.

As far as writers go, they’re the most heavily represented, of course. There are mysteries out there featuring Mark Twain and Daphne de Maurier, Louisa May Alcott and Beatrix Potter, Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle, not to mention Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë and Oscar Wilde, along with the entire Algonquin Round Table, headed by Dorothy Parker.

If you go HERE, you can see a long list of real people used as fictional sleuths. It isn’t complete, but it’s pretty darned good.

One name that isn’t on the list is Coco Chanel. I’ve decided that if I ever decide to write a series of mysteries with a real person in the lead – and don’t hold your breath – Coco will be my protagonist. Can’t you just see it? High fashion murders in Paris in the 1920s?

So what about you, fellow Stiffs? If you had to write a book with a real person solving crimes, who would you choose to write about? Or if not that, who would you choose to read about? Does anyone in particular come to mind?

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On a not at all related note, if you haven't already seen the cover for DIY-6, Wall to Wall Dead, here it is. The spooky shadow is missing, but I've put out a call. I have hopes that one might be added. We'll see. At any rate, Wall to Wall Dead will be released September 4th, and will feature Avery Baker and Derek Ellis, who are both as fictitious as they come.


Ramona said...

I like that list--what interesting sleuth choices!

My favorite historical character is Joan of Arc. I'm not sure how well she'd work as a sleuth. It would be difficult to write around her being burned at the stake, and if she had a direct pipeline to God's voice, wouldn't she just ask him who did it?

My second choice would be Dante. Considering his body of work, I wouldn't have to worry about him being squeamish, and he was often in trouble with the Vatican, so there's a secondary storyline with some heft. He also had an inappropriate devotion to a woman who was not his wife, so there's love triangle possibility there.

This is a fun game!

Joyce Tremel said...

Coco Chanel would be a great sleuth. Get cracking on that!

I'm not sure who I'd pick yet. It would have to be someone from either the Civil War era or the 1940s. I'd love to write something set during WWII. I'll think about it.

Does anyone else hate how this new comment page looks?

C.L. Phillips said...

Yep, hate the new comment page, everywhere, not just on Working Stffis.

Jenne - great idea - I look forward to reading those books.

As for me, a favorite sleuth would be....Madame Lavoisier, wife of the famous French chemist and tax collector who was guillotined during the French Revolution. That or Madame Curie.

Yes, I've got a thing for French women scientists.

Mary Sutton said...

I agree - Coco Chanel would be a great choice.

I'm not sure who I'd pick. Most of the folks you mention are the ones I'd think of first. I find the medieval era intriguing, but I might be more inclined to make up a fictional character who *knows* a real person and work it in that way.

Joyce - the new comment format is awful!

Gina said...

Joan of Arc? You could set it pre-capture and have her be a cross between Nancy Drew and Brother Cadfael.

I must admit to being a little uncomfortable using a real person in a fictional work. I mean, if you get it too wrong won't they haunt you? But I guess if I were going to use one, it might be Anne Rice. [Let's just hope she isn't reading this!]

Jenna said...

LOL, Gina... I think one of the requirements is probably that the sleuth has to be dead before you can use him or her. Anne Rice is still alive, isn't she?

Jenna said...

Mary, Gary Corby does that, in his books about ancient Greece. Or maybe not. His sleuth, Nicolaos, is the older brother of Socrates. I'm not sure whether Socrates did in fact have an older brother named Nico, but if not...

Jenna said...

C.L. - oooh, good choices! I could definitely see a series about Madame Lavoisier working. Madame Curie too, but La Lavoisier's background is so compelling!

Jenna said...

Joyce, WWII rocks, I agree. That's an idea I've played with myself, actually, but with a fictional sleuth. I also thought of mentioning Mata Hari in the blog post, to be honest. Do you read Rebecca Cantrell's series? Fictional sleuth, but set in Berlin in the 1930s.

Jenna said...

Ramona... oooh, Dante sounds good! Sounds like you've already got some great background going there. Get busy! These things sell, I'm telling you!

Patg said...

I'm a major fan of the Stephanie Barron series with Jane Austen as the sleuth. So much has been written about her, and yet, so little is really known, so she can do a lot with reality and imagination.
If I did historical, I'd pick a third or fourth child of a monarch or someone famous from the aristocracy who could always be in the background of big events.
Or maybe something like one of King Tut's daughters didn't die as an infant.

Gina said...

Yeah, to the best of my knowledge, Anne Rice is still alive. But she might be undead for all we know . . .
It just seems as if New Orleans and San Francisco could provide a lot of opportunities for sleuthing while researching vampires or visiting churches.

Patg said...

I'm going to try Cantrell's book as I love Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther books.
Gina, Ann Rice will one day be quite a sleuth character, but New Orleans (MSY) is getting old hat for vampires.
I think Agatha Christie in her younger life would be good, during her dispensing days during WW1, and she'd live with a great old lady who also had another boarder from Belgium.

Joyce Tremel said...

Jenna, Rebecca Cantrell's book are in my TPR stack. I just haven't gotten to them yet!

Jenna said...

Oooh, Agatha Christie would be a good one. Unless that's already been done. Better yet, Agatha and Max solving archeological mysteries in the vein of Amelia and Emerson.

For those of you who mentioned her - after I did - Rebecca Cantrell rocks. Her books are great. So, of course, if you like female sleuths and 1930s/40s, is Kelli Stanley. :-)