The best books inspired by literary icons

Who am I?

When I was growing up, my mother and I borrowed armfuls of books from the library every week. As I worked my way through classic novels, she devoured mysteries and imparted her enthusiasm to me. After earning a Ph.D. in English, I taught college-level writing and literature. I currently write the Five-Ingredient Mysteries, each with five suspects, five clues, and five-ingredient recipes. My recent books unite my love of mysteries and classics. Though set in the present, they revolve around iconic authors or events of the past. Poe, Dickens, and Christie, along with suspense master Hitchcock, have influenced the characters, plots, and themes of my books. 

I wrote...

Gingerdead Man

By Maya Corrigan,

Book cover of Gingerdead Man

What is my book about?

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens inspired my 7th Five-Ingredient Mystery featuring café manager Val and her live-wire grandfather as sleuths. While Val hosts a tea for costumed volunteers during a Dickens of a Holiday festival, an intruder shrouded in black, like the eeriest Dickens ghost, crashes the party and gives out macabre gifts—gingerbread men with white icing skeleton bones. Santa munches his gingerdead man and keels over. A second deadly treat in a gift bag claims another victim and darkens the shadow over the town’s celebration. Once Val and Granddad unmask the cookie-cutter killer disguised as a ghost, they and the whole town can celebrate the holidays as the Dickens characters do—with family, friends, and food.

The books I picked & why

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The Christie Affair

By Nina de Gramont,

Book cover of The Christie Affair

Why this book?

As a mystery reader and writer, I idolize Agatha Christie, the bestselling fiction writer of all time. In her 60+ detective novels, the mystery is always solved, but she left behind an unsolved mystery about herself. In 1926, after Archie Christie asked for a divorce to marry his lover, Agatha vanished for eleven days. Found after a massive manhunt, she never revealed why or how she disappeared. The Christie Affair solves that mystery in an inventive way, narrated by Archie’s mistress, a character I didn’t expect to like but grew to understand. I love the novel’s intertwining of history and mystery. It explores the effect of war on the hearts and minds of the characters and includes a murder solution worthy of Dame Agatha.

The Jane Austen Book Club

By Karen Joy Fowler,

Book cover of The Jane Austen Book Club

Why this book?

This novel explores the mysteries of the heart, much as Jane Austen did. The book’s chapters correspond with Austen’s six novels and the six meetings of the book club focused on her. As five women of various ages and one man discuss each Austen novel, their witty sparring reveals the complexity of their own searches for love and meaning. By studying Austen’s novels, the book club members, all of them at a crossroads, understand themselves better and forge a path forward. Having read and re-read Austen for decades, I love this book for showing how Jane Austen speaks to us two centuries after she died.

The Final Solution: A Story of Detection

By Michael Chabon,

Book cover of The Final Solution: A Story of Detection

Why this book?

This novella is inspired by the iconic character, Sherlock Holmes. Its title recalls “The Final Problem,” the story in which Arthur Conan Doyle left his fictional detective for dead and then had to resurrect him after a public outcry. Chabon’s title also echoes the Nazi euphemism for the Holocaust. The story is set during World War II in an English village, where a mute Jewish boy, his talking parrot, and a famous detective in advanced old age come together. When a stranger is murdered and the parrot goes missing, the retired detective, nameless though clearly Holmes, agrees to find the boy’s bird, a task that incidentally leads to the murderer. I love Chabon’s elegant writing as he explores the solvable and unsolvable mysteries of unspeakable crimes.

Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe

By J.W. Ocker,

Book cover of Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe

Why this book?

This entertaining book about the man who invented the armchair detective is perfect for armchair travelers and for researchers. I pored over it for the 4th mystery in my series, with its cast of Poe fanatics. Poe-Land explores the life and legacy of Poe through the places where he lived and where museums and monuments now honor him. His best-known stories stem from his time in Philadelphia, home of the Poe National Historic Site. The Philadelphia Free Library’s collection of Poe-phernalia (Ocker’s word) includes Charles Dickens’s stuffed pet bird, the raven said to have inspired Poe’s famous poem. Ocker unravels the mystery of how the bird got there, but neither he nor anyone else can solve the puzzle of Poe’s mysterious death in Baltimore.  

The D. Case: Or the Truth about the Mystery of Edwin Drood

By Charles Dickens, Carlo Fruttero, Franco Lucentini

Book cover of The D. Case: Or the Truth about the Mystery of Edwin Drood

Why this book?

This novel is two books for the price of one. It contains the unfinished manuscript of The Mystery of Edwin Drood that Dickens was writing when he died. Chapters from the Dickens book alternate with scenes from a conference in Rome devoted to unfinished works. The conference attendees who resemble fictional sleuths, including Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, and Hercule Poirot, look for clues in the Dickens text to deduce how he would have finished the story. The book also offers insights into the life and death of Charles Dickens and a stunning ending. I love the book for its unique combination of a mystery and a novel by a literary giant.  

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