The best mysteries with literary motifs or settings

Paula Marantz Cohen Author Of What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper
By Paula Marantz Cohen

Who am I?

I am a literary critic and novelist, now serving as a Dean at Drexel University. I’ve written several modernized spin-offs of Jane Austen’s novels and several, including a YA novel, dealing with Shakespeare. What Alice Knew is my only thriller/mystery—and it was a painstaking labor of love to write. (I also wrote a nonfiction book on Hitchcock.) I am a great fan of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels, and the idea for What Alice Knew grew out of my wanting to put the bedridden Alice James (a life-long invalid) in the position of Wolfe, with her brothers Henry and William serving as two versions of the legman, Archie Goodwin. 


I wrote...

What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper

By Paula Marantz Cohen,

Book cover of What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper

What is my book about?

An invalid for most her life, Alice James is quite used to people underestimating her. And she generally doesn't mind. But this time she is not about to let things alone. Yes, her brother Henry may be a famous author, and her other brother William a rising star in the new field of psychology. But when they all find themselves quite unusually involved in the chase for a most vile new murderer-one who goes by the chilling name of Jack the Ripper-Alice is certain of two things:

No one could be more suited to gather evidence about the nature of the killer than her brothers. But if anyone is going to correctly examine the evidence and solve the case, it will have to be up to her.

The books I picked & why

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Daniel Deronda

By George Eliot,

Book cover of Daniel Deronda

Why this book?

This is Eliot’s last novel about an ostensible British aristocrat’s journey to uncovering his real identity. Often referred to as Eliot’s “Jewish novel,” it reflects her unerring ability to empathize with the Other. It is very long but also un-put-downable, with two interwoven plots that complement each other masterfully. It’s at once a conventional 19th-century novel and an entirely original and surprising take on the genre. As a Jew with a love of nineteenth-century British novels, this one spoke to me most powerfully.

Daniel Deronda

By George Eliot,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Daniel Deronda as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As Daniel Deronda opens, Gwendolen Harleth is poised at the roulette-table, prepared to throw away her family fortune. She is observed by Daniel Deronda, a young man groomed in the finest tradition of the English upper-classes. And while Gwendolen loses everything and becomes trapped in an oppressive marriage, Deronda's fortunes take a different turn. After a dramatic encounter with the young Jewish woman Mirah, he becomes involved in a search for her lost family and finds himself drawn into ever-deeper sympathies with Jewish aspirations and identity. 'I meant everything in the book to be related to everything else', wrote George…


The Secret History

By Donna Tartt,

Book cover of The Secret History

Why this book?

Set in a fictionalized Bennington College, Tartt’s alma mater, it dramatizes what one guesses is her own college experiences as a part of a group of precocious undergraduates, and makes them into a context for murder. I found that this is a weird and relatable book and will appeal to anyone who has been part of a group that explicitly or implicitly feels itself to be superior.

The Secret History

By Donna Tartt,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Secret History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE BESTSELLER THAT DEFINED AN AGE

'Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together---my future, my past, the whole of my life---and I was going to sit up in bed like a thunderbolt and say oh! oh! oh!'

Under the influence of a charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at a New England college discover a way of thought and life a world away from their banal contemporaries.…


The Daughter of Time

By Josephine Tey,

Book cover of The Daughter of Time

Why this book?

Tey’s fictional detective, Alan Grant, takes a revisionist view of the villainy, immortalized by Shakespeare, of Richard III. Grant is laid up in bed and decides to plumb history for a case; in other words, this is a kind of literary Rear Window. As someone who has taught Richard III many times, I found it to be a refreshing shift in my understanding of the character.

The Daughter of Time

By Josephine Tey,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Daughter of Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

_________________________
Josephine Tey's classic novel about Richard III, the hunchback king whose skeleton was famously discovered in a council car park, investigates his role in the death of his nephews, the princes in the Tower, and his own death at the Battle of Bosworth.

Richard III reigned for only two years, and for centuries he was villified as the hunch-backed wicked uncle, murderer of the princes in the Tower. Josephine Tey's novel The Daughter of Time is an investigation into the real facts behind the last Plantagenet king's reign, and an attempt to right what many believe to be the…


The Name of the Rose

By Umberto Eco,

Book cover of The Name of the Rose

Why this book?

Set in an Italian monastery in the 14th century, the book, by renowned philosopher Umberto Eco, is full of monkish esoterica. I loved the philosophical riffs that fill this novel, and loved the movie as well, starring Sean Connery, as the British monk sleuth. This is Eco’s only good novel, in my opinion. After writing this, he should have stuck with philosophy.

The Name of the Rose

By Umberto Eco,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Name of the Rose as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Read the enthralling medieval murder mystery.

The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective.

William collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey where extraordinary things are happening under the cover of night. A spectacular popular and critical success, The Name of the Rose is not only a narrative of a murder investigation but an astonishing chronicle of the Middle Ages.

'Whether…


Death in a Tenured Position

By Amanda Cross,

Book cover of Death in a Tenured Position

Why this book?

Set in academia, this is English prof Carolyne Heilbrun’s most famous mystery under her pseudonym of Amanda Cross. Harvard English Department stands in for Columbia, where Heilbrun spent most of her career and weathered many indignities. I remember briefly sitting in on Heilbrun’s course on Henry James when in grad school and sensing her prickliness.

Death in a Tenured Position

By Amanda Cross,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Death in a Tenured Position as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Janet Mandelbaum is made the first woman professor at Harvard's English Department, the men are not happy. They are unhappier still when her tea is spiked and she is found drunk on the floor of the women's room. With a little time, Janet's dear friend and colleague Kate Fansler could track down the culprit, but time is running out....


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in private investigators, the Middle Ages, and Richard III of England?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about private investigators, the Middle Ages, and Richard III of England.

Private Investigators Explore 196 books about private investigators
The Middle Ages Explore 303 books about the Middle Ages
Richard III Of England Explore 12 books about Richard III of England

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Winter King, The Mists of Avalon, and In Cold Blood if you like this list.