Cover of Rocket to the Morgue by Anthony Boucher

Murder, They Wrote: Five Murder Mysteries Featuring SFF Authors and Fans


If there’s one lesson that British television teaches us, it is that any group of people, no matter how charming or seemingly innocent, is likely to contain one or more murderers1. Speculative fiction pros and fans must be no exception. Authors have not been slow to realize the creative potential of this plot seed…

Don’t believe me? Consider these five works.

Rocket to the Morgue by Anthony Boucher2 (1942)

Cover of Rocket to the Morgue by Anthony Boucher

Hilary Foulkes has devoted his life to maximizing income from his deceased father’s still-popular Dr. Derringer stories. An excessively vigilant guardian of Dr. Derringer IP, Hilary has acquired a long list of people who would like to see him dead. Now it seems that at least one person is determined to follow through with an actual murder.

It falls to Detective Inspector Terry Marshall, assisted by Sister Ursula of the Sisters of Martha of Bethany, to determine which of Foulkes’ many enemies are targeting the vexatious heir. High on the list of suspects, the members of the Mañana Literary Society. The Mañana Literary Society is composed of not only authors, but science fiction authors. Who knows what atrocities they might commit?

Boucher didn’t just populate his cast with SF authors. He used thinly veiled versions of his SF friends and colleagues3. Readers may amuse themselves working who corresponds with whom… or they can cheat and consult the list over on Wikipedia.

Murder at the ABA by Isaac Asimov (1976)

Cover of Murder at the ABA by Isaac Asimov

Giles Devore’s first novel became a bestseller thanks to the efforts of editor Darius Just. As far as Devore is concerned, his success is not merely a reflection of his own inherent greatness, it is a get-out-of-jail-free card that confers license to act abominably. The discovery of Devore’s corpse by his former editor Just is no doubt welcome news to fellow members of the American Booksellers Association.

Devore’s death appears accidental to most. To Just, the scene seems staged. This suggests murder. Just has no problem imagining that someone might want Devore dead. The trick will be narrowing the list of suspects down to just one.

Like Boucher, Asimov tuckerized colleagues in this mystery: Darius Just is a thinly disguised Harlan Ellison. Asimov also sprinkled the cast with well-known figures of the sort one might plausibly meet at an American Booksellers Association conference, such as astronomer Carl Sagan, science writer Walter Sullivan, and local eccentric Isaac Asimov.

Now You See It/Him/Them… by Robert Coulson and Gene DeWeese (1975)

Cover of Now You See It/Him/Them... by Robert Coulson and Gene DeWeese

Reporter Joe Karns’ life is one long sequence of unlikely events. Most recently, Karns arrived at the door of the hotel room of Silas Tucker, SF author turned professional debunker, just in time to hear Tucker being murdered. Inexplicably, the killer eludes Karns despite there being no other exit from the room.

Filksinger Kay Clark sheds light on the murder. Having spent years exposing frauds, Tucker had discovered that ESP is actually real. People with very special gifts, such as being a living weirdness magnet, walk among us. Too bad for Tucker that one person with a very special ability was willing to kill to keep that ability a secret. Too bad for Karns and Clark that both of them now know too much.

Not only is Tucker a former SF author, his murder takes place at an SF con. Coulson and DeWeese do not hesitate to exploit the potential for amusing local color, particularly in the matter of wandering cosplayers with an interest in murder.

Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb (1987)

Cover of Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb

Appin Dungannon is very nearly a tragic figure. Dungannon has come to loathe the Tralyn Runewind series for which he is famous. Unable to give up the lucrative income from the series, Dungannon copes by doing his best to make everyone he meets as miserable as he is. With a single exception, Dungannon’s relentlessly unpleasant demeanor has failed to alienate his audience. The exception? Whichever Rubicon attendee it was who murdered Dungannon.

A local detective, Lt. Thomas Ayhan, is convinced that solving the murder should be easy. The collection of eccentrics attending the con probably know little about how to get away with murder (at least less likely than the average Bouchercon4 member). But it’s not the cop but novice SF author Dr. James “Jay Omega” Mega who spots the killer. Now, if only Jay can figure out how to survive exposing the murderer…

Bimbos has three noteworthy aspects. First, it’s not much of a mystery; it is clear who dunit. Second, author McCrumb seems utterly confounded by and disapproving of many of the fen5. Third, it’s pretty clear that Jay’s girlfriend Dr. Marion Farley is the uncredited co-author of Jay’s book and arguably the one who deserves first credit.

We’ll Always Have Parrots by Donna Andrews (2004)

We'll Always Have Parrots by Donna Andrews

Fans of the cult-favorite TV show Porfiria, Queen of the Jungle launch their first East Coast convention. Thanks to contracts whose clauses merited closer examination than they got, Porfiria actors like Meg Langslow’s boyfriend Michael are not merely allowed to attend the con; they are required to attend.

Obnoxious star Tamerlaine “QB” Wynncliffe-Jones barely has time to establish her comprehensively unpleasant character before Meg finds QB’s battered corpse. Complicating homicide Detective Foley’s task is the fact that almost everyone at the con had means, motive, and opportunity to kill QB. This includes Michael. It’s up to Meg to solve yet another murder6 before Foley decides that Michael is the killer.

Parrots stands out from Bimbos in a number of respects. First, the con is a profit-oriented media con, not the more traditional, less monetized variety. Second, Andrews gives every indication of liking colorful fannish eccentrics, rather than sharing McCrumb’s fascinated disdain.


Are there more recent examples of this subgenre? I’d love to read them. Please mention candidates in comments below. icon-paragraph-end



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top