Picture this: a celebrated jazz singer belts out her last song and leaves the stage amid thunderous applause. The lights go on, and so does the applause. Only one fan doesn’t join in … she’s slumped over the table, long hair trailing in her spilled beer. A knife impales her back.
Does this really happen? Or is it the product of a mystery writer’s ever-active imagination?
I confess. I conjured up this unsavory scenario as I enjoyed a performance by jazz great Jane Monheit at the Capitol Ale House in Richmond, Virginia. Probably at least one other author has produced a similar scene in a musical setting. I’ve read a few musically-themed mysteries—K.K. Beck, Sara Hoskinson Frommer, and Lorie Ham come to mind—so I figured a list of such titles was out there somewhere. Naturally, I turned to the internet.
In no time I found dozens of lists of mystery series, titles, and short story collections with music as a main theme. For the most part, the main character is a singer or musician. Here are the top four lists:
- Stop, You’re Killing Me! Music Mysteries
- Lincoln City Libraries: Mystery, Music, Murder, Mayhem
- Music in English Detective Fiction: A Few Notes
- ReadersAdvice.com: Musical Mysteries
Miles Corwin loves jazz so much that he titled his first Ash Levine mystery, Kind of Blue, to honor jazz great Miles Davis.
In the wooded hills overlooking a performance at the Hollywood Bowl, Harry Bosch finds a body in the trunk of a Rolls Royce. So begins Trunk Music by Michael Connelly.
In Death Set to Music by Mark Hebden, Chief Inspector Pel must solve the murder of a woman found bludgeoned to death in her home in provincial France. Apparently she’d been listening to opera before her demise.
Musicians are being bumped off one by one at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry in The Country Music Murders, a Hilary Quayle mystery penned by Marvin Kaye.
The indomitable Nancy Drew attends a music festival where, of course, she’s called upon to solve a mystery in The Music Festival Mystery (Nancy Drew Book #157) by Carolyn Keene.
Donna Leon launched her Commissario Brunetti series with Murder at La Fenice: a murder takes place during a performance of La Traviata at Venice’s renowned opera house.
In Death at the Opera, Gladys Mitchell’s sleuth, the unconventional psychoanalyst Mrs. Bradley, is called in to investigate a death at a performance of The Mikado.
When a popular country singer is threatened, his Grammy-winning song about broken promises may be his last. Will it be? Read Marcia Muller’s The Broken Promise Land and find out.
Murder at the Music Hall by Amy Myers features Auguste Didier, a French chef and reluctant detective, who solves the murder of music hall star William Lamb.
Peter Robinson’s DCI Alan Banks is a musicophile. In Piece of My Heart a murder that took place at a rock music festival in 1969 may be linked to a present-day one. Note: Peter Robinson provides playlists for several of the books in the Alan Bank’s series. Click here to view.
In The Tumbleweed Murders by Rebecca Rothenberg (completed by Taffy Cannon) country music (the Bakersfield sound) is mixed with botany to create a first-rate mystery.
Jazz is often in the air in Julie Smith’s Skip Langdon series, set in New Orleans.
Keith Snyder’s series stars Jason Keltner, an electronic musician.
In Inspector Morse, DCI Endeavour Morse loves classical music and opera. He travels to Italy to solve a murder and enjoy opera in “Death of the Self.”
A rock band member is electrocuted onstage in “The Axeman Cometh” episode of Midsomer Murders. Chief Inspector Barnaby is a fan of the band but has to play the professional to solve the murder.
Amanda Redman plays a lounge singer in the “Black Orchid” episode of Taggart, a Scottish police procedural. Click here for a YouTube clip of her performance.
Readers, can you suggest more musically-themed books and shows?