Hitchcock did it. Stan Lee did it. They showed up in their own work, usually a brief moment but a fun Easter Egg for people in the know.
But recently, some mystery writers are taking that self-insertion to a new level: the author is a protagonist (or a major character) in their own work. That means that the narrator shares the name of a character in the work.
Sometimes these works are called author surrogates or even author avatars. Whatever you call them, they do make the reader wonder if the story is true or not. Interestingly, several books make their avatar into someone untrustworthy, which is fascinating!
Here are seven works in which the author is a character in their own work.
The Word Is Murder
Writer and screenwriter Antony Horowitz gets an interesting proposal. An investigator, former disgraced police detective Daniel Hawthorne comes to him with a proposition: Horowitz will write about Hawthorne’s investigations, sharing the profits between them. However Hawthrone is very off-putting, dismissive, close-lipped about his life. But Horowitz is compelled to take up the offer when Hawthrone is brought on for a case of a woman who plans her own funeral and then dies later that day. Thus starts the first of a strange partnership, book 5 Close to Death comes out later this year (3/19/2024).
The Enigma of Room 622
After the end of a painful love affair, Swiss writer Joël decides to take a break at a luxury hotel, Hôtel de Verbier. He ends up meeting a fellow guest, Scarlett, who points out that there is no room 622. They learn that an unsolved murder happened in that room years before and thus resulted in the room number change. But Scarlett decides she wants to solve the murder and drags Joël into an investigation to figure out whodunit diving into the world of Swiss banking, counterintelligence, and hotel management.
True Crime Story
Taking a cue from the popularity of true crime podcasts, True Crime Story focuses on the disappearance of college student Zoe Nolan who simply disappears after leaving a party in Manchester in 2011. Writer Evelyn Mitchell decides to investigate what happened to Nolan in 2018, interviewing Nolan’s friends, her twin sister, and other people around her, revealing a secret life. But when Mitchell gets stuck, she asks for help from her mentor Joseph Knox who ends up playing a bigger role in the story… Read an interview with Joseph Knox here.
And Then There Were (N-One) - from Uncanny Magazine
Nodding the proverbial hat to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Pinsker provides a most intriguing premise: all the characters are different versions of Sarah Pinsker. She’s been invited to a convention in Eastern Canada with over 200 versions of herself. But things get weirder when one of them is murdered and now Pinkser has to investigate herself… Yeah, it’s too delicious not to include! Read the novella here.
The Suicide Museum
Described as a murder mystery memoir, writer Ariel Dorfman receives an interesting proposal from a reclusive billionaire named Joseph Hortha who wants him to determine once and for all if Chilean president Salvador Allende was murdered or committed suicide during the coup on 9/11/1973. Dorfman embarks on a decades-long investigation, finding witnesses, papers, and more to uncover the truth about his friend’s death while trying to work through his own feelings of cowardice for not being present at the presidential palace on the day of the coup. He befriends Hortha who is trying to make amends for his own demons. It’s an astonishing book about loyalty, belonging, and redemption.
Set in 1981 Los Angeles, a new student, Robert Mallory arrives at Buckley prep school. He becomes part of his friend group with senior Bret Ellis who is working on a book called Less Than Zero. But there’s things that don’t add up with Mallory. On top of that, there is a serial killer, known as the Trawler, who is targeting teenagers. After the death of Bret’s secret lover, Bret becomes convinced that Mallory is the serial killer and sets out to prove it. But is Bret seeing clearly or is his assumptions and grief clouding his judgment?
Chasing the Boogeyman
When Richard Chizmar returned to his hometown, he thought his biggest challenge would be planning his wedding and launching his writing career. But his hometown is under a dark veil as there is a serial killer running loose, killing teenage girls and cutting off their ears. The press calls him the Van Gogh killer but others call him the Boogeyman. When a 15 year old girl that Chizmar knows is kidnapped and killed, Chizmar feels himself compelled to write about his town and its elusive monster. He’s both reporter and witness as he tries to figure out who is behind these terrible killings.