It’s the Celebrity Sleuths Mystery Series, by George Baxt — 13 books, published between 1984 and 1997, with creative titles like The Greta Garbo Murder Case or The Fred Astaire And Ginger Rogers Murder Case.
Going by online summaries, it looks like they all have the basic formula of “somebody gets murdered, and a star-studded lineup of Golden Age celebrities, led by the one name-checked in the title, needs to solve it.”
I noted the pattern while shelving people’s returns at the library, but didn’t feel compelled to pull any of them and read further.
And then I saw The Gracie Allen Murder Case, and snapped it up to check out as soon as my shift was over.
The year is 1947, and Gracie Allen is still way too into The Tall Man, starring Rudy and Trudy — a charmingly deadpan parody of The Thin Man‘s Nick and Nora.
In this direct sequel to Gracie Takes Up Crime Solving, Gracie believes there’s a hit out on George…and tracks down the real Rudy and Trudy for help. Because actors are always just like the caricatured versions of themselves they play on-air, right?
The year is 1947. The Adventures of the Thin Man is a major hit on the radio; Stepin Fetchit is still a household name, though the actor has backed away from his movie career out of frustration with the racism in the industry; and Gracie Allen is thinking about changing genres.
As a devoted fan of The Tall Man, our heroine ventures down into “the underworld” — posing as hardened criminal Gracie Catraz. She’s accompanied by Meredith Wilson (a guy so modest, he once accidentally bumped into a woman and thought “the honorable thing to do” was to marry her), doing his best to be her “moll.”
In a rare case of continuity, this adventure gets a sequel in next week’s episode, Kill The Rat.