Now that we’re solidly into the 2020s, this feels an appropriate time to look back at the “Roaring 20s.” The beginning of the Jazz Age saw speakeasies filled with flapper women and tuxedoed men dancing to the tunes of Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and many others. It was a seemingly carefree time, when the party never stopped.
But there was an edge to the era—a whiff of danger with the noir of gangsters and moonshine. It was also a time of intense social and political conflict as modern philosophies collided with traditional sensibilities. The social conversation expanded to include issues of race, gender, class, sexuality, and more—creating friction with the previously accepted status quo. Heightening these tensions were varying political ideologies like socialism, fascism, and communism.
All in all, this mix makes the “Roaring 20s” a prime era for glorious murder mysteries. Here are 10 murder mysteries to get you dancing the Charleston or the Fox Trot or exploring the dark secrets of a city’s underbelly—and figuring out the murderer.
Dead Dead Girls
Years after Louise Lloyd survives a kidnapping in her youth, all she wants to do is dance at the Zodiac speakeasy with her girlfriend. During the day, she works at Maggie’s Café and occasionally sees her younger sisters. But when she stumbles upon the dead body of a Black woman in front of the café—the third such case in a short period—she feels obliged to help the police out with their inquiries.
Can she find the culprit before they find her or someone she loves? The second book Harlem Sunset is scheduled for publication on May 3, 2022.
Murder Knocks Twice
In this first installment of “The Speakeasy Murders,” Gina Ricci has taken on a job as a cigarette girl at the infamous Third Door, with bootlegged drinks, backroom gambling, and even a photographer to take photos so patrons can remember it all.
But after the photographer warns her to be careful—the last cigarette girl was found dead—he’s discovered murdered. Now Gina has to figure out why someone would want to silence the photographer’s camera forever.
The Rose Quilt
For quilting fans who like historical fiction, this one’s for you. Steve Walsh is brought in to solve a double murder—a wealthy woman and a quilter are found murdered with quilting sheers. All he has is a clue in the quilt that was going to be handed out as a prize at a local flower show.
Were the murders all about inheriting a fortune? Helping and hindering Walsh in his investigations is a young reporter and the daughter of the quilter. Can he figure out “whodunnit” all while finding someone he might want to marry? A second book, The Map Quilt, came out in 2020.
Not many women served as coroners in the 1920, but May Keaps does her job—and does it well. But when a young man’s body is found in an alley, the answer isn’t so straightforward.
She finds herself immersed in the seedy underbelly of her city, including opium and gambling dens. Can she piece together the clues to learn the reason behind the murder? There’s also a prequel novella called The Last Post set in 1918.
The Benson Murder Case
The Benson Murder Case is not only set in the time period, but is a true Roaring 20s book—it was published in 1926. Philo Vance, an amateur detective, is drawn to the death of Alvin Benson. Benson, a stockbroker, is found shot in the head, but somehow missing his toupee and false teeth. Can Vance figure out what dark secrets in the family led to Benson's untimely death?
The book is said to be loosely based on the locked room murder of Joseph Elwell, a Bridge player and author. A 1930 film by the same name was also made of the book. For fans of the series, there are 12 books to sink their teeth into.
The Uninvited Countess
When struggling art gallery owner Bedford Green receives an invitation to the Vanderbilt estate, he discovers he’s not there for his personality but rather his knowledge about a countess. But when her body turns up later the first night, Green has to figure out who killed the countess—amidst the party that never stops.
It’s a great period piece for folks who want the crazy parties, hot cars, and more popular tropes of the era. It’s also the second of three books in the “Jazz Age Mystery” series.
A Few Right Thinking Men
It’s the Jazz Age—but from the world down under. Rowland Sinclair may be an artist but he’s also the younger son of a wealthy landowning family in Australia. He lives with his artistic friends in his family home in the city and they attend all the wild parties and other events. His family is less than pleased with his lifestyle. It’s also a time of social tension with the increasing misery of the Depression, the rise in fascism, and fears about socialism—both abroad and at home.
When Sinclair’s uncle is brutally murdered in what appears to be a botched home invasion, Sinclair decides he has to find out the murderer without further besmirching the family name. This is the first of 10 books in the Rowland Sinclair series.
The Dorothy Parker Murder Case (Jacob Singer #1)
This one is for fans of the Algonquin Round Table. After all, who doesn’t want a murder mystery with Dorothy Parker?
When a showgirl is found murdered in their friend’s hideout, Dorothy Parker brings in Detective Jacob Singer to solve the case. Rumor has it the girl was last seen with Rudolph Valentino before their deaths the night before. Are their deaths connected? Was Valentino murdered? This is a delightful romp including all the celebrities of the era. It’s also the first of 13 books by George Baxt, each featuring a different figure from the era.
Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play
Taking place in Galveston, Texas, Jasmine Cross or “Jazz” finds herself drawn into the politics and scandals of speakeasies. Things just seem to get worse for Sammy Cook, her half-brother, and his speakeasy, the Oasis. She witnesses a bar fight at the Oasis, a banker is found shot, and after that, everything blows up—gang wars begin and the police are homing in on Sammy.
Jazz has to find out what happened before Sammy and his speakeasy are shut down for good. It’s the first of five books in the “Jazz Age Mystery” series.
After the Armistice Ball
When her friend Daisy asks Dandy Gilver to help her find out who took the Duffy diamonds after the Armistice Ball, she agrees, seeking distraction now that the war is over and her home is empty. Most people dismiss Dandy’s intelligence but she uses that to her advantage when talking to suspects and witnesses.
When Cara Duffy is found dead in a seaside town, most people write it off as an accident, but Dandy thinks it's all too convenient. Can she find the jewel thief and figure out who may have killed Cara? It’s the first of 15 books in the “Dandy Gilver” series, the most recent published in January 2021.
This post first appeared on Murder & Mayhem.