Book Series Documents Eleanor Roosevelt’s (Fictional) Detective Career

The series was written by her son Elliott

Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt in 1947.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Library

As far as history is concerned, Eleanor Roosevelt did not spend her time as First Lady solving mysteries from the White House. But what if she had? As it turns out, there are over a dozen mystery novels — published between 1984 and 2001 — that use this as their central conceit.

A new article at CrimeReads by Olivia Rutigliano explores the history of this unlikely sleuth. The author of the books might help to explain things a bit, or at least provide some context. They were written by one Elliott Roosevelt — and yes, that’s the son of Eleanor and FDR. Elliott Roosevelt wrote 20 novels total that featured his mother solving crimes. He is also the author of a pair of novels featuring “Blackjack” Endicott, a private investigator with FDR as his client.

Rutigliano cites the work of historian Bill Black in helping to bring this series of books to light.

Though Rutigliano also points out that the series ran through 2001 — but Elliott Roosevelt himself died in 1990. At that point, only 8 had been published. “The remaining sixteen were likely ghostwritten by William Harrington, who is credited as the author only of the final one,” Rutigliano writes — though she also offers some evidence that Harrington wrote the entire series.

It’s certainly a mystery — though whether that’s for a real or fictional detective to piece together remains to be seen.

As Rutigliano notes, Elliott Roosevelt was not the only child of a president to head into the world of mystery novels later in life: so too did Margaret Truman, over the course of 28 years. Between this and the revelation that one of Jimmy Carter’s sons smoked weed on the White House roof with Willie Nelson, it’s been an interesting week for presidential children in history.

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