If you love a book that keeps you guessing right up to the last page, then check out this list of some of the best mystery books ever written.
The mystery novel has a long history. Mystery writers have been chilling our spines and challenging our minds for hundreds of years. It’s a genre that is always popular, with wonderful new writers emerging all the time. This list has some of the best mystery books from classics to the latest writers. The plots are guaranteed have you gripped and befuddled, tense and on edge until the very last page. I hope you are inspired by this list to settle in for a good read.
1. The Complete Auguste Dupin Stories, Edgar Allan Poe (1841-1844)
Edgar Allan Poe is widely considered to have invented the detective genre. The first story in this collection, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” is widely considered the first ever detective story. It is also believed that this influenced Arthur Conan Doyle, who used the structure when creating the Sherlock Holmes books. The stories are amazing and well worth a read to get a feel for how the mystery genre began.
2. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins (1859)
This novel is widely considered to be the first mystery novel. The protagonist, Walter Hartright uses many of the sleuthing techniques that become so well-known in the fiction genre. This is a gripping read, with bucket loads of atmosphere, that will keep you reading. Collins uses multiple narrators to keep the reader guessing until the last page.
3. Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle (1901)
It’s hard to choose the best Sherlock Holmes novel. However, this, his third novel is my personal favorite. It is tense and chilling, set in a bleak moorland landscape and featuring a legendary diabolical hound that will make your spine tingle.
4. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (1934)
Murder on the Orient Express features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. If you have never read this novel, or seen an adaptation of it, be prepared for a rather shocking twist that was quite staggering for its time.
5. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier (1938)
Rebecca is a tense and atmospheric thriller. The novel haunts you for days after reading. Its gothic atmosphere seeps into your mind meaning you can quite get it out of your head. The sense of place evoked by the setting of Manderley is as important as the characters and the threatening presence of Mrs. Danvers looms over the whole oppressive story.
6. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John le Carré, (1963)
This Cold War Spy novel is often considered one of the best of its genre. A story that questions the morality of every character, it will have you gripped through its many twists and turns.
7. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, P.D. James, (1972)
This novel features a female detective, Cordelia Gray, who inherits a detective agency and takes on her first case alone. Gray is tough, intelligent and breaks the stereotypical mold of what female characters could do in the 70’s.
8. The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy (1987)
This neo-noir novel is based on a notoriously unsolved homicide that took place in 1940’s Los Angeles. It is full of the bleakest expressions of human nature from murder to corruption and insanity. Not one for the squeamish.
9. Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, Peter Høeg, (1992)
Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (published in America as Smilla’s Sense of Snow) takes the murder mystery and does something wonderful with it. Full of ice, beauty, culture and Copenhagen this is a haunting tale to be savoured.
10. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson (2005)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a truly terrifying psychological thriller by the late Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson. This first book in the Millennium series sets the tone with its bleak brutality. However, it still has the essence of the murder mystery with a satisfying twist.
11. In The Woods, Tana French (2007)
Recent murder mysteries have expanded the genre further and further, producing some of the best mystery books of the 21st Century. While this tale is a classic police procedural with elements of the psychological thriller, it also features an intriguing representation of modern Ireland and some more personal psychological elements.
12. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins (2015)
With an unreliable narrator that is strangely relatable, this book shifts our perception of the psychological thriller by setting the story in a mundane world that we can all relate to and then twisting it into something else entirely. Be prepared for a tense ride.
I hope you enjoyed this whistle-stop tour through some of the best mystery books. As well as providing a thrilling ride, these books also make us think a little differently about the world. Of course, it can’t begin to touch on all the great mysteries and thrillers we have to choose from.
We’d love to hear your favourite mystery reads, so please share with us in the comments below – but no spoilers, please.