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BlogThe Writing ProcessOur Top 25 Mystery Novels: The Best Mystery Reads

Our Top 25 Mystery Novels: The Best Mystery Reads

Kathy Edens

Kathy Edens

Copywriter, ghostwriter, and content strategy specialist

Published Feb 06, 2019

The Best Ever Mystery Novels

Mystery. Suspense. Who doesn’t love a good brain twister, especially when you don’t find out until the end whodunnit?

We looked at top mystery novels from the Mystery Writers of America, Publisher’s Weekly, and Goodreads’ highest rated mysteries of all time. As you would expect, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle make the list. Maybe others might surprise you. Let’s look at the best 25 mysteries, in no particular order.

Note: All the links below go to bookshop.org. Bookshop is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. If you want to find a specific local bookstore to support, find them on the map and they’ll receive the full profit off your order. Otherwise, your order will contribute to an earnings pool that will be evenly distributed among independent bookstores (even those that don’t use Bookshop).

Contents:
  1. 1. The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
  2. 2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
  3. 3. And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
  4. 4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
  5. 5. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
  6. 6. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John Le Carré
  7. 7. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
  8. 8. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
  9. 9. The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain
  10. 10. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
  11. 11. The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
  12. Solve the Mystery of Great Writing
  13. 12. The Firm, John Grisham
  14. 13. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
  15. 14. Eye of the Needle, Ken Follett
  16. 15. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
  17. 16. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
  18. 17. The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth
  19. 18. The Alienist, Caleb Carr
  20. 19. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
  21. 20. The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris
  22. 21. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt
  23. 22. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  24. 23. Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson
  25. 24. The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey
  26. 25. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow
  27. Editor’s Choice
  28. Conclusion
  29. Ready to write your own mystery? Check out how ProWritingAid can help:

1. The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon

Sam Spade takes a job for Miss Wonderley to find her sister who has eloped but finds himself embroiled in a hunt for the jewel-encrusted Maltese Falcon. Both hunter and hunted, Spade must track down this treasure that is worth killing for before the Fat Man finds him.

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

A run-away bestseller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has everything a mystery requires. Murder, family ties, love in the air, and financial shenanigans. What happened to Harriet Vanger who disappeared forty years ago? Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, a tattooed and pierced hacker genius, are on the case. They uncover family iniquity and corruption at the top of Sweden’s industrial ladder.

3. And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie

And then there were none

Ten people, strangers, gather on a private island as weekend guests of an unseen eccentric millionaire. These strangers have secrets to keep, but one by one they are murdered. They all have something in common, though—they each have a wicked past they’re hiding, a secret that seals their fate. Only the dead are above suspicion.

4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Christopher John Francis Boone’s logical mind can find patterns and rules for everything but has little time or inclination for understanding human emotions. When his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, is killed, he starts a quest to find the killer using Sherlock Holmes as his model.

5. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca

The dashing widower Maxim de Winter sweeps the heroine off her feet and into a sudden marriage, which seems beyond good luck for her. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she is astonished at his massive country estate. Little does she know his late wife casts a huge shadow over everything in her new life. Rebecca presents a lingering evil that could destroy their new marriage from beyond the grave.

6. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John Le Carré

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

Tired of British intelligence and the shady dealings of international espionage, Alec Leamas is ready to end his career. When the last agent under his command is killed, he hopes he can come in from the cold for good. His master, Control, instead sends Leamas into the middle of East German Intelligence to play the part of a dishonored spy and lure the enemy to his defeat.

7. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl

Nick and Amy Dunne seem to have it all, but Amy goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary. All indications point to Nick, and as the police and media close in on him, things take a new turn. Amy isn’t who everyone thought she was, but neither is Nick. As lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior stack up, you’re left to wonder if Nick is really a killer.

8. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles

An ancient curse suddenly flairs up in Victorian England. The towers of Baskerville Hall and the open country of Dartmoor around it cover myriad secrets that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson must unravel. The iconic detective is contemptuous of anything supernatural, but the hound from the moor will haunt your dreams to come.

9. The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain

The Postman Always Rings Twice

In a nutshell, a drifter stumbles into a job, an erotic obsession, and into murder. The Postman Always Rings Twice was the inspiration for Albert Camus’s The Stranger. It is a feverish tale of a man who normally catches the next train when life gets too intense. This time, he falls into an affair with a married woman who wants to plan her husband’s murder.

10. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White

The book opens with an other-worldly encounter on a moonlit London road with a woman dressed in all white. Walter Hartright is the drawing master for Laura Fairlie and becomes involved in the sinister motivations of Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco. The Woman in White was the first, influential Victorian novel that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.

11. The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale

Author Vida Winters spent her career creating outlandish life histories for herself that kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now that she’s old and ailing, she wants to tell the truth and summons biographer Margaret Lea. Margaret has her own secret past that bothers her, which curiously parallels Vida Winters’ story. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront their ghosts.


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12. The Firm, John Grisham

The Firm

Mitch McDeere is ambitious, young, and very intelligent. He gets a job with the law firm Bending, Lambert, and Locke that offers him money and power. But soon Mitch uncovers that the firm is listening to all his phone calls, and the FBI is knocking on his door. Money and power has a price. Mitch is finding out it could be his life.

13. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll creates a potion that allows Mr. Hyde, his secret, inner persona, to come out. Mr. Hyde is twisted and commits atrocities that horrify. Dr. Jekyll must contain Mr. Hyde, but the situation spins out of control. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a classic tale of good and evil.

14. Eye of the Needle, Ken Follett

Eye of the Needle

Code named "The Needle," a brilliant aristocrat and ruthless assassin holds the key to the Nazi’s ultimate victory. One enemy spy knows the secret to the Allies’ greatest deception, The Needle. A lonely Englishwoman on an isolated island is the only person standing in way of The Needle. And she’s beginning to love this killer who mysteriously entered her life.

15. The Godfather, Mario Puzo

The Godfather

Epic story of crime and betrayal, The Godfather was a best-seller almost half a century ago. It portrayed the Mafia underworld through the first family, the Corleones. The book follows their powerful legacy of blood, honor, and tradition and seduced by power, the pitfalls of greed, and above all else, loyalty to the family.

16. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep introduces Philip Marlowe, private eye, who is educated, streetwise, and heroic. Chandler’s first hard-boiled detective novel, it opens with, "I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be." Everything afterwards makes you wonder if you fully know what’s going on.

17. The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth

The Day of the Jackal

The Jackal is a tall, blond Englishman with opaque, gray eyes, who is actually a top killer. No secret service in the world knows of him, and not even his employers know his name. He is contracted to kill the world’s most heavily guarded man. As the execution comes closer, it appears that no one on earth can stop the Jackal from killing.

18. The Alienist, Caleb Carr

The Alienist

Reporter John Schuyler Moore and his friend Dr. Laszlo Kreisler, an alienist (psychologist), set out to create a psychological profile of the murderer of a young boy who has been horribly mutilated. Danger surrounds them as they delve into a tortured past and a twisted mind of a murderer who will kill again before they find him.

19. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

In Cold Blood

In 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, the entire Clutter family was murdered by a shotgun held inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive and few clues were found. Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers. He spins a tale of suspense overshadowed by astonishing empathy, with chilling insight into American violence.

20. The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris

The Silence of the Lambs

A killer is on the loose who feels that beauty is only skin deep. Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee investigator, is trying to save her own hide, and the only individual who can help her is locked up in an asylum. But Hannibal Lector is serving nine consecutive life sentences in a mental institution for a series of cannibalistic murders. He is a true predator who works to catch Starling in his web.

21. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Shots are fired in Savannah’s grandest mansion, but was it murder or self-defense? For almost a decade, the shooting haunted the upper echelons of Old South Savannah. Berendt weaves the story through suspenseful and entertaining narrative that reads more like a novel than a work of non-fiction. Unpredictable twists, alliances, hostilities, and intrigue are rampant in a town where everyone knows everyone else.

22. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Crime and Punishment

A financially destitute and desperate student wanders around the slums of St. Petersburg committing random murders without remorse or regret. He thinks he’s a great man like Napoleon, who is above conventional moral law. A relentless police investigator pursues him, and soon his conscience weighs on him. Only a downtrodden prostitute can offer redemption.

23. Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson

Snow Falling on Cedars

On San Pedro Island, north of Puget Sound, a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. There are memories of a love affair between a white boy and a Japanese girl who later becomes Kabuo’s wife. And residents remember what happened during World War II to its Japanese residents sent into exile. The trial becomes more than about guilt.

24. The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey

The Daughter of Time

Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant is haunted by Richard III. The king has such a sensitive face in his portrait that Grant wonders if he could actually kill his brother’s children to secure his crown. The inspector goes deep to uncover what kind of man Richard was and who in fact killed the young princes in the tower.

25. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow

Presumed Innocent

Rusty Sabich is chief deputy prosecuting attorney in a large city and is charged with the murder of his fellow prosecuting attorney Carolyn. A newly elected prosecuting attorney finds out about Sabich’s affair with the murdered attorney, and now Rusty faces a long court battle. The case uncovers corruption, deceit, depravity, and incompetence. But who killed Carolyn?

Editor’s Choice

We couldn’t complete the Essential Reading List without adding a few of our favorites:

1. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones

Teenager Susie Salmon is brutally murdered, and she follows her family and the case from heaven. Heaven is calm and serene, but Susie can’t let go of her family and friends as they struggle with her death. Susie watches intensely and waits for her killer to be found and punished.

2. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train

Rachel rides the commuter train every morning and fantasizes about the lives of people in the houses they pass. She feels like she knows them and that their lives are perfect. When Rachel sees something shocking one morning, she finds an opportunity to wend her way into their world. All is not what she thought on the outside.

3. Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies follows the lives of Madeline, Celeste, and Jane. Madeline’s ex-husband and his new wife have moved into the community, and she finds her youngest child is in the same kindergarten class as their daughter. Celeste is über beautiful, but she’s a bit flustered at times. Single mom Jane is younger than the other parents and has secret doubts about her son. The crux of their relationships is the dangerous little lies they tell themselves to survive.

4. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson

Case History

Private investigator Jackson Brodie investigates three cases separated by 30 years. In the first, a little girl goes missing in the night. The second is a beautiful young office worker who falls victim to a maniac’s random attack. The third case is a new mother trapped in a hell of her own making until a fit of rage gives her a grisly, bloody escape. Startling connections and discoveries emerge connecting all three cases.

5. Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane

Shutter Island

US Marshall Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck Aule come to Shutter Island to investigate a patient’s disappearance from Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Multiple-murderess Rachel Solando is loose on the island despite being under lock and constant surveillance. As the case unravels, they discover radical experimentation, horrifying surgeries, and a lethal, covert shadow war. Nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is what it seems.

Conclusion

A long post to read through, but a great one to bookmark for reading material later.

Let us know in the comments below what your favorite mystery is. And let us know if we missed any essential mysteries in our list.

Love reading? Check out these other book lists?

Ready to write your own mystery? Check out how ProWritingAid can help:


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Kathy Edens

Kathy Edens

Copywriter, ghostwriter, and content strategy specialist

Kathy Edens is a blogger, a ghost writer, and content master who loves writing about anything and everything. Check out her books: The Novel-Writing Training Plan: 17 Steps to Get Your Ideas in Shape for the Marathon of Writing and Creating Legends: How to Craft Characters Readers Adore... or Despise.

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"Trent's Last Case", by E.C. Bentley, pub 1912. "One of the three best detective stories ever written." Agatha Christie. "It is the one detective story of the present century which will go down to posterity as a classic ... a masterpiece." Dorothy L. Sayers. "The Thirty-Nine Steps", John Buchan.
Murder on the orient express by Agatha Christie Detective Hercule Poirot investigates a murder on the orient express as twelve passengers are suspected and questioned
Did you write down a list and hit 'randomise?' How is Chandler below Larsson? No Tinker, Tailor? No Murder on the Orient Express?
It's a tough choice. I loved Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and than I also loved Then There Was None, by Agatha Christie and who doesn't love the Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett--I just can't make up my mind, plus these other great authors, Raymond Chandler, Alice Sebold, Scott Turow, Thomas Harris, J.D. Robb and so many more.
How about what's been touted as one of the best mysteries ever written, John Fowles' "The Magus"?
First of all, Louise Penny! The dry by Jane Harper, And how about books maybe not originally in English - books by Mallock, Karin Brynard, or Alex Beer
Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers
The Killers of the Flower Moon
For once I have read many on the list! Rebecca, Day of the Jackal, Eye of the Needle and The Alienist were earlier favorites. The movie Presumed Innocent had a nice surprise. I read In Cold Blood for Psych Nursing. The Girl on the Train was great, too. And Shutter Island.....
That P.D. James didn't make this list is extraordinary. Her A Taste for Death matches up for both writing and mystery with almost any book on this list.
These lists are always hard to curate! The best part is often hearing our readers' suggestions! So thanks for your feedback. :)
Interesting list.
Thanks! :)
Nothing by Ruth Randell? She was the queen of the "why done it?" Instead of the "whodunit" sub-genre in mystery fiction. Even Stephen King was afraid of her! Also, she's has more Edgar and similar awards to her name than most other writers listed here. A lot of her novels became TV ir movies adaptations. " A sight for Sore Eyes", " A Judgement in Stone" , . Are just a few . Also. Youtube has some "inspector Wexord" from "the Ruth Rendell mysteries" anthologies from the BBC.
Correct spelling is Ruth Rendell or her other pseudonym Barbara Vine. When she wrote under Barbara Vine, the novels go much deeper psychologically. Check out the movie " Galloglasd" and " the dark - adapted eye" . The best mystery she wrote with a bisexuality character was" no night is too long". The TV adaptation of that novel is my favorite
We also must check out the TV adaptation! Love when those get it right!
Awesome suggestions! Gotta love anyone Stephen King's afraid of. :)
Several of these are not mysteries at all. I've read some and at most they could be called crime novels if you stretched the meaning of the term.
Interesting perspective!
Gave up on Christie when I discovered Ngaio Marsh and Mignon G. Eberhart. Try them instead.
Yes! We love suggestions. Gotta check 'em out - expand our repertoire! :)
I was going to upload this list for those I may have missed until I saw that there was no P.D. James nor Ruth Rendell. The list has lost all credibility. I also agree with the comments about Louise Penney and Jane Harper. The list is skewed toward male writers and as others have said, some of the listed books are barely mysteries.
Thanks for sharing your point of view!
I've read almost all of the books on this list and I'm always amazed that The Postman Always Rings Twice features rather than James Cain's so called lost novel The Cocktail Waitress. It's far more intriguing and I'm sure it was a source of inspiration for Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, there are so many parallels.
Ooo! I love suggestions like this! Thanks very much for taking the time to let us know - looks like something worth looking in to!
The Man Who Was Thursday, by G. K. Chesterton. I have never been more surprised by a book's ending.
Thanks for your suggestion. We'll definitely put it on our list to review.
This list will not be complete until it includes murder on the orient express!
I love Agatha Christie too! If we included all the great mystery novels out there, we could make a novel!
I came late to reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil but after doing so, can find no 'greatness' about it! In fact, I thought it plodding and a bit boring. What did I miss?
Thank you for sharing your opinion! I agree it is a subtle book that does not suit everyone. The great thing about reading is that no book if for everyone but every book is for someone. :)

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