Mystery. Suspense. Who doesn’t love a complicated plot, especially when you don’t find out until the end whodunnit?
We looked at the selections for best mystery books 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 25 best mysteries, in no particular order.
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The Top 25 Best Mystery Books
1. The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman
Four pensioners, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron meet once a week in their retirement village to investigate unsolved murders. When a killing takes place on their doorstep, they find themselves thrown into their first real-life case. Despite their age, they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.
2. The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
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.
3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
Larsson’s first novel, 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 complex case. They uncover family iniquity and corruption at the top of Sweden’s industrial ladder.
4. And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
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 killed. 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.
5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
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.
6. From Doon With Death, Ruth Rendell
An ordinary woman, Margaret Parsons, is found strangled in the woods near her house. Inspector Wexford is baffled by the case until he finds her collection of rare books. Each is inscribed by a passionate lover known as “Doon”. Could Doon hold the key to solving this mystery?
7. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carré
George Smiley has been brought out of retirement to identify and destroy a mole, from Moscow Centre, who is currently residing in British Intelligence. The mole has already destroyed vital operations and needs to be stopped before they can strike again.
8. Still Life, Louise Penny
Jane Neal, a well-loved artist, has been killed by a resident of Three Pines, a town so peaceful that it doesn’t even have its own police force. Chief Inspector Armand Ganache steps in to uncover the evil lurking behind perfect white picket fences in a novel that is captivating until the last page.
9. Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
A coming-of-age story about Kya, abandoned by her parents and known as “Marsh Girl”, who yearns to be loved. As she grows up she is drawn to two men from town who are in turn intrigued by her. Then the unthinkable happens and she is accused of the murder of a popular local boy, Chase Andrews, with whom she was once involved.
10. The Dry, Jane Harper
During a horrific drought, three locals are found murdered in the farming community of Kiewarra, Australia. Federal policeman Aaron Falk reluctantly returns to his hometown for his friend’s funeral. He finds himself embroiled in the murders as his shared secret is threateneing to see the light of day.
11. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
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. Yet all is not what she thought from the outside.
12. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
Nick and Amy Dunne seem to have it all. When Amy goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, all indications point to Nick. 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 really is a killer.
13. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
An ancient curse suddenly flares up in Victorian England. The towers of Baskerville Hall and the open country of Dartmoor around it cover up a myriad of 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.
14. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
The book opens with an other-worldly encounter on a moonlit London road with a woman dressed in all white. Walter Hartright helps the woman back home and she warns him against an unnamed baronet. After they part he discovers that she may have escaped from an insane asylum. He then becomes the drawing master for Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe who are both entangled in the mystery of the “woman in white.”
15. The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
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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16. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
Epic story of crime and betrayal, The Godfather was a bestseller 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 how the family becomes seduced by power. It portrays the pitfalls of greed, and above all else, loyalty to the family.
17. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
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.
18. The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth
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.
19. The Alienist, Caleb Carr
Reporter John Schuyler Moore and his friend Dr. Laszlo Kreisler, an alienist (psychologist), created 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 the twisted mind of a murderer who will kill again before they find him.
20. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
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 are horrifying. 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 with a spell-binding twist.
21. The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris
A killer, who feels that beauty is only skin deep, is on the loose. Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee investigator, is trying to save her own hide, and the only person who can help her is locked up in an asylum. But Hannibal Lecter 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.
22. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt
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 a suspenseful and entertaining narrative that reads more like a novel than a work of nonfiction.
23. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
Teenager Susie Salmon is brutally murdered. 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.
24. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
A group of misfits at a college in New England discover a way of thinking and living that is totally apart from the normal flow of life. But they accidentally go beyond the boundaries of morality and fall into evil through the murder of their once-friend Edmund Corcoran. Did they act fast enough to hide the terrible truth of their actions forever?
25. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow
Rusty Sabich is a prosecutor in a large city, charged with the murder of his fellow prosecuting attorney Carolyn. A newly elected attorney finds out about Sabich’s affair with the murder victim and now Rusty faces a long court battle. The case uncovers corruption, deceit, depravity, and incompetence. But who really killed Carolyn?
Editor’s Choice: Mystery Books
I couldn't compile this list without adding a few of my own personal favorites:
1. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
With a copy so well-loved it has now parted company from its cover, this has to be my personal favorite mystery of all time.
An American man has been stabbed a dozen times in his first-class compartment aboard the Orient Express. A case only the famous Hercule Poirot could solve, it is a race against time to stop the murderer from being able to strike again on the train nobody can escape.
2. Angels and Demons, Dan Brown
In the first book published in the Robert Langdon series, it is a race against time to decipher a symbol seared into the chest of a murdered physicist before the Catholic Church is taken down by the Illuminati. To save the Vatican from a time bomb, Langdon teams up with Vittoria Vetra to find the Illuminati lair.
3. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
The dashing widower Maxim de Winter sweeps the book’s 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 that his late wife, Rebecca, 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.
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.