Blog The Writing Process Best Mystery Books of All Time: Top 25 Novels

Best Mystery Books of All Time: Top 25 Novels

Millie Dinsdale

Millie Dinsdale

Content Manager at ProWritingAid

Published Apr 05, 2022
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The Best Mystery Books title

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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Contents:
  1. The Top 25 Best Mystery Books
  2. Solve the Mystery of Great Writing
  3. Editor’s Choice: Mystery Books

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.

The Thursday Murder Club

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.

The Maltese Falcon

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.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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.

And Then There Were None

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.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

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?

From Doon with Death

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.

Tinker, tailor, Soldier, Spy

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.

Still Life

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.

Where the crawdads sing

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.

The Dry

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.

The Girl on the Train

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.

Gone Girl

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.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

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.”

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.

The Thirteenth Tale


Solve the Mystery of Great Writing

A reader-pleasing mystery relies on great writing, but it's not always easy to work out why writing is good.

It goes beyond spelling and grammar. Think about the books you haven't enjoyed. If you look closely, they were probably difficult to read, stuffed with sticky sentences, unnecessarily complex language, distracting dialogue tags, pacing issues, and other errors that can make a reader give up on a book.

ProWritingAid's 25 writing reports cover every area you need to focus on to connect with your readers. You’ll receive scores for each report, helping you work out where to focus your time. Once you’re ready to edit, ProWritingAid’s in-text suggestions will help you make quick changes with big impacts.

You can even compare your writing to authors in your genre on key areas such as pacing, sentence lengths, and more.

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From actionable reports and real-time editing progress-tracking to author comparisons and detailed writing guides, ProWritingAid keeps everything you need to remember about good writing in one place.


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.

The Godfather

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.

The Big Sleep

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.

The Day of the Jackal

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.

The Alienist

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.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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.

The Silence of the Lambs

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.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

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.

The Lovely Bones

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?

The Secret History

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?

Presumed Innocent

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.

Murder on the orient express

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.

Angels and Demons

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.

Rebecca

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!


Are you ready to write your mystery novel? Download this free book now:

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Millie Dinsdale

Millie Dinsdale

Content Manager at ProWritingAid

Millie is ProWritingAid's Content Manager. A recent English Literature graduate, she loves all things books and writing. When she isn't working, Millie enjoys gardening, re-reading books by Agatha Christie, and running.

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