22 Best Mystery Books You Won’t Be Able to Put Down
Calling all amateur detectives! These mystery novels will keep you hooked until the last page.
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We’re on the case
Nothing piques our curiosity and sets our minds to problem-solving mode quite like a good mystery. It’s why so many of us grew up playing detective alongside fictional favorites like Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Encylopedia Brown, and Nancy Drew. It’s also why Agatha Christie—queen of mystery books and the top female author—is the second best-selling author of all time, bested only by Shakespeare.
You’ll know a whodunnit when you read it. Typically, mystery books begin with a crime, offer several suspects and scenarios throughout the story, and culminate in a surprise ending. Compare that with true crime books, which (much like the name suggests) are nonfiction books based on real crimes. Thriller books are another distinct genre and often follow the threat of a future or potential crime from a known villain, with tension turned up to ten. A crime novel, on the other hand, focuses on apprehending a specific criminal.
To come up with our list of the best mystery books, we polled Reader’s Digest book editors (look for the Reader’s Digest Editor’s Choice seal!) and friends and combed through best seller lists and five-star reviews. In this roundup, you’ll find new titles, some of the best books of all time, and murder mystery books that were made into movies and have become part of our popular culture. In short, discovering the best mystery books of all time was elementary, dear Watson.
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1. 2 Sisters Detective Agency by James Patterson and Candice Fox
Master of mystery novels James Patterson partnered with Aussie writer Candice Fox to create this fast-paced story of a woman who returns home after her father’s death to discover the detective agency she never knew he’d opened and the half-sister she never knew she had. The book, which was published in the fall of 2021, starts racing right out of the gate, taking the detective duo from a tense investigation to a surprising crescendo. Patterson’s signature short chapters keep this tale moving, and Fox’s vivid characters will have you hoping this turns into a series. Readers who like to listen to stories—say, during long commutes—will be pleased to know there’s an audiobook version too.
2. Fallen by Linda Castillo
Fans of Linda Castillo’s New York Times best-selling Kate Burkholder series will love the latest entry, which was published in July 2021. The book begins with a grisly murder in Amish country. When the chief of police, Kate Burkholder, realizes she knew the victim, she sets out to catch the culprit and sets off a chain of events and reckonings no one expects—especially Kate. For more great reads, sign up for one of these book subscription boxes.
3. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
An instant favorite when it was released in 2018, this book tells the story of Korede, a Nigerian woman whose sister is prettier, more popular, and quite possibly a serial killer. Hilarious and scary as heck at the same time, this novel has redefined murder mysteries for the better. When you’re done, read these other books by Black authors.
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Get ready for nonstop twists with Stieg Larsson’s 2005 international best seller. Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist teams up with Lisbeth Salander—a tattooed, pierced, punk-rock hacker—to solve a crime that’ll leave you guessing until you hit the climax. What unravels is an atmospheric story filled with love, intrigue, and family secrets. The mystery makes this a quick read, but if you’re looking for something even quicker, try one of these short books.
5. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
This 2018 international best seller and Reese’s Book Club pick zeros in on a lone girl living in the marshes of North Carolina in the late ’60s. When a handsome, popular local is found murdered, all eyes turn to the mysterious “Marsh Girl.” What unfolds is a story of love and loss, survival, and the healing power of the natural world. And yet all of that revolves around a suspenseful whodunnit. You’d be hard-pressed to find a reader who wasn’t enthralled by this gem of a story. Case in point: Of its more than 194,000 Amazon reviews, nearly 141,000 are five stars.
6. Runner by Tracy Clark
Released in June 2021, the fourth book of Tracy Clark’s Chicago Mystery series is a fast-paced read that’ll take you from intrigued to engrossed in no time flat. Cass Raines returns as the cop turned PI who will stop at nothing to get justice. This installment centers on the search for a missing teen, set against the wintry backdrop of Clark’s native Chicago. It’s a breathtaking read as part of a series that doesn’t pull punches when it comes to race relations in America, but it’s perfect as a stand-alone novel too. If you’re tired of reading mystery books about old white guys, Cass, a Black woman, is a welcome departure.
7. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” So begins one of the best mystery books of all time. Part ghost story, part suspense, this 1938 book has enduring appeal. Daphne Du Maurier spills the story of a young woman whose recent marriage to an older man is tarnished by the living memory of his first wife. The secrets of the past unravel with breath-stealing suspense. You’ll want to follow this one up with Alfred Hitchcock’s Academy Award–winning film and Netflix’s 2020 adaptation. In the mood for romance novels instead? Our roundup has you covered.
8. Wherever She Goes by Kelley Armstrong
Hailed as a novel you can’t walk away from, Wherever She Goes earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly when it was released in 2019. Fans of Kelley Armstrong’s other New York Times best-selling mystery books will be compelled by this gripping tale of a missing child as well as its heroine, a woman with a complicated past who happens to be the lone eyewitness to the crime. Not sure what to read next? Pick a book based on your zodiac sign.
9. A Spy in the Struggle by Aya de León
Winning accolades left and right—including the International Latino Book Award—this gripping 2020 mystery novel revolves around FBI agent Yolanda Vance, who struggles with spying on an activist group in her college town. With themes of poverty, feminism, climate justice, racism, and more, this is a spy novel through an intersectional lens, making it a fresh entry in the genre. If you love this one, check out these other books by Latinx authors.
10. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
This number one New York Times best seller debuted in 2012 and sparked a whole generation of copycats. There’s a reason you’ve heard of it even if you haven’t read it—it’s just that good. Here’s the spoiler-free gist of the book: A beautiful wife goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary, and her husband, Nick, starts to look more and more like a suspect. The surprise ending is both clever and disturbing. You’ll blow through this in a matter of days—possibly hours—and will immediately ask for another of Gillian Flynn’s page-turning mystery books. Order them all; they make great beach reads.
11. The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
Released in 2012 by acclaimed writer Attica Locke, The Cutting Season combines a modern murder mystery with historical intrigue. Caren Gray is a single mom who grew up on the Louisiana plantation she now runs as an event hall. When a staffer is found murdered, Caren is drawn into the investigation and the troubled past of this haunting place. Love both mystery books and historical fiction? This is a sure bet for you.
12. The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
This Swedish mystery novel, which was first published in 1968, is a classic work of international fiction and one you’ll want to pick up again and again. Part of a ten-book series, The Laughing Policeman tells the story of a mass murder on a Stockholm bus, diving into the complicated lives of the passengers and touching on Swedish history. It’s a smart whodunnit that manages to thrill more than half a century after its release.
13. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Like a lot of mystery books, Donna Tartt’s 1992 novel opens with a murder. Unlike most mystery books, the question isn’t who but why. College student Richard narrates this tale of his arresting professor, the misfits he calls friends, and the murder they commit because—well, you’ll have to read to find out. Tartt won a Pulitzer Prize in fiction for The Goldfinch, and her enormous talent is on display in this, her gorgeous and suspenseful first novel.
14. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
It’s hard to choose a favorite among Agatha Christie’s stellar mystery books, but the numbers don’t lie: 1939’s And Then There Were None is Christie’s best-selling novel, with over 100 million copies sold. The classic murder mystery follows a group of strangers who have been invited to an island and start to die off one by one. Looking for a modern, teen book take? Try Gretchen McNeil’s Ten.
15. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
It’s 1954, and two U.S. marshals are heading to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient at the mental hospital there. But nothing—and we mean nothing—is as it seems. Dennis Lehane rocketed to fame with his 2001 novel Mystic River, and this 2003 mystery book is just as good. If you haven’t seen the Martin Scorsese film based on the book, wait to watch until you’ve turned the last page.
16. The Guest List by Lucy Foley
An island. A murder. No, we’re not talking about Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None this time. This is the setup for Lucy Foley’s New York Times best-selling novel The Guest List. It’s a modern take on the classic tale, with a wedding party trapped on an island off the coast of Ireland, a dead body, and a slowly building mystery as to who did it—and why. Published in 2021, the novel was picked up by Reese’s Book Club and lauded by critics as a must for Christie fans.
17. A Dangerous Man by Robert Crais
Best-selling author Robert Crais’s mystery books are not to be missed, and this 2019 novel is no exception. Joe Pike is about as tough and unflappable as they come, but even superhero-esque tough guys have to do mundane things like their banking. It’s as Pike is leaving his local branch that he witnesses a woman being forced into a car. He charges into Good Samaritan mode and saves her but gets himself involved in a world of trouble. Once it starts, the action doesn’t stop.
18. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
If you loved Gone Girl, you’ll want to pick up a copy of Liane Moriarty’s 2015 novel. Yes, it’s now an HBO series starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Meryl Streep, but don’t press “play” just yet; read the book first. Contemporary, stylish, and relatable, Big Little Lies deftly weaves suspense, social class, and feminism into an unforgettable tale.
19. In the Woods by Tana French
Irish author Tana French cemented herself as one of the greatest crime writers with her debut novel, 2007’s In the Woods. In 1984, three children entered the woods. Only one came out. Two decades later, a young girl is found murdered in the same woods, and a Dublin detective with a murky past sets out to solve the crime.
20. One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
Published to huge acclaim in 2017 and now a TV series on Peacock, this young adult novel tells the story of five kids who walk into detention—and what happens when only four walk out. Think of it like the murder mystery version of The Breakfast Club. The number one New York Times best seller follows the teens as they become suspects in their classmate’s murder. It’s an exhilarating whodunnit that will keep you guessing until the very end.
21. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Published in 1939, this classic book introduced the world to the now-famous detective Philip Marlowe. The book kicks off with a dying millionaire who hires the gumshoe to deal with a blackmailer. It’s at turns sexy, moody, and pulpy and features the quintessential broody PI.
22. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Mesmerizing from the get-go, Dan Brown’s tale begins with a curator who’s been murdered inside the Louvre. Near the body, a mysterious cipher is found. Enter Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, who follows the clues with the hopes of uncovering a secret thousands of years in the making. The fast-paced story will have you furiously flipping pages. More than 80 million copies of the book have been sold since it was published in 2003, and it was adapted for film in 2006 and as a young adult novel in 2016.
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