Reading a good crime or mystery book is one of life’s unique pleasures. There’s something wonderfully satisfying about getting stuck into a gripping story and trying to piece together clues, all the while wondering what the final reveal will be and who the real culprit is.
If you enjoy crime and mystery books and are looking for some new reading material, then why not check out some of our favourite titles? From classic mystery novels to modern crime thrillers, here are 16 books that will have you channelling your inner detective.
It’s pretty much impossible to list the best crime and mystery books without featuring Agatha Christie. And Then There Were None isn’t only the best selling mystery book of all time – it’s also been voted the world’s favourite of Christie’s 80 books, and if you haven’t read it before, you’re in for a treat. It’s 1939, and 10 strangers are invited to an empty mansion on an island off the Devon coast. As the days pass, the guests’ troubling pasts are revealed – each has been accused of a terrible crime, and as they try to unravel the mystery of the deserted mansion, they’re slowly picked off, one by one. A classic crime thriller that will have you wondering who will survive, and who is the killer.
Shortlisted for the 2020 British Book Awards Crime & Thriller Book of the Year, The Silent Patient is a mesmerising and disturbing account of how trauma affects the human psyche. Alex Michaelides’s debut novel tells the story of Alicia, who seemingly lived an idyllic life with her husband… until she shot him five times one evening and then never spoke again. Obsessed with finding out what happened and getting Alicia to speak, forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber tries to treat her – but he slowly discovers that the reason for her silence runs far deeper than he could have imagined. Smart, original, fast paced and suspenseful, The Silent Patient is an extraordinarily adept first novel that will leave you breathless.
In the Woods transports you to an Irish wood two decades ago, where 12-year-old Adam Ryan was playing with his friends. But then his friends disappeared and were never found, and Adam himself was discovered cowering and drenched in blood, with no memory of what had happened. Twenty years later, the body of a 12-year-old girl is found in the same spot, and Adam, now a police detective, must investigate. As he tries to piece together the mystery and interrogates dysfunctional parents, his own childhood trauma threatens to overwhelm him. A haunting and beautifully written psychological thriller that’s as moving as it is creepy. You’ll be gripped from the first page.
If you’re looking for a lighter crime and mystery novel that will have you laughing out loud, The Thursday Murder Club might be the book for you. In a peaceful retirement community, four friends meet up each week to investigate unsolved murders – but when a violent murder takes place on their doorstep, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron are thrust into a dangerous live case. As the bodies pile up, we learn more about our unlikely heroes’ lives, and though they might be pushing 80, we soon discover that you underestimate them at your peril. A thrilling, clever and wonderfully funny book that’s a genuine delight to read.
You might be familiar with the HBO series of the same name, but have you read the bestselling book behind it? Big Little Lies is an intelligent, gripping and often humorous mystery novel that tells the story of three mothers who appear to have perfect lives – until their secrets come spilling out and the truth begins to unravel. While it covers murder as well as domestic and sexual violence, Big Little Lies still has many lighter moments, and the story flits between a terrifyingly real thriller and a smart, twisted comedy. Moriaty’s tense page-turner is about forgiveness and retribution, love and betrayal – and how apparently perfect lives are sometimes just a facade.
Case Histories is the first book in Kate Atkinson’s award-winning Jackson Brodie series, and this excellent novel weaves together three different, yet equally sinister, stories. During one hot summer in Cambridge, former police inspector turned private investigator Jackson Brodie is attempting to resolve three different case histories: the killing of a solicitor’s daughter, the disappearance of a child, and the murder of a husband. Though these cases seem to be totally separate, Brodie slowly understands that somehow, everything is connected. This is a masterfully written and complex novel packed with unexpected twists and turns. A book that will stay with you long after you’ve finished.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s modern classic takes you back to Barcelona in 1945, where a book dealer’s young son Daniel is mourning the loss of his mother. Then one day, Daniel finds a mysterious book, The Shadow of the Wind by writer Julian Carax, and he finds comfort in the writing. Years pass, and as Daniel attempts to find the elusive Carax’s other work, he discovers that a strange man is tracking down every copy of Carax’s books and burning them – but why? Soon, Daniel’s initially innocent literary pursuit descends into a twisted story of murder, madness and ill-fated love. A deeply satisfying tale that blends brilliant plotting, beautiful writing and magical mystery.
Gillian Flynn might be best known for her bestselling novel Gone Girl, but it’s her debut novel Sharp Objects that’s arguably the most thrilling and unpleasantly satisfying. Sharp Objects tells the story of journalist Camille Preaker, who’s sent back to her hometown in Missouri to report on the abductions and murders of two young girls. As Camille investigates these violent crimes and reacquaints herself with her estranged mother and 13-year-old half-sister, she becomes haunted by her own childhood trauma, and her past demons resurface. As she grapples to solve these terrifying mysteries, she’s forced to unpick her own psychological puzzle before it’s too late. A spine-tingling tale that will leave you thinking about the devastating effects of a broken family.
If you’re a fan of true crime, reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is an absolute must. Merging journalistic expertise with beautifully evocative writing, this classic book is one of the best-selling crime stories of all time – and just because it’s about a real-life case that was solved years ago, that doesn’t make it any less mysterious. In Cold Blood meticulously reconstructs the 1939 quadruple murder of a Kansas family by killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock. Capote’s prose is powerful and compelling, and he paints a disturbingly three-dimensional portrait of the young murderers, who are depicted as despicable and cruel, yet also chillingly human. A seminal work of non-fiction about an American dream that turned into a nightmare.
Based on the true crimes of Peter Manuel, Scotland’s worst serial killer, The Long Drop has won multiple awards – and for good reason. This gritty novel tells the story of William Watt, who wants to find out the truth about his family’s murder. He meets Peter Manuel, who says he has answers – but aside from being a rapist and a murderer, Manuel is a liar. Focusing on one long night in a Glasgow bar, The Long Drop is an atmospheric and compelling novel that’s relentlessly tense and unsettling. Each page is filled with dread, and the truth that runs through the book makes it even more sinister.
Step back in time to 1890’s New York City in Caleb Carr’s gripping novel The Alienist, which also seamlessly blends fiction with historical truth. A brutal serial killer is targeting teenage boys, and Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (in his pre-presidential days) turns to his psychologist friend Dr Laszlo Kreizler for help. But this is an era before criminal profiling, a time when people thought the mentally ill should be out of sight and mind, and the word “alienist” was used instead of psychologist. Can Roosevelt and Kreizler stop these violent murders before it’s too late – or will the prejudices of the time thwart them? A fascinating, original and intelligent book.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is considered one of the most influential books of the past few decades, and this genre-defying thriller has sold over 100 million copies. The first book of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series introduces the reader to tattooed computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist – and the unlikely duo join forces to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Harriet Vanger, the niece of one of Sweden’s richest men, 40 years ago. Featuring family feuds, blackmail, and gruesome murders, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is intriguing, intelligent and fascinatingly complex.
Another classic on our list is Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. The story starts when our unnamed protagonist visits the South of France and falls in love with a rich and handsome widower, Maxim de Winter. After marrying, the heroine and her new husband head back to Manderley, his stately home, where things take a chilling turn. Isolated, shy and fearful, the new Mrs. de Winter realises that her husband is essentially a stranger to her – and the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, still lingers over the mansion. Elegantly written, moving and sinister, this is a mysterious gothic novel that will fill you with dread as the story unfolds.
The Postman Always Rings Twice is cited as one of the most important crime books of the past century, and even today it still seems fresh. The story follows drifter Frank Chambers, who falls in love with diner owner Cora. But Cora is already married, and when she and Frank begin to plot how she can escape, their passion eventually drives them to murder. The book’s mix of sex and violence got it banned in Boston when it came out, but McCain’s bleak vision of American and unflinching prose is powerfully realistic, and the story is just as thrilling today as it was in 1934.
If you like suspenseful novels with unreliable narrators, you’ll be hard pushed to find a more gripping read than The Girl on the Train. This bestselling book tells the story of Rachel Watson, who takes the same train to work each day and spends the journey staring at the houses that pass her. Struggling with alcoholism and divorce, Rachel fantasies about the perfect families who live in these houses – but when she witnesses something shocking from the train, everything changes. Thrust into a dark new reality, Rachel has the chance to become an active participant in the lives she’s watched from afar – but things aren’t as they seem. A tense read that uses intertwining perspectives to deliver a shockingly nasty twist.
Just as you can’t have a crime and mystery reading list without featuring Agatha Christie, neither can you omit Arthur Conan Doyle. The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the most popular mystery books of all time, and the third of Doyle’s books to feature the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes. After his friend Charles Baskerville dies in mystifying and terrifying circumstances, Holmes heads to the Baskerville estate on the desolate Devon moors to find the truth. Legend has it that a hound from hell roams these wild moors at night, and supernatural forces seem to be everywhere… but our detective is a rational man who’s determined to unravel the mystery. A classic book that’s tense, evocative, and wonderfully creepy.
While lockdown might mean our more adventurous plans are on hold for now, it does provide us with more time at home – and in the depths of winter, few things are as satisfying as curling up with a gripping crime or mystery book. Whether you want to put your own detective skills to the test and try to figure out the twist, or just want to lose yourself in a compelling crime novel and enjoy a bit of escapism, getting stuck into a good book has a way of making the time fly by. If you’re looking for more reading inspiration, you might want to read our articles 27 of the best must-read novels and 17 books for your winter reading list.
Have you read any good crime or mystery books lately – or do you have thoughts on our picks? We’d love to hear from you! Leave us a comment below, or join the conversation on the Book Club section of the community forum.