'CORE' Best Lists
- Top 25 Best Mystery Books
- The Top 100 Mystery Books
- Best Mystery Audiobooks
- Best Mystery Books of 2016
- Best Mystery Books of 2015
- Best Mystery Series
- Best Mystery Stand Alones
- Best Modern Mystery Books
- Best Indie Mystery Books
- Best Classic Mystery Books
- Underrated Mystery Books
'ERA' Best Lists
'GENRE' Best Lists
- Best Legal Mystery Books
- Best Police Procedural Books
- Best Mystery Thriller Books
- Best Mystery Suspense Books
- Best Whodunit Mystery Books
- Best True Crime Books
- Best Mystery Thriller Books
- Best Amateur Detective Books
- Best Private Investigator Books
- Best Hard Boiled Mystery Books
- Best Literary Mystery Books
- Best Cozy Mystery Books
- Best Supernatural Mystery Books
- Best Historical Mystery Books
- Best Fantasy Mystery Books
- Best Science Fiction Mystery Books
- Best Romantic Mystery Books
'AUDIENCE' Best Lists
- Best Mystery Books for Women
- Best Mystery Books by Female Authors
- Best Young Adult Mystery Books
- Best Mystery Books for Children
'FILM' Best Lists
'COMICS' Best Lists
First we step back to 18th Century France, to the birth of an unusual child, and his sick and twisted journey to create the ultimate perfume. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the protagonist of our perfumed parable, is born with an extraordinary sense of smell, able to dissect and identify anything that tickles his olfactory fancy. A scentless freak himself however, Grenouille becomes obsessed with bottling the smell he deems the greatest: the smell of beautiful young virgins.
Why it is that only beautiful virgins smell so good is a mystery in itself, but not the actual story's focus (surprisingly), so let's get back on track. Sskind describes the highly changeable period of revolution perfectly, the vile smells of 18th century Paris almost emanating from the pages as Grenouille's unique talent identifies them in lush, disturbing and often waaaay too much detail even so far as to identify anal sweat! This is an indication of the type of man he is, he is grotesque and genuinely terrifying, his incomparable sense of smell combined with his obsessive nature distances him from humanity, and unlike a lot of novels which can ultimately endear a serial killer to his readership, Sskind never lets us forget that Grenouille is to be feared, not revered.
It's a gripping and a beautifully written novel about ugly things, and whilst it may seem early on that the story is on a path to an inevitable ending, it actually takes a mysterious turn into a dark conclusion that will surprise and shock. Not for the squeamish, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is an escential (geddit? Okay... sorry.) read for fans of French history, beautiful writing, unique premises and murder.
It's August 1909 and Sigmund Freud steps off of the steamship George Washington, into New York and a murder mystery. That's right, Freud, father of psychoanalysis involved in a murder case! Interesting premise to say the least, but before you get the wrong idea, read this book and then bemoan that I misled you here, let me just make it clear that whilst this is the first of Rubenfeld's Freud series, and while Freud is in the book, he doesn't really play a very prominent role, nor does his famous protg: Carl Jung.
They are like curtains, they are extra touches that add to the historical setting of this novel, which is already richly described. Even so, Freud and Jung do have some incremental impact on the progression of the story, as a Freud fanboy attempts to psychoanalyse an amnesiac who escaped an attack from an apparent serial killer. It's an intriguing plot, which does sometimes get a little lost in all the other plot-lines the Rubenfeld throws in, but still stands up as a fairly strong whodunnit with a unique investigation method.
It's a little predictable in all honesty, but this is forgiveable for it's depiction of it's setting - it's a great lesson in the history of early 1900s New York city and the various groups that ruled the roost, as well as societal attitudes towards psychoanalysis of the time and this particular historical and social setting makes the perfect stage for Rubenfeld's thrilling tale. The story begins slowly as the expanse of 1909 New York opens out before the reader, but once the scene is set the story picks up pace and never relents, twisting and turning through the action-packed murderous mystery that will keep it's readers hooked until the very last page.
Our next jump backwards through time takes us to Italy in 1327, where Brother William of Baskerville is on a mission to investigate some accusations of heresy when monks start dropping like flies. Seven of them dying bizarre deaths that imitate punishments from the Book of Revelations. Intrigued by the gruesome turn of events, the monk begins playing detective with his own mixture of theology, empiricism and logic, tinged with his own brand of wry humour and fierce curiosity.
Bear in mind that this is a philosophical mystery of sorts, which asks often unanswerable questions about faith and reason - thankfully for those of us who actually want something answerable, this is tempered by the central mystery. William follows a trail of evidence, secret symbols and coded manuscripts to solve the crime which is masterfully interwoven with medieval and Christian history, expertly interlaced with theological arguments and polished prose that sounds at once intellectual and yet believable, not just spitting out the longest or most obscure words for the sake of muscle flexing.
This is a novel that contains something for everyone, it's deep and expansive, dense at times, filled with theology, history, philosophy and mystery even some sex and love in there, and surprisingly for a story centred around Christian theology, not all of it is heterosexual! The Name of the Rose is a true historical mystery classic that it would be foolish to pass up.
The Thirteenth Tale is a novel of hype, raved about, touted as the perfect book for book lovers. This is not to say that everyone who reads it will enjoy it far from it - but rather that many who have that innate love for the printed page, who feel that books are an intrinsic part of their lives will relate heavily to The Thirteenth Tale, or at least certain aspects of it. Set in the post-war era (it's hard to tell exactly when as our author never reveals it, but it seems to be around the 1920s-30s or so), it's got a Gothic feel similar to Jane Eyre, a book to which this feels at times like an extended love letter.
It's a story steeped in literature, centred around reclusive author Vida, who commissions biographer Margaret to write her biography and this leads to mysteries aplenty as we learn about the two women through the telling of Vida's tale. It has everything that book lovers will relish, old antiquarian book stores, writers, spooky estates, and a winding and compelling story, filled with tragedy and carefully laid clues.
It's an intricately crafted and emotional novel about twins that slowly unravels at Vida's commanding pace as she recants her story, which is heralded as a ghost story, though in essence Casper really isn't anywhere to be seen and it borders more on psychological drama than supernatural spook-fest. Amidst the story are gushing passages about book love, and the relationship between book and author and reader, and the immortality that books grant authors.
Diane Setterfield loves books, this is clear, and if you love them too, you'll likely find in The Thirteenth Tale a book that explains that love profoundly. By and large, it's a beautifully written blend of mystery, psychological thriller and ghost story all wrapped up in a bow of historical fiction; filled with twists and turns, making it an engrossing and compelling novel that lives up to the hype.
Next on our radar is 1947 and an exploration of the downfall of an aristocratic family in post-WWII Britain. This kind-of-but-almost-not ghost story, is haunting and atmospheric, and steeped in the time it is set. Post-war Britain lives in its pages, and the elements of The Little Stranger which are supernatural and horrifying in intent are inextricably linked to this time period outside of the story and context, they're nothing, but when fully immersed in the novel and living in 1947 through it, these elements shine; subtly yes, a little glimmer in the darkness, but they incite an unsettling and creeping atmosphere, filled with tension and mystery that leads the reader on a path to an unknown ad unforeseeable end unfortunately not containing any raunchy lesbian romps unlike Waters' debut novel (boo!).
It is also lacking in terms of outright supernatural elements , it's subtle nature not quite making the case for it as a great paranormal mystery, but in terms of being a historically focused one it is a must-read; a well-researched and well-written mystery that is steeped in the tragedy of family decay and the class expectations of 1940s gentry.
For our next offering Carlos Ruiz Zafn transports us to 1945 Barcelona, where we meet Daniel - after losing his mother during the Spanish Civil War, he takes solace in a book called The Shadow of the Wind, but upon trying to find another book by the author he is horrified to discover that someone is systematically destroying them all and that he may have the last one. It sounds like an innocent enough quest, but Daniel is dragged down into a story of deeper, darker mysteries, and murder.
Zafn doesn't taint his story's flow by trying too hard to make the mystery element keep the reader in the dark. This is a novel in which the story of the characters, not the promise of a satisfying mystery is what keeps you going which is not to say that the mystery is bad, on the contrary it is an enthralling one, but it is merges with the story seamlessly and doesn't take over.
It's a novel filled with interesting characters, ones you grow to know and love, that you won't want to let go of ones that make you want to step into the book, back in time and join them in their gloomy 1940s noir era. The Shadow of the Wind is a sprawling epic, that has profound effects on those who disappear into it. It is pure reading pleasure; curious, timeless and life-sucking, drawing in readers out of their modern lives and into Zafn's gorgeously dark vision of 1940s Barcelona.
This next novel is a truly unique one unlike any other on the list. Set in 16th Century Istanbul under the rule of the Sultan, My Name is Red is a murder mystery with a very special twist. Focusing on the death of a miniaturist (illuminator of manuscripts) in the Sultan's court, an apprentice is called in to help with the investigation of the murder, and to help finish the book that the miniaturist was working on for the Sultan.
From here the book diverges into a sophisticated web of multi-dimensional sub-plots and discussions, and this is where the unique quality of the book shines through. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different narrator, not all that different for murder mystery I know, but what makes this different is the narrators themselves, some of them are far from the norm to say the least: a corpse, a dog, a horse, a gold piece and even the colour red all chip in amongst the more typically expected voices.
The multiple points of view do well to hide the killer's identity as they all seem equally credible in the sense that none of them are even the killer hides their true identity from the reader. In this regard, Pamuk wonderfully illustrates in this novel the changing feelings and psychology of the mind, the speed with which thoughts, feelings and perspectives can change, and the unreliability of feelings in the moment. This is not an easygoing novel, within it there is a lot of philosophical discussion regarding the purpose of art and distinctions between Islamic states and Western Europe, but for the brainy among you who are ready to get stuck in, you'll be richly rewarded with a thought-provoking and unforgettable reading experience.
This next book takes crime dramas back to medieval Cambridge. It's 1171 and a female doctor specialising in autopsies is brought in to examine the bodies of four murdered children, resulting in a mash-up of modern murder mystery and medieval mayhem. It's a cracking combination of historical fiction and forensic mystery, the period details and dashes of political intrigue of the time making it a particularly compelling read especially reading about this surprisingly forward-thinking 12th Century woman, who feels almost like a modern woman who has stepped into the book to play at being medieval and every once in a while give a cheeky nod to the reader and say hey, wouldn't it be great if women had been like this in the middle ages?.
Despite being a little out of sync with the times, the premise of an ahead-of-her-time woman investigating medieval murders is one with strong potential, realised by our compelling heroine with a strongly rational personality and will to remain independent. It's a little flawed in places, including a token romantic interest who woos her and saves her from mortal danger, pretty much devaluing our heroine's independent woman stance in the process, but in spite of it's minor flaws the book functions well as a whole. It's a typical whodunnit mystery, and wholly satisfying because of it. Boosted by it's setting, this is a plot-focused story, a nice easy read that doesn't really require any thought and is a challenge not to enjoy.
Our journeys back in time take us to London once again, this time in 1886 at the home of Lady Julia Grey and her husband Edward, on the night they are hosting a diner party. All's well until Edward drops dead, but luckily for Julia she's not lonely for long as she meets a potential new love interest over his dead body! Investigating the death further reveals it was a murder, and Julia enlists the help of the enigmatic Nicholas Brisbane to find the culprit.
To be fair, the book doesn't actually feature a direct romance between the two, just a lot of wistful stares amongst their arguing, but the potential is there. The actual story is well-paced, and not your typical cosy at a hefty 500+ pages, but it doesn't overstay it's welcome, with well-defined and interesting characters and enough suspense to keep you reading. The mystery is decent even though the identity of the murderer is so obvious that it feels like a red herring and most readers will doubt their first inclination that they've got the right guy, which just adds to the fun right? Or not, depending on your tolerance for easily solvable mysteries.
Victoriana is interlaced throughout the story, bringing the time and place to life, and making it feel as if you're walking the bleak, rainy London streets yourself. It's a fun and enjoyable novel, suspenseful, but still relaxing to read, and best for those who are focused less on mysteries that can fool them or they can solve themselves (with actual implementation of brain power), and more for those who are interested in the idea of a Victorian woman trying to solve a murder.
We're in Victorian England once again with a another rich widow and the mysterious death of yet another husband. Our current widow begins to look through her husband's belongings and falls for him posthumously in a way she never did during his life. She's feisty and witty without being too unrealistic for her time, and this always on point wit and good looks (as well as her money) bring her to the attention of two men, who have questionable intentions.
There is a full and interesting cast of characters, whilst an over abundance of side-characters can sometimes be too much, thankfully all of the character in And Only to Deceive are engaging enough to make you actually want to read about them. Alexander gets the balance of history just right in her novel; lushly detailing the manners and dress of the time, but without descending into lengthy and boring descriptions even though at times she has the tendency to dance around the central plot a bit and go off on tangents.
Nonetheless, overall this makes for a strong and romantic Victorian cosy mystery that is slightly predictable in places, but with a twist at the end that isn't as easy to foresee. This is the perfect read for days when you want to pick up a nice, simple read that is enjoyable, mysterious and steeped in Victorian detail.
It's England once again, a particularly favoured choice amongst historical fiction writers, this time in the Regency period (that's the 1820's for anyone who didn't know). Whilst England is a typical setting, our protagonist is less so, on account of possessing a penis. That's right, we actually have a male main character in a historical mystery! Our main man is instantly likeable, though we know little about him; he's a dandy, that much is sure, and he has a mysterious past but before we learn more about the enigmatic and cynical Julian Kestrel he jumps into super sleuth mode, trying to solve a murder at the country house at which he is staying. Kate Ross manages to capture the Regency period , lavishly detailing the dress, manners and speech from all levels of society and it's nice to witness it from a male point of view for once.
The plot is a strong one, and the story is very strongly focused on its mystery element, so much so that the clues sometimes stick out like a sore thumb, but even so it still makes for an enjoyable Regency romp that stands out from the rest, a definite must if you want to read historical fiction but are bored of Victorian widows playing detective and would rather play along with a dandy detective instead.
This next book is a tough one to write about, one that any explanation of will never manage to truly capture it, but nevertheless, let's try! It's a positively puzzling tale of interlaced stories, all intricately woven into a mysterious but still decipherable grand opus that constantly shifts between multiple people, places and times. Structured like Russian nesting dolls, it's a science-fiction/fantasy tale nestled within a sad romantic mystery of illicit love between two unknown people, all told within the memoir of 83 year old Iris Griffen, whose own life story spans the 20th century.
It's a curious, slow, bleak and melancholy tale of pain, love and compassion that is even sadder than you would typically expect. But it's not all doom and gloom, The Blind Assassin is a novel that is so wonderfully touching that post-read even those who didn't particularly like the story itself will not regret reading it, and without fail will admire it's clever construction and beautiful writing that culminate in a book that is haunting, powerful and truly unforgettable, and won the Man Booker Prize in 2000 as a result.
If you want historical mystery, and you want Egypt, pyramids and ancient curses, look no further! Set in Egypt during the rule of everyone's favourite Pharaoh Tutankhamun, his chief investigator The Eyes and Ears of the Pharaoh Meren, and his adopted son Kysen set out to solve the murder of a palace scribe found dead in The Place of Anubis (where bodies are prepared for the afterlife).
This is a fairly standard murder mystery, though the murderer may not turn out to be quite who you think as the clues can be quite cleverly diverting, and the writing is far from complex. Robinson's style is direct, particularly with regards to characterisation, and fat guys for example, will essentially do everything fatly.
Nonetheless, this is a novel made whole by its depiction of the time, lovingly and thoughtfully researched, there is splendid attention to detail regarding clothings, food, wigs, burial customs and class distinctions. She also creates a nice personification of Tutankhamun and his relationship with Meren is an intriguing one. Murder in the Place of Anubis is a nice light read with a good degree of historical accuracy that is highly recommended for anyone who loves all things Egyptian.
Our next book is a literary darling that on its publication was given a whole host of literary and mystery novel awards, and it's easy to see why as we travel back to the 1950s to meet 11 year old Flavia de Luce. Flavia is a genius, a pre-teen science specialist and future chemist, intelligent, precocious, filled with energy and curiosity and possessing a potent passion for poisons. Our science-loving sprite gets mixed up in a world of murder and stamp-collecting and has to use her intuition and smart, scientific brain to put the pieces together and save her father from being wrongly imprisoned.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a fun and well put together book, and the sheer hilarity of reading about an 11 year old who constantly plots to poison her own sisters and get away with it, with the intellect to take on a murder case is an enjoyable and engaging premise. The central mystery isn't the toughest around, and the clues can be really easy to figure out, and you'll sometimes get ahead of Flavia in terms of the progression of solving the case, but then again, she is only 11 years old! Overall, a fine sense of humour, mixed with mystery and a cast of amusing characters headed by the sharp and snarky Flavia makes for a quirky and engrossing slice of mystery.
With this next novel, P.D. James brings us something rare and exciting, the characters of Jane Austen's classic Pride and Prejudice into a murder mystery. It's six years since Elizabeth and Darcy began their life together at Pemberley, and everything seems just fine and dandy until a murder brings their peaceful life crashing down on them.
It's a strong enough mystery, one that keeps you guessing and is resolved fairly nicely, with a signed confession and a nice happy ending. It may not be the greatest solution to a murder, but it seems like the type of ending Austen herself may have written for a murder mystery if she had ever had the inclination to write one.
Also, don't go into this one expecting pitch-perfect Austen imitation; despite James' loving recreation of the period and characters and Austen-atmosphere, it's often been decried for it's overall lack of Austen's spark, but of course it doesn't sound exactly like Jane Austen, it wasn't written by her! Instead we are treated to P.D. James, who is a greatly talented writer in her own right, so expect not Austen re-incarnated, but a love letter to her and her creations with murder. Death Comes to Pemberley is an entertaining period mystery and not one to be missed if you are a fan of Austen, James or both.
The Phantom of the Opera is a Gothic classic, a masterpiece that everyone has at least heard of, it's a book that's deeply embedded within our culture, though most will know it best through its stage and screen adaptations. But the book is where it all began, and where fans of romantic Gothic romance, mystery and suspense should begin for the original, classic experience. You may think you know this story, but apart from its characters and its basic premise being vaguely similar, the approach to the situation is very different in the printed perspective.
The book is deeper, darker and a great perspective on a wonderfully twisted love story, elegantly written if a little old-fashioned at times, but this is to be expected from a novel written over a hundred years ago. Originally The Phantom of the Opera was written as a horror, though this element retains the stamp of the time in which it was written and is essentially lost to modern audiences, yet it is still entirely readable and suspenseful, if not quite as dramatic as its musical counterpart.
With a surprising and emotional ending, it lives up to its reputation as a classic, and is a definite must-read for anyone who is curious about the origins of the tale, or is interested in historical mystery and ghostly love triangles featuring mysterious masked men - it's not as creepy as it sounds... or then again, maybe it is, and that's what makes it so alluring.
Now we have another spin on a classic character, and this time the one undergoing the literary makeover is Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, not the delicious, high-cheekboned face of our favourite Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch no, this is a decidedly older Holmes, who has retired and is now a beekeeper. His new life is peaceful, but his mind is still sharp, and he ends up taking on a new apprentice who pulls him away from his new case-free life.
Watson is out, and 15 year old Mary Russell is in, and she becomes firm friends with Sherlock over the years the novel takes place, their relationship progressing quite nicely, even if it is a little creepy for it to culminate in a romance with a 38 year age gap!! Even so, the two of them share some very witty conversations that retain at least a little of Sherlock's spirit of course, King's Holmes is far from a carbon copy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's but he is still interesting to read about even if he's a bit too kind and forgiving and doesn't quite retain his uppity, I'm-smarter-than-everyone quality, he's still recognisable as Sherlock.
It's worth noting that his new sidekick is a bit of a Mary Sue; she's Holmes' equal in intellect and spirit right from the get-go, which can be a bit off-putting for some, but makes for intriguing reading as the two super-powered minds meld. Minor qualms aside, Holmes' new adventure is a satisfying and and exciting one, with well-drawn characters and strongly styled prose, Laurie R. King has provided a new, fresh perspective on a classic character, that fans will be hard pressed not to enjoy.
It's the 1800s, and a brief but distinctly eerie encounter on a moonlit road with a woman clad from head to toe in white opens this classic tale of mystery, ghosts, murder and madhouses. The Woman in White is a Victorian Gothic classic, generally regarded as one of the first Victorian sensation novels that fused Gothic literature and it's apprehensive feel with psychological realism usually attributed to domestic novels.
It's a high impact tale, and Collins put his characters and readership through extreme mental torture; bringing the horror out of the dusty, musty, haunted castles where you'd expect it to be and right into the living room. This is a novel that upon its release was so innovative and so gripping that it was a nationwide sensation, even royals, nobles and future prime ministers were reading it, cancelling engagements to keep reading it, re-reading it and relishing in it's thrilling and suspenseful narrative.
Unlike most literature of the time, it was not relayed by an omniscient and reliable narrator who kept a distance, instead it's told from multiple perspectives, as if giving evidence at a trial, and not all of the people who relay the story are necessarily trustworthy. As a result we are treated to an intense page-turner of a mystery that will keep you guessing. Filled with a whole host of likeable and appropriately unlikable characters, tension and an unpredictable ending, The Woman in White continues to prove itself to be a sensational and intriguing novel, worthy of being called a classic.
Now we travel to 19th Century Czarist Russia, during a time of political upheaval, where a smart and surprisingly good-humoured nun is setting about solving mysteries. Her first port of call is the mysterious case of white bulldogs that begin to drop dead one after the other, leading on into a political power struggle that it is down to the sleuthing sister and the local bishop to thwart! Akunin starts his novel in traditional Russian novel style, lengthy introductions of characters that seem to feel the need to tell us every minute detail about them: their names, nicknames, surnames, patronymics and shoe size, in fact the only character we don't know absolutely everything about is Sister Pelagia! Nonetheless, she is an enigmatic and interesting woman, smart, intelligent, witty and determined.
Once the reader gets past all of the naming related bullshit, they are thrust into the compelling plot, filled with dead dogs, dead people and sex scandals oh my! The construction of the mystery is a true testament to the talent of Akunin, clues are scattered everywhere throughout the book, but none are blindingly obvious.
You will not be spoon-fed here, and it's not all withheld until the end, everything you need to solve this mystery is there, but whether or not you are sharp enough to spot it and solve the mystery before the shamus-Sister is another matter altogether. For an expertly crafted tale of intrigue and murder that illuminates philosophical and political perspectives in a country in a time of turmoil, Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog should be your first port of call - after all, what's not to love about a nun solving crimes and thwarting political plots?
In yet another Victorian English classic, we try to determine what exactly Lady Audley's secret actually is. Perhaps she's a hermaphrodite, or secretly a lizard? Perhaps she has desires of an unsavoury, maybe even a sapphic nature? We can only dream. No, it's unlikely that any of those are actually what she's hiding, but it'd be a fun twist, no? Okay jokes aside though, Lady Audley's Secret is another sensation novel from the Victorian era, one filled with (possible) deaths, deceit, love, and defying class barriers.
Our titular character is a brilliant and ambitious woman, and an absolute psychopath who will do whatever it takes to get what she wants, she lets nothing stand in the way of her dreams, and it's absolutely wonderful to read about. What will this daring dame do next? It's hard to tell! And unlike a lot of the other class-defying women on this list, as a woman who was actually created by a woman living in the time that the book is set, she is completely realistic and believable in terms of her scheming and rebellious ways.
This novel is a true joy to read, not quite as stuffy as some Victorian novels can sometimes be, it's a dynamic and sophisticated tale that gives an interesting insight into the societal norms of Victorian England in the best way possible through a charming character that defies all these expectations in devilishly daring style.
Our next archaic mystery is an intriguing and dark psychological thriller, yet another Victorian tale of sensational proportions, overcast by a constant sense of danger from the poisonous and mysterious titular Uncle Silas who shadows the steps of our snobby starring female Maud. This is a novel filled with mortal danger for our heroine, who is plagued by a wash of threatening and dark characters that seek the mental and bodily destruction of our heroine, though the sense of uncertainty over her welfare is alleviated by the fact that it Is quite clearly a story that is being recounted by Maud years later, so it's always certain she won't actually die.
Even so the mystery is retained by the hints of supernatural elements, subtle overtones of sexuality and a big secret that I'll leave to you to find out! Our heroine Maud is generally likeable in spite of her general air of snobbery, and despite her tale being touted a thriller the actual thrills are sparse, but nonetheless they definitely do their job when they appear. Overall Uncle Silas is an absorbing, rich and deep story that would most appeal to those who have a keen interest in Victorian authors and Gothic fiction, but would also be great for anyone looking for some historical mystery that captures the essence of the Victorian era.
Based upon real people, and a real murder that took place in 1284, Satan in St. Mary's fictionalises the medieval murder mystery to offer his own version of events. A murderer who seeks sanctuary in the St. Mary Le Bow church in London is found hanging from one of its beams and it is considered a suicide, but after being assigned to investigate by the Bishop our protagonist Hugh Corbett falls squarely into the path of danger.
Doherty brings Medieval England to life, this book is strongly grounded in history and its foundations here are solid. You can practically smell the foul streets, flowing with shit and piss, it's the true medieval experience. Unfortunately his characterisation is pretty poor, we never really get to know anyone particularly well, and the mystery plot isn't particularly substantial meaning the identity of the killer is easy enough to guess if your brain power exceeds that of a flea. Even so, for its depiction of medieval English life and a nice uncomplicated plot that is easy to get into and moves at a consistent pace, Satan in St. Mary's is a worthy read, that concocts a fairly fun yarn out of some true events in history.
We now step away from the much-beaten path through the dreary streets of Victorian London, and instead into the hot and exotic sand dunes of Victorian era Egypt. It is here, in the early 20th century that we meet Amelia Peabody, an Egyptologist with an attitude. Armed with her wit, sharp sarcasm and fierce curiosity for all things historical, she embarks on a journey to Egypt, through it's deserts and cities steeped in ancient culture to an archaeological dig site, and ends up with more than she bargained for.
Strange occurrences plague the dig including, amongst other things, a mysteriously mobile mummy, and Amelia and her new acquaintances Evelyn (who left Rome with Amelia in an attempt to escape the consequences of a compromising situation she found herself in) and Emerson (a grumpy Egyptologist) must solve the curiosities behind the crazy circumstances. Amelia is an instantly likeable character, believable, strong and smart, her interactions with Emerson in particular are hilarious as the two snipe at each other.
What makes this book even better is that its author was herself an Egyptologist, and so her knowledge and details regarding ancient Egypt are spot on. Crocodile on the Sandbank is the perfect book for those interested in historical mystery; providing some Victorian history in a setting besides London for once(!) and also ancient Egyptian history, with an intriguing and fun mystery to tuck into in this lush setting. Overall, it's an alluring and heady mix of mystery, history, romance and comedy that is extremely hard not to to enjoy.
We now come to another nicely unique setting, 1814 Vienna. It is not often the subject for historical fiction, but maybe it should be. Vienna at this time was living in a tough and ruthless political climate, and our story here opens with the brutal murder of a princess, Tatiana, and the list of suspects in the murder is seemingly endless.
The mysteries surrounding her death are numerous: Who killed her? What was her secret that led to her murder? What was Tatiana's involvement with our main male protagonist, Malcolm? And why does everyone think he was banging her? Amongst this unending list of questions, we have our main duo, Malcolm and Suzanne, a pair of particularly perceptive people, smart and witty and with unmatchable chemistry, who are complex and as multifaceted as the murder mystery they mean to solve.
The mystery itself is carefully constructed amidst carefully laid out back story and tantalising clues, intricately interlaced through the gorgeous Viennese high society, which is sumptuously illustrated; the brightly glittering world of balls, gowns and waltzes that will make you want to step right into its rich and shiny world. All in all, Vienna Waltz is a fast, fun and entertaining read, a page turner of romance and mystery interwoven with the history of a country which is very rarely explored through historical fiction, much to the genre's detriment.
And now for a murder set during the reign of King Henry VIII. It is the 1500s and in an isolated monastery a hunchback is investigating a murder (and no, it's not Notre Dame, it's not a cathedral and this is not France). Our deformed detective is lawyer Matthew Shardlake, an agent for Thomas Cromwell. He is a sombre and reserved man who is often the subject of cruel ridicule on account of his physical deformity, but it is brains not body that rule this story, and Matthew embarks upon his investigation with his sidekick, Mark.
This moody, irritable and flawed guy is a nice change from the typically perfect, perky, preppy and generally good-natured sleuths, he is a believable and relatable guy despite the fact that not many people can actually relate to being a hunchback! Sansom has done a fantastic job with the atmosphere of Dissolution, excellently recreating the Tudor period in a way that feels authentic and detailed.
The mystery follows the typical formula of a crime fiction: first crime, the introduction of the sidekick, subsequent crimes, a number of close shaves, following false leads, and the eventual big reveal at the end. It's a tried and tested formula that is bolstered by the setting.
Our Version of the List
At a Glance
- 1 Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Patrick Sus...
- 2 The Interpretation of Murder: A Novel (Jed Ru...
- 3 The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)
- 4 The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel (Diane Setterfie...
- 5 The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters)
- 6 The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz ZafÃ³n)
- 7 My Name Is Red (Orhan Pamuk)
- 8 Mistress of the Art of Death (Ariana Franklin...
- 9 Silent in the Grave (Deanna Raybourn)
- 10 And Only to Deceive (Tasha Alexander)
- 11 Cut to the Quick: Julian Kestrel #1 (Kate Ros...
- 12 The Blind Assassin: A Novel (Margaret Atwood)
- 13 Murder in the Place of Anubis (Lynda S. Robi...
- 14 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Fla...
- 15 Death Comes to Pemberley (P. D. James)
- 16 The Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Leroux)
- 17 The Beekeeper's Apprentice: or, On the Segreg...
- 18 The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins)
- 19 Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog (Boris A...
- 20 Lady Audley's Secret (Mary Elizabeth Braddon...
- 21 Uncle Silas A Tale of Bartram-Haugh (Joseph S...
- 22 Satan in St. Mary's (P. C. Doherty)
- 23 Crocodile on the Sandbank (Elizabeth Peters)
- 24 Vienna Waltz (Teresa Grant)
- 25 Dissolution: A Matthew Shardlake Tudor Myster...
Publicly Ranked Version of the List25 items >>