'CORE' Best Lists
- Top 25 Best Mystery Books
- The Top 100 Mystery Books
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- Best Mystery Books of 2016
- Best Mystery Books of 2015
- Best Mystery Series
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- Best Indie Mystery Books
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- Underrated Mystery Books
'ERA' Best Lists
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- Best Legal Mystery Books
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'AUDIENCE' Best Lists
- Best Mystery Books for Women
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- Best Mystery Books for Children
Published in 1951, this novel is the last written by Tey as she perished shortly after, but is most certainly her best. Her lead character, Alan Grant, who just happens to pop up in five of her other novels, is convalescing from a broken leg and to amuse himself he delves into the historical mystery of the Tudor claims that King Richard III was a murderer. Of course Grant works for Scotland Yard which gives him top notch access to historical documents. He determines Richard was no killer and was a victim of the Tudors intentions to discredit him.
If this a project undertaken only when there is bit of available free time, dont attempt it. Clear your schedule as this book grabs the innards and doesnt relinquish its grip until it is complete. The book has been voted as the best English mystery of all time, is the fourth select under the same conditions for the Mystery Writers of America, and was even referred to by Winston Churchill in discussions of beliefs of Richards guilt. Thats more than enough ammo to back up my selection as the best mystery novel produced by a female, and would certainly nail down a spot on any experts list as one of the top five mystery novels in the history of the genre.
Books in Inspector Alan ... Series (6)
Warning. This will not be the only time she is on this list. She was just too prolific and talented of an authoress to not nail down multiple spots on any best of list. The concept for this one, which is also known as Ten Little Indians, came from the British nursery rhyme of the same name and has spawned plays, movies, various references in short stories and god knows what else?
It tells us the parable of 10 people that got away with murder and are invited for a siesta to some scary, remote island owned by some freaky man none of them know. Shockingly enough they accept this ridiculous invitation and one by one they die in the same fashion as the figurines at their dinner plates the first and only night they meet as a party.
The best part about it is their host is not even present. So you cant ever really get away with murder, or maybe you just shouldnt be dumb enough to accept that kind of getaway from a stranger? Who knows, but it is my favorite Christie book. Its a complete page turner and the plot is fantastic. Its thought provoking on the nature of evil, so prepare yourself for what the rest of humankind is going to throw at you while reading some of the best copy of all time. No matter what the genre.
Even if there is no familiarity with this novel, any literature aficionado knows this phraseLast night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again. Its the opening line from this book and seems to be inculcated in the brain whether or not its pages are ever turned. This is the tale of a woman named Rebecca who it appears was struck down by the hand of her husband Max, but the kicker is the story is told through a Mrs. de Winter, who has no association to speak of to the parties involved, and like everyone else, was quite partial to the mistress of the house rather than the master.
After Max remarries, the truth of that night out on in the lake in their boat comes out after the housekeeper goads him into revealing what truly happened. It seems Max did smite Rebecca but only because the woman everyone held in such esteem was probably the person he loathed most and his wife took advantage of his emotions. She had cancer and pushed Max to the limit so she could be put out of her misery without having to wield the weapon herself.
This book can be a bit slow on the plot line, but du Mauriers dialogue and the sequence of circumstances are very suspenseful. This book is also well noted throughout history as it was published in 1938 and actually was ranked higher on the Mystery Writers of Americas list than Agatha Christie. It reveals how even the most transparent people can harbor great secrets and what lengths it will require for them to be divulged. Terrific novel.
When Rachel Innes decides to summer in the countryside she certainly has no clue what she, her niece and nephew were in for because it was not peace and quiet. In fact, the old lady is lucky her hair is already white because its quite likely it would have turned that way over those short summer months. With a haunted house, one never quite knows what will happen and even though this book was written in 1908, it still resonates today as a mystery classic.
It wont scare the socks off anyone or send them over the edge wondering how they missed all those clues, but Rinehart is a heck of a yarnspinner and the book flows beautifully. Especially with the humor it is infused with. Critics of this work point out the racial tensions Rinehart infuses in her prose, but give the lady a break. She couldnt even vote and Southern slaves had not yet been freed for more than five decades. What do you expect?
If the quality of the book isnt enough to get you to pick it up, chew on this tidbit for a secondRinehart was the first author and yes she was obviously female, to institute the practice of advances before a novel hit the shelves. And thats not all. The book itself was so widely read way back then, Rinehart fought like the dickens for the publisher to share profits with her. Talk about historical value Here it is!
This one certainly will not be a commonly discussed book even amongst mystery maniacs, but this work is still alive, kicking and waiting to be devoured. It is the 12th book in the authors Harriet Vane series and the backdrop is a college reunion in the 1930s. Vane is looking to mend some fences and swap stories, but of course she should have known better. Shes not allowed to fun when there is a mystery to solve.
Sayers isnt exactly the swiftest craftswoman in moving her plot along, but the rich descriptions and deep complexity of the characters suck anyone in. It is also exceptionally detailed historically for all those history nuts, but the best part is womens fortitude is a central element of the novel. Think Downton Abbey thats a little more low key and not focused on the hired help. Considered by the Mystery Writers of America to be one of the top 10 mystery novels ever produced. Thats a pretty strong thumbs up.
Books in Lord Peter Wimse... Series (15)
HerculePoirot just has to be on anyones list. Doesnt he always get his man? Nothing else needs to be said. Just kidding, there is more. In this novel, Poirot has retired to the countryside and there is hide nor hair of him in the first several chapters, but of course he gets sucked in to a crime to solve when Mrs. Akroyd pleads for his aid. It seems her cousin did not murder his stepfather Roger Ackroyd, although everyone else under the sun sure seems to think so.T
he village doctor is the narrator and since Christie sets it up that way, Poirot receives the same information at the same times as the reader. Imagine matching wits with the great Poirot. Who will reign victorious? Actually most people already know how it turns out, even if they dont realize it, as like many of Christies other books, this one is quite famous with plays, anthologies and the like spinning off from it. Why should you read it? Because its been around for 90 years and still kicks ass.
Books in Hercule Poirot Series (41)
How many people know that Dr. Kay Scarpetta was originally a minor character in this work, until Cornwell was informed her leading man made for a crappy book and she needed to start with a new vision. Enter Scarpetta and the whole new world of forensic pathology intertwined with crime stories/mystery novels.
The slowest thing about the plot is Scarpetta is trying to track down a big, bad serial killer. How blas, but thats all that doesnt go at breakneck speed. Cornwell writes so intensely and with such detail about forensic science it is magnificent and really provides a layperson with a concept of how it fits together when solving a crime. Shes also an excellent writer with a terrific flow and engaging style.
I must not be too far off the mark because Cornwell is the only author to snag an Edgar Award, a Macavity Award, the Creasey Award, the Anthony Award and the French Prix du Roman dAdventure in the same year and it was for this book in 1991. This one is pretty obvious folks.
Books in Kay Scarpetta Series (25)
Shes inked 42 books but this little baby is her first and definitely best mystery novel. Not too shabby for a former secretary and copy editor. The plot centers on a young woman that shuts the door on her former life and starts a whole new one after being accused of taking her out her two children. It starts off famously and ironically, she remarries and produces two more kiddos, but then these two go missing as well and the rest of the book is about what transpires until they are found. Higgins Clarks strength is her character descriptions.
They are so easy to identify and sympathize with or loathe. As I said before, this is her best book and since she has piles of hardware from awards and scads of cash in the bank as being one of the bestselling authors of all time, you are only doing yourself a disservice if you dont pick this one up.
It was 1982 when Kinsey Milhone first popped into the public consciousness and all she has done is just become more popular with each passing year. Milhone is a female PI and takes a no holds barred approach to getting the job done. There is no real bond developed with her, but that wasnt Graftons intention. She does, however, use the people, places and things of the time period exceptionally well. Remember what a phone booth is?
Milhone uses them all the time to make phone calls. This was Graftons first book in the series and was concocted while she was whiling away the hours thinking about how she could rid herself and the planet of her soon to be ex-husband while going through a divorce. Its on every list out there and is revolutionary in the development of the female PI. Grafton is also another highly esteemed author and a part of modern pop culture. Dont waste anymore time in procuring it if you havent already taken the plunge.
Books in Kinsey Millhone Series (24)
Known as the Queen of Crime this British lass actually worked for the Secret Service long before she ever picked up a writing utensil or started hammering keys for her novels. James started writing in the 1960s but this was produced in 1985 and introduced her very popular protagonist AdamaDalgliesh.
She provides amazingly detailed and personalized descriptions of life in London and for the Secret Intelligence agency Dalgliesh is a member of. Although James has produced a voluminous amount of copy this nabbed her the Silver Dagger award in 1986. She was already quite well known amongst literati and has 14 awards along with seven honorary doctorates to show for her endeavors. Besides making you want to pick up and move to London, James is one of the most decorated, esteemed and respected mystery writers of all time. Who wouldnt want to read her most noteworthy work?
Books in Adam Dalgliesh Series (14)
Stabenow cut her teeth on science fiction but after 20 books of the Shugak series she is firmly entrenched in the mystery genre and that is definitely where she belongs! This novel is the first introducing Kate Shugak. She is an Alaskan resident that was a DNA investigator and now calls 160 acres inside a fictitious national park her home with her loyal companion Mutt.
No shocker here but Stabenow is from the largest U.S. state and this book rocks. Its something about the intrigue of Alaska and its appeal as a rough and tumble spot that kicks tail. Her descriptions of people, places and things are outstanding and dont you expect Alaska to be rife with crime? If you want to learn a little bit more about a state that is complete wild card to most of us here in the main 48, revel in the fact normal women really do exist there and gloat you won an Edgar Award winner, pull out your mobile reading device and get ready to download.
Books in Kate Shugak Myst... Series (20)
Hirahara is a fairly prolific writer and doesnt stick only to the mystery genre. She actually writes killer short stories, but nearly all her themes are the same: describing Japanese American culture and its value. The model for the lead character, Aras, which is an old Japanese gardener turned sleuth, is fashioned after the authors own father, who was born in California but moved back to Japan as a toddler. He returned after surviving the atomic bombs dropped at the second end of WWII, as did Hiraharas mother.
When the mystery or crime comes to mind, normally darkness, bloodiness, weapons and all number of not so pretty things spring to mind, but this detective is like a breath of fresh air. He is extremely likeable and completely out of the range of most protagonists in these books. What also is a very welcome addition is Hiraharas implementation of Japanese-American culture. Being from the East Coast, Ive only visited the West and was really not aware of rich the history was. This book is an absolute treat so do yourself a favor and turn the pages on this 2007 Edgar Award victor.
Books in Mas Arai Series (6)
Even before the general public could get its hands on this book in 1992 literary circles were already proclaiming from the highest rooftops what a terrific read it was. Not many authors get their tail kissed in the New York Times Book Review, but Walters is one of the select few.
The plot is focused upon three English ladies that of course are living in the country. As women are known to do, there is a lot of gossip and suspicion after the obligatory dead body arrives on the scene. It is a mystery novel. It sounds kind of boring, because who cares about some busy body English ladies, but Walters tells their stories so well and very intricately it is difficult to put the book down once you start reading it.
It makes me yearn for the English countryside and Im not an Anglophile. Not one bit. With not one bad review from every major news outlet and a John Creasey Award, my opinion certainly is merited. You need to purchase a copy as soon as possible.
Here we have many peoples heroine Stephanie Plum. Ms. Plum, who of all things is a lingerie saleswoman, was introduced in 1994 and is quite the down to earth female detective. She solves crimes to make ends meet, not because shes especially drawn to the profession. Its impossible not to develop a kinship of sorts with Plum and Evanovich can tell a good tale.
This is only one of three books to win the Dilys Award as a first novel, was on the USA Today list for 150 weeks as a bestselling novel, was a New York Times Notable Book, a Publishers Weekly Book of 1994 and USA Best Bet. I dont think I need to tell you what is good about the novel or why you should read it. That kind of praise speaks for itself much louder than anything I can put down on paper.
Books in Stephanie Plum Series (23)
The movie version of this novel, which goes by the same moniker, was produced in 1944 and is considered a classic film. Caspary penned 21 novels and numerous plays, but she is best known for this book and for her writing style. It was rather revolutionary as Caspary made the mold for the modern pyscho-thriller. Many think Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma were very influenced by Casparys work.
What constitutes a pyscho thriller is they are more about plot development rather than character development but this book supersedes that basic tenet and combines both. Its about Lauras search for love and a successful career during a murder investigation. Each page is filled with tension from both the characters themselves from their circumstances and their interactions with each other. As with nearly all her work, Laura is about a strong woman trying to find her place before that was cache or accepted. It is an incredible piece of literature that should be in every mystery library.
This novel might not stick out or be labeled as a classic who-dunnit but Boo Radley is an enigma that even adults want to unwrap. Is he really crazy or is it just the machinations of the minds of babes? Did he really kill a man? Is he capable? Or just ostracized in a small southern town because he was different? Many people are not wild about this book because they were required to read it school and prefer the movie version which sticks very closely to Lees words, but its not the just the mystery of Radley that draws us into the Finchs world.
Its the way Lee intertwines how a family acts with each other and towards others, parenting as a single parent, race relations and the tensions of the area that were very true to the place, period and time. Although you wont see this book on many lists, it is one of my all time favorites and the Mystery Writers of America thought enough of it include on their list. Is that good enough for you?
Books in To Kill a Mocki... Series (2)
Published in 1955, this is the first book of the Ripliad, which stars the not-so-nice Tom Ripley. Ripley travels to Italy to bring back a wealthy acquaintances son to join the family business. He ends up offing his friend and impersonating him. He survives being caught by the books end but Highsmith hints he will never be able to relax while living as someone else. No doubt. It would be pretty hard to pull that off nowadays with DNA and fingerprints.
Love, love, love Highsmiths plot. Really cant stand Ripley but hes not supposed to be a likeable guy. She takes us on a high speed chase throughout Europe with someone always nipping on Ripleys heels attempting to unearth his secret. This novel has the necessary ingredients of intrigue, suspense, the style and fashion of the era, and a just plain really, really bad guy that gets away with it all. It was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award and did win best International Crime Novel in 1957. If you like excitement and huge transitions between emotional highs and lows, this is a surefire hit.
Books in Ripley Series (5)
This 1934 book has to be the most famous HerculePoirot narrative of all. To cut to the chase, Poirot is in Istanbul and cancels his plans to return to London so he books himself passage on The Orient Express. Shortly after boarding he is approached by a man named M. Ratchett who attempts to employ the detective as he feels his life is being threatened. Poirot, however, is not a fan of this man and declines stating such.
The second evening on the train, Poirots slumber is interrupted when the train is stuck in a snow drift and Ratchett ends up dead. Obviously it was murder. As Poirot investigates, he discovers Ratchett is actually a man named Cassetti who kidnapped a 3-year-old girl American heiress, Daisy Armstrong and killed her. The rest of the book is about how actually committed the crime.
Christie enjoyed a similar journey on the Orient Express when her train was stuck in a snowdrift for 24 hours after returning from visiting her husband and many of the trains passengers in the book are modeled on her traveling companions. There is also a correlation between the Armstrong kidnapping and the Lindbergh baby kidnapping as the latter occurred shortly before the book was written. There really isnt much to say about this other than its an amazing novel that anyone that knows how to read should pick up. Its one of the most famous books in the world. Hands down.
Books in Hercule Poirot M... Series (41)
Married to the man whose pen name was Ross Macdonald, Millar did not play second fiddle to her famous husband. This novel won the Dilys Award as a debut work a year after it was published in 1955 and was later adapted for an edition of Alfred Hitchcocks television show in the 1960s. Millars life was intensely private and not much is known about her outside of her work, except she was married to Macdonald, their daughter passed in 1970 and she might have worked at Warner Bros as a screenwriter prior to embarking on her writing career full time.
This book is very obscure and may be quite difficult to find. Sadly enough many of Millars works are out of print, but she was very admired by her colleagues and this book is included in all the top lists for mystery books. Millars work was characterized by the depth of her characters and her depiction of interpersonal relationships as well as angst. Many mystery works do not deal with this kind of depth or tackle serious life issues. It may be an oldie, but its definitely a goodie.
Arriving on the scene in 1975 is Amelia Peabody as she is the lead character in this book, which is the first in a series of 19. It is set in 1884-1885 and chronicles the fate of Ms. Peabody after her well-to-do daddy left her his fortune rather than splitting amongst his entire brood because she was the only one who enjoyed history and architecture like himself. A chip off the old block I guess! Peabody is anomaly for the time period, as she believes in womens rights and isnt necessarily opposed to marriage, she just thinks it wont work for her. She travels Europe off daddys money and then heads to Egypt where she falls in love with the pyramids and of course encounters a mystery to solve.
This book is fascinating because of Peters extensive experience and knowledge of Egyptology and its incorporation. Then toss in the historical aspect, as she is right on point with describing how people in that era traveled down the Nile and what they would actually encounter and/or view. There really is not another series quite like it. There is the Bankok series and some on the American Indians that are historical mysteries, but this one really stands alone because of Peters smooth writing and accuracy. A fantastic read whether your history buff or not. Dont you want to learn something?
Books in Amelia Peabody Series (20)
Eunice Parchment killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write. This is the famous opening line to this book that was published in 1977. The plot actually works itself backwards and lets keep it real, not many writers have the necessary skill set to keep a reader engaged with this style, but Rendell has the hooks in until the very last word.
Rendell is an exceptional writer, which is why she won four Dagger Awards and was lauded by hundreds, but she was also an intriguing person and served in the House Of Lords. She was staunchly against class and personal injustices and this book excoriates the British class system of the time period of which she writes.
Many of her works touch on similar subject matter and she is not shy about being point blank to get them across. Its like being bludgeoned with a hammer, but the trip is so exquisite its well worth the presentation of the social values, even if the novel is only merely to entertain according to the person who is reading it. If you havent read Rendell now is the time, because without her in your repertoire you are sorely lacking.
(The Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries )
One of only three women to win the Dilys Award with her first novel, Julia Spencer-Fleming created Claire Ferguson and Russ Van Alstyne for the world to enjoy. Published in 2002, this book introduces Ferguson, a retired helicopter pilot who decided to become an Episcopalian priest, and Van Alstyne, a police chief, in their imaginary environs of Millers Kill way up in the Empire State where Spencer-Fleming hails from. The plot is centered around a baby Claire finds on her church steps which is left with a note asking it be adopted by a childless couple in town, but the mother of the baby turns up dead which throws Claire and Russ together.
Spencer-Fleming doesnt exactly draw out the characters with flashy prose, but makes them respectable, likeable, realistic individuals with a sense of duty and purpose. Her descriptions of the weather in upstate New York are spot on as I can attest to being from the region myself and the plot is suspenseful enough that the murderer is not revealed until the ending of the book. The novel itself won five awards: Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, Dilys, and Barry Award. Need I blather on more?
Books in The Rev. Clare F... Series (8)
This is the first of eight books in the Inspector Armand Gamache series. A Canadian by birth, Penney uses Quebec as the backdrop for her work most especially the small village of Three Pines. Gamache is a very likeable guy as are most all of her characters and that is one of the draws of this book. Their depth, aplomb and raw emotion almost overtake the mystery, but not quite. And the woman obviously enjoys her food because its all about those tasty tidbits!
This book captured the Dilys Award, the Barry Award, and the New Dagger Award and has a tremendous large following, me included. I adore the research Penny applies to every facet of this book and the web she spins has me stuck. I admit it, Im addicted and you will be too once you get into the first several paragraphs.
Books in Chief Inspector... Series (12)
Its all going here. Theres a murder trial, a poisoning, the reading of rich old ladys final testament and even a little bit of the supernatural in these 11 short stories. There is no doubt they are succinct, but with crafty Christie is the pages will turn without even realizing how swiftly they move by.
The best story is Where There Is A Will, the old ladys nephew gets his comeuppance after spending a serious wad. And then there has to be some HerculePoirot. The collection would not be complete without him.
Its Christie. One of the cornerstones of the genre and one of the most famous female authors in the world. Its not a wanna, its a gotta.
Written in 1935, this book is the ninth Sayers wrote about Sir Peter Wimsey. Admittedly the man is not my favorite protagonist, but we cant like them all and not just that its the entire presentation of the book as well as the other characters that is truly the cats meow. This mystery begins on New Years Eve and involves the opening of a grave with an unidentified body.
The course of the novel wraps around everything Wimsey does to track down the murderer. It incorporates a deep cast of characters, a lot of bells ringing and a lot of time devoted to the church. A lot of critics castigated Sayers seeming obsession with the meaning and significance of the tolling bells, but it adds to the book by explaining how paramount this was to the everyday lives of people at the time.
Sayers father was also a rector and she may have used this as source material for the novel. As always Sayers writing is top of the heap and its a great mystery. With so many people coming in and out of the book there is nary a dull moment. The hallmark of a fantastic book and the catalyst for many future female mystery writers.
Our Version of the List
At a Glance
- 1 The Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey)
- 2 And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie)
- 3 Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier)
- 4 The Circular Staircase (Mary Roberts Rinehar...
- 5 Gaudy Night: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery with...
- 6 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: A Hercule Poirot...
- 7 Postmortem (Patricia Cornwell)
- 8 Where Are the Children? (Mary Higgins Clark)
- 9 A is for Alibi (Sue Grafton)
- 10 A Taste for Death (P. D. James)
- 11 A Cold Day for Murder (Dana Stabenow)
- 12 Snakeskin, Shamisun (Naomi Hirahara)
- 13 The Ice House: A Novel (Minette Walters)
- 14 One for the Money (Janet Evanovich)
- 15 Laura (Vera Caspary)
- 16 To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
- 17 The Talented Mr. Ripley (Patricia Highsmith)
- 18 Murder on the Orient Express: A Hercule Poiro...
- 19 Beast in View (Margaret Millar)
- 20 Crocodile on the Sandbank (Elizabeth Peters)
- 21 A Judgement in Stone (Lee Child)
- 22 In the Bleak Midwinter (Julia Spencer-Flemin...
- 23 Still Life (Louise Penny)
- 24 The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Sto...
- 25 The Nine Tailors (Dorothy L. Sayers)
Publicly Ranked Version of the List25 items >>
- Laura (Vera Caspary)
- Still Life (Louise Penny)
- Ice House (Minette Walters)
- Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier)