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Best Mystery Books of the 21st Century

The Best Mystery Books of the 2000's (So Far)

Wow, we're only a few years into the new century, but there are enough good books out there for two or three lists. This list looks at books published in 2000 and beyond...all the way to 2016 as of now. 

Some of them are recent entries into long dead series while others are standalones. Others comedic interludes between detection and others deal with subjects that make you want to despair for the human condition. These books are as diverse as our society has become. 

But all these books have one thing in common: they are fantastic reads for any mystery fan. So if you are looking for some of the best mystery novels to come out the past decade -- novels with a more contemporary bent then the old school classic mystery books. Unlike our Best Modern Mystery Books list (which covers books SINCE 1980), this list covers all the best books in the two decades after 1980, which means a hell of a lot of books.

Get ready to find some new favorite books with a more contemporary flair.

Rankin had announced that he was going to end his series about Rebus about seventeen novels about the hard-driving inspector. Fans were bereft, but Rankin had stood firm. He has indicated that a minor character may continue to tell stories about the Scottish police. In this book, Rebus is suspended for pushing too hard to find the murderer of two creative types, an exiled poet and a recordist. Rebus pushes too hard and spends his last days at home, while trying to bring a killer to justice.

Why It Made the List

Take one of the most popular series in Scotland, perhaps the entire UK, and make it the last exploit of the beloved character. For some authors, the ending would be schmaltzy, but not Rankin, who didn't pull any punches in his last work just as he hadn't all along.

Read It If You Like

British police, prickly characters

Books in Inspector Rebus ... Series (20)

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The murder of a choir director would seem like a routine murder, but this man was murdered in a monastery, living with a bunch of monks who don't speak. You'd think there wouldn't be many arguments there or singing. But the monks are known for their choir, even if they can't talk. However, men without voices can still hold a grudge and Chief Inspector Gamache has to look at his own faith and the crime in this very well-received book.

Why It Made the List

This book won the Agatha, the Anthony and the Macavity for the year it was published. Penny has won a number of awards for her work. This book just upped the total. It's not unusual for any book in this series to be nominated for two or three awards, and it was tough to pick just one book in the series to use in this list.

Read It If You Like

Canadian police, cozy mysteries

Books in Chief Inspector ... Series (12)

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So what does a mom do after she leaves her kid locked in the car on a hot day? After she's finally acquitted of the murder of the child, she dumps the other two kids with their father and heads off for parts unknown. Except that's not the end of the story. The mom comes back to reunite with her daughters after a long absence, and what makes a touching reunion even better a film crew! Mom wants to make a documentary out of their reunion. When mom and Tess, the PI on the case, start getting anonymous threats, Tess has to look into what happened then and what's happening now.

Why It Made the List

Each of Lippman's books should be on this list, but then you'd think that I was biased. They are character studies and crime novels at the same time. Lippman's works have been made into movies and her Tess Monaghan novels are among her best. This series is highly recommended.

Read It If You Like

suspense novels, suburban crimes

Books in Tess Monaghan Series (12)

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This synopsis doesnt spoil a thing, since the title tells the reader that the woman in the relationship vanishes. What happens when a superficially happy relationship is put under the microscope? 

When the husband is left with a missing wife and a police department that wants to know everything about their relationship, its apparent that hes going to be the number one suspect. So did he kill his wife or is he being set up as the patsy in this crime thriller? The reader needs to hold on tight for the second half of the book has more twists and turns than a roller coaster. Nothing is as it seems. 

This is one fucked up tale that you need to read.

Why It Made the List

A few years back, this book was all the rage, and it led to a series of domestic noir novels with the word girl in the title. Its still hard to read about the dark side of domestic life without a mention of this title. So its appropriate to be on a best list of the first years of this century. Additionally, the book was adapted for film as a Ben Affleck vehicle, which did well at the box office.

Read It If You Like

psychological suspense, kidnappings, twists at the end, books that because award-winning movies

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Harry Bosch is a guy that gets around. This is the twelfth book about the detective, who has been a member of the LAPD, a private eye, and now a member of the LAPD's cold case file. Bosch gets the case of Marie Gesto, a young woman who disappeared 15 years ago. When a routine traffic stop turns up body parts in the car (don't you hate when that happens?), the police get a confession from the driver to a number of murders including the murder of Gesto. Bosch has to look into the matter.

Why It Made the List

Connelly has created a great voice for the detective and his descriptions of the city and its peculiarities. The series has recently been made into an Amazon television series with Season One being released last

Read It If You Like

police procedurals, Los Angeles as a setting

Books in Harry Bosch Series (21)

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Everyone is nostalgic for some good old-fashioned KGB in this world of terrorists and jihad. So Smith decided to give it to his audiences. This book deals with the speech Nikita Khrushchev gave to the Russia people, denouncing Stalin's crimes against the people of the Soviet Union. Smith captures the uncertainty of the people who were once told to follow Stalin blindly and are now being told that he was wrong. Leo, the protagonist here, is trailing a string of cases where the members of the security force are being sent copies of photos of the people they had arrested.

Why It Made the List

Child 44 was the first novel by Smith, and it was wildly popular, being nominated for several awards and being turned into a blockbuster film. So this novel is the second book in the trilogy about Russia that made Smith famous. The pace and the twists in the book have earned Smith a spot among the top authors today.

Read It If You Like

historical mysteries, good-old Russian spies

Books in Leo Demidov Series (3)

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So what happens when you have a piece of federal land with no inhabitants? It doesn't have any jurisdiction over any crimes committed there, meaning that anything goes. People call it free fire. The reader see this first hand when a lawyer up and shoots four campers. He gets away with the murders and the governor of Wyoming hires Joe Pickett, the hero in the Box books, to look into why someone is shooting campers.

Why It Made the List

Box is like the John Wayne of Western mysteries. He write these provocative novels that deal with the problems facing people in the west. Free Fire is probably the best, since it gives a clear picture of what Box thinks would happen if corporations were given free rein in our society. Plus we learn a lot more about Joe and his family, something that had been teased through the first six books of the series and we learn plenty.

Read It If You Like

Western mysteries, corporate malfeasance

Books in Joe Pickett Series (16)

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Handy White left LA 25 years ago, not because of the smog, but because he'd been part of a heist that had gone horribly wrong. So wrong that he burnt the loot from the heist. That's bad. Now he's returned for the funeral of a friend, who also happens to be one of the guys who had been involved in the theft all those years ago. No one knows if this death, which definitely was a murder, is related to the original crime it is LA, after all. However, Handy has to relearn his city while he tries to find out exactly what happened to his friend and if he's in danger of being the next guy to host a funeral.

Why It Made the List

This guy can write, and this was his first book in over a decade, meaning fans had been patient for far too long. The book is something of a departure for Haywood, who can be wickedly funny as well. So this was a long-awaited book and unlike his previous works, meaning that it deserves to be on this list as one of the best.

Read It If You Like

Crimes from the past, capers gone bad

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Nothing like a good marriage to bring the police. When the husband of a couple burns down a barn with the wife's beloved horses in it, she gets back at him by unloading a gun into his brain. Or so she says. Walt Longmire, the local sheriff, doesn't believe the story that the wife tells, so he decides to go digging to find out who else had a problem with the husband. The list is as long as the town, and the sheriff had more than enough motives to investigate. He has to solve a murder and find out why a wife would confess to a crime she didn't commit.

Why It Made the List

Walt Longmire is a beloved character. He has recently had a own show on A&E. The fan outcry when the show was cancelled caused Netflix to pick up the series for a fourth season. The series picks up the heroic elements of the cowboy and the detective.

Read It If You Like

Westerns, police procedurals

Books in Walt Longmire Series (12)

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It's difficult to use someone else's characters in a book. It's even more difficult to write about one of the most beloved books in the mystery genre, but Gores managed to do a fantastic job doing both. He wrote a story about Sam Spade and Archer, his partner who is killed in the early action of the Maltese Falcon. Given that no real background was given for the characters in the book, Gores does a fantastic job of creating lives for the characters that don't conflict with what the reader knows about them in Hammett's own works.

Why It Made the List

Gores not only made a credible plot for one of the genre's most famous characters, he also wrote in the style of Hammett as well down to the descriptions. While the book has a few issues, it's close enough to the original that it's worth a read. It's one of the best continuation novels written, and that's why it's on the list.

Read It If You Like

Dashiell Hammett, private eye novels

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Crooked Letter is another name for the letter "S," though I don't' remember that from the alphabet song. And the state of Mississippi has a whole lot of S's in it, which is where the book is set. The story is again one that is set in the past and present are we seeing a pattern here? Silas, a young black kid, and Larry, the white book nerd, are friends until Larry goes on a date with a girl who never comes home afterward. The action jumps forward to when Silas comes home as the local police and another girl disappears in town.

Why It Made the List

Franklin's novel was compared to Harper Lee, well her good novel anyway. It's Southern and the setting is so ingrained into the book with its themes of race and social status and the past that you couldn't pull those crooked letters out of the book if you tried. This is definitely one to check out.

Read It If You Like

Southern mysteries, mysteries with a past

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Whoever told you that cheerleaders were all smiles and hairspray hasn't read this novel. Abbott tells the story of two 16 year old girls and what happens when they get a new cheerleading coach. It doesn't sound much like Chandler, but of course, the girls don't see eye to eye with each other over the new coach. Eventually a person ends up dead and the girls have to face what happened and Given that these girls rely on each other to stop them from hitting the ground, even a little bit of suspicion can be deadly for them.

Why It Made the List

One review called this book "Heathers Meets Fight Club" and it's a good description of the ramped up mean girls in the book. It's a rather cut-throat view of female friendship and the last years of youth and high school where students are feeling their way into adulthood.

Read It If You Like

suspense novels, darker fiction

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Laurie R. King's stories about Mary Russell, the wife of retired detective Sherlock Holmes, are great fun. While it can be difficult to believe at times that this older gent in the novels is really the same man as the acerbic detective from Baker Street, the interplay between the characters and revisiting the other minor characters is enjoyable. This is the second half of a tale that started in The Language of Bees about a ruthless cult called the Children of Lights. Holmes and Russell and Holmes' son Damian are all at risk from this group that will stop at nothing.

Why It Made the List

King is an exceptional writer with a gift for richly drawn characters. This particular novel is more action-packed and plot driven than many of the other ten books in the series and it deserves a place on the list as being one of the best.

Read It If You Like

Sherlock Holmes, suspense novels

Books in Mary Russell and... Series (14)

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So when a cop with PTSD, from his partner's shooting, and a dog with PTSD, from its time in war, become partners in the LAPD's K9 department, no one thinks it will last. However, the things they have in common make them bond. When the cop decides to look into his partner's murder, of course he finds that it's a huge cover-up and he and man's best friend have to watch out for each other in order to survive. Considering that there's talk of making this a series, it's no spoiler to say that the pair comes out okay in the end.

Why It Made the List

It's a standalone for Crais, so it's outside of his usual Elvis Cole books, and he's poured his heart into this story about the man and dog who suffer from the same malady. Dog stories always do well, and this is one of the best hardboiled dog stories around.

Read It If You Like

dog stories, police procedurals, redemptive tales

Books in Scott James & Ma... Series (2)

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Award Nominations:2013 CLARKE

If you have to spend a few sentences describing the set-up of a book, you know that you've run across something unique, and Angelmaker is just such a book. In it, Joe Spork, the son of a gangster, is a low-key clockmaker in London. He wants to live a quiet life, until he accidently sets off the mechanism in a clock that restarts the Doomsday machine, which will extinguish all life on this planet. Ooops. Immediately Sporkin is being chased by monks, an 80 year old spy, and other groups, and he has to either take charge of his life in his father's footsteps or be run over.

Why It Made the List

Everyone needs a little humor with their crimes and this book is definitely the antidote to serious fiction. The book has crime and murders and plots galore, but it lightens them all with a belly laugh. This is definitely a read that can't be missed.

Read It If You Like

Quirky novels,

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Why are cop's kids and preacher's kids always the ones who turn out rotten? Lehane takes on a cop's kid as he looks at how a gangster is made and unmade in the 1920s. During Prohibition, Joe Coughlin rises in the rum-running business only to see it fall apart. Of course, the action starts in Boston where it shows Coughlin's background, but he soon moves to Florida where the proximity to Cuba makes for big business. Lehane has a different take on the making of a gangster that makes for interesting reading. It's a nice change from his other works.

Why It Made the List

Lehane is one of the most versatile mystery authors around. He writes standalones as well as a series, and the standalones range from horror to tales of families and dysfunction. This is a great story of one man's rise and fall in the 1920s.

Read It If You Like

historical mysteries, gangster tales

Books in Coughlin Series (3)

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Playing what if with history is interesting. Its even more fascinating when the events were discussed by the politicians of that day, which is what happened in this mystery novel. The country of Israel was a flop, lost in wars with the Arabs after World War II. The Jewish peoples displaced by the Holocaust are moved to Sitka Alaska, which doesnt have the boundary issues or the wars of the Middle East. Chabon found World War II documents that suggest just such a colony. Against the setting of Alaska, Chabon creates a community and the detective, who is divorced and drunk. He finds a dead man in his tenement home and is given just one clue an unfinished game of chess. 

Why It Made the List

The beauty of a cross-over novel (literary, mystery, and fantasy) is that it can garner awards in all the categories it fits. Of course, Chabon has won the Pulitzer already for an earlier work, but he also was nominated for science fiction/fantasy and mystery awards for this novel. This isnt Chabons first stab at mystery. Hes written fiction about Sherlock Holmes (his wife is also a mystery writer.)

Read It If You Like

ethnic mysteries, jewish culture, alternative universes, alcoholic detectives, award-winning fiction, science fiction, speculative fiction, literary fiction

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A mother whose son is off at boarding school starts hearing choral music wherever she goes. She thinks it's a neighbor at first but no one else seems to be bothered by it. They move, but the singing continues. How can that be? What makes it worse is that no one else hears a sound. She doesn't know if she's going crazy or if someone is gas lighting her to make her think that she is. She decides that it might be a warning of something to come, but she doesn't know what it could represent.

Why It Made the List

Hannah is much better known as the author of the Agatha Christie continuation novel, The Mongoose Murders. Her star has risen quite a bit in the past few years and this novel is a good example of her non-Poirot works.

Read It If You Like

suburban mysteries, suspense

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Set in the decade after World War II, this novel tells the story of a Japanese American man who is accused of killing a local fisherman on the Washington State island where they both live. The years since Pearl Harbor did not dampen the xenophobic attitudes and the Japanese American man is quickly put on trial for the killing. The story digs deep into the backstory of all the characters and we learn that one of the men involved in the trial is in love with the defendant's wife. Ooops.

Why It Made the List

The book has a quiet quality to it, but still packs a punch in looking at the various characters involved with the book. The author spent ten years working on this novel, so he should have gotten it right. Plus this book is on the banned book list in many places for its content. We all know that banned books are the best, right?

Read It If You Like

mysteries with character studies, historical mysteries

Books in Charlie Resnick Series (13)

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Nora Gavin ran away from a bad situation in Minnesota (besides snow and the Vikings) and ended up in Ireland, where she's honed her skills in "bog bodies." Yes, that's a real thing and it's the study of forensics in bodies that are found in bogs. Of course, home has a way of calling you back, and Nora finally goes back home to deal with the unsolved murder of her sister. Her husband is the main suspect (it's always the husband) and Nora has to save the rest of the family from possible death.

Why It Made the List

This was on several best of 2010 book lists, and got tons of praise in all the review organs, so it must have something going for it. Be sure to check it out and read it for yourself.

Read It If You Like

CSI, pathologist mysteries

Books in Nora Gavin Series (4)

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Everybody wants something. There are no giveaways in this life. And of course, when Detective Sean Duffy wants information on an IRA bomber (the political group, not a retirement fund), the woman who can help him out wants something in return. She wants to find out who killed her daughter. But this isn't a routine "guy standing over her with a gun in his hand" case. The daughter was killed and left in a locked room, the most difficult kind of case imaginable. He has to use all of his wits to solve this case to find the bomber.

Why It Made the List

It won the Ned Kelly award, which is a pretty big deal. Plus we're always impressed with someone who can write a compelling locked room mysteries. They're not easy to come by. So two thumbs up and a key to the room for McKinty.

Read It If You Like

police procedurals, locked room mysteries

Books in Sean Duffy Series (5)

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One might think that the best books of the new century were all set in the last century. A few of them were. Despite their names, Blotto and Twinks are a brother and sister of good breeding in English society at the time. They're really put out when someone is audacious enough to suggest that their chauffeur has committed murder. Brett has an eye for social constructs and he mercilessly uses the old standard of the gentleman of leisure who battles crime in Blotto, dragging it kicking and screaming to its absurd end. This is a Jeeves and Bertie for the 21st century.

Why It Made the List

If the title wasn't enough, this is probably one of the best comedic series of the last few decades. Funny mysteries are hard to do well, but Brett manages to pull out a consistently funny effort in this series. It's definitely worth checking out if you'd like a chuckle.

Read It If You Like

humorous mysteries, historical mysteries

Books in Blotto and Twin... Series (13)

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Being poor is worse if you've been rich, and Madeline finds this out the hard way. She's a former socialite with no money now, and she's stuck in a small town in New York as a reporter. This is not the life she dreamed of (I don't think this is anyone's dream life.) However, in the midst of her boredom she finds out some secrets about her family that could include murder. That's always a drag at the family reunions, so she decides to look into the matter and see what really happened.

Why It Made the List

Oprah once named this book as one of the 9 mysteries that every thinking woman should read. Then she gave everyone a car if they read it (just joking on the car!) That's enough right there to make an impact on this list. This is the first book in the Madeline Dare series and shouldn't be missed.

Read It If You Like

journalist mysteries, mysteries about the protagonist families, families in decline

Books in Madeline Dare Series (4)

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This story opens in LA on December 6, 1941, which ought to tell you what's coming up in this novel. Pearl Harbor is a day away, and Ellroy is looking at the sole Japanese member of the LAPD among other characters. This is a big book as are most of the Ellroy books, and he spends a lot of time showing how the casual racism that pervaded everything about society in that day. The greatest generation needed a little diversity training. Of course being Ellroy, there's plenty of violence, including beatings and murders. It's the second book in the LA Quartet and worth the read.

Why It Made the List

America is just coming to grips with the internment camps that housed Japanese-Americans during World War II. George Takei, Star Trekkie and gay funny man, has also managed to discuss the issue in a way that has humanized it. So Ellroy's take on the issue is fascinating to watch.

Read It If You Like

historical mysteries, mysteries with minorities, police procedurals.

Books in Second L.A. Quar... Series (1)

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Nothing like an old drunk to cause trouble and that's exactly what happens in this book. Rachel is an alcoholic, who is depressed from her recent divorce. She fixates on a cute couple, who she learns are Jess and Jason. But all is not what it seems. Rachel sees Jess kissing another man, and then Rachel doesn't see her again ever. Rachel's ex's new wife lives in the same neighborhood as the seemingly happy couple, which pushes Rachel to find out what happened to Jess and the couple.

Why It Made the List

This novel has been a big hit in 2015, possibly the biggest seller of the year, and is being compared to Gillian Flynn and some other female thriller authors. They all use the unreliable narrator device, which means the main character lies to you. So be careful what you believe about the things she says. No one can be trusted.

Read It If You Like

suburban suspense, thrillers, stalkers

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