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Top 25 Mystery Stand Alone Books

The Top Mystery Novels That Are Single Volume Titles (not in a series)

Tired of starting a never-ending Mystery series? Looking for a complete story set in ONE single book not five, ten, or thirty books? 

Welcome to the rarefied world of the 'Mystery Stand Alone.' In 2016, the good old 'stand alone' seems to be a vanishing species across all books genres. It's simply a much better investment financially for an author to turn a book into a series. 

I mean, who wants to re-create a brand new story, set of characters, and world with every single new book written? Mystery Authors apparently don't, which is probably one of the reasons why there's any number of mystery series cramming the most of the shelves of your local book store (see our Best Mystery Series) in the Mystery/Thriller section. Or if you are more prone to find your books on Amazon, you are going to spend a lot of time wading through endless series after series.

The point remains: it's hard as hell to find a stand alone. But, we're here to help you with that! There are still some standout 'stand alones' in the genre, waiting for you to find them like the hidden jewel they are becoming. Indeed, some of the best mystery books ever written are in fact stand alone books.

So have a gander at our curated list of the best picks for mystery stand alone reads and be prepared to lose some serious time in a more than a couple of these books.

Lady Tressilian invites her family down, only to have it end in multiple murders. The first clue that it's not going to go well is that Neville Strange invites his current wife and his last wife to the same weekend party. Then Mr. Treves tells a story about a child who killed a friend; he saw the child practicing the method of death, which made him think that the crime was premeditated rather than an accident, as it was supposed to be. Of course, Mr. Treves shouldn't have told a story like that in mixed company, because he ends up dead before the next chapter is done. Someone put an ''out of order'' sign on the elevator and taking the stairs has caused Mr. Treves' heart to give out. .

Why It Made the List

The majority of Christie's works are with either Poirot or Marple, but she has some hidden gems that did not feature either of them. This novel has been praised since its publication in 1944 for its exceptionally well-drawn characters and the motivations of the people involved.

'Read It If You Like'

Whodunits, tennis, awkward family situations

Books in Superintendent B... Series (5)

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A couple has brought their child with them to New York so that the husband can give a speech at a conference. When the babysitter for the couple bails, the elevator operator offers the job to his niece, Nell. The reader soon sees that Nell is not quite right in the head. The couple gladly accepts the offer of help, and Nell starts an evening of prank calling husbands to start some domestic turmoil and inviting single men who she has never met up to the hotel room. She soon decides that the child is too much trouble, and she begins to make plans to get rid of the little girl. The story then becomes a timeclock of will the parents return home in time.

Why It Made the List

Charlotte Armstrong's works are a well-kept secret in the mystery world. She was a phenomenally talented author who is typically forgotten today. Her domestic novels hit close to home, making the terror more real. This was made into a Marilyn Monroe movie, which you need to see. This book appeared in the recent Library of America collection.

'Read It If You Like'

domestic suspense, family situations, crazy antagonists

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Sadly today, Margaret Millar is better known as the wife of Ross Macdonald than as the superb author of dozens of novels of psychological suspense. In this book, she created a doozy of a story about how the mind reacts to pressure. Helen Clarvoe is being harassed by Evelyn Merrick, a visibly insane woman. The pressure builds throughout the book as Helen suffers more and more at the hands of Evelyn in increasingly horrific ways. Helen asks her lawyer to help her stop the harassment, but in the end, the lawyer learns things that only serve to make the ending more terrible. I wish I could write more about this story, but I don't want to ruin a single page of the thriller.

Why It Made the List

Millar was one of the first writers to include psychology in her novels. In this book, she included a twist that has (50 years later) been used repeatedly since. However, she was the first and the best to use this twist. The book won the Edgar for best novel, and this book appeared in the recent Library of America collection.

'Read It If You Like'

domestic suspense, psychological suspense

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men meet on a train and start talking. One of them proposes that they kill the other's problem so that the person with the motive can have an alibi for the crime. The thought is that no one will suspect a stranger of committing the murder. For the first man, it's his father. For the other, it's his wife, who won't give him a divorce. The husband doesn't take the other man seriously until his wife turns up dead strangled. Then he's battling the police, who suspect he was involved, and the other man who wants him to murder the father. The pressure gets more and more intense as the book continues on.

Why It Made the List

This was Highsmith's first novel. Not only was it a best-seller in its own right, Hitchcock made a film of the same name with it. Fair warning: the book is similar, but not the same as the movie, so be prepared. It's indicative of her studies of two people whose lives become intertwined, and never with good results. The plot's been used dozens of times since then including Throw Mama from the Train and an episode of Law and Order.

'Read It If You Like'

psychological suspense, thrillers

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Rachel is a creature of habit. Every day she takes the same train, and every day she sees the same couple eating breakfast on their deck, which is only a few houses down from where she used to live in happier days. After a while, she begins to give them names and a backstory. She makes it a happy life, like she once had. The thought of better days has made Rachel a drunk, who blacks out frequently and drunk calls her former husband. Then she learns the hard way that the family is not happy at all. The woman on the porch disappears, and Rachel cannot remember a thing from that time period. Was she involved in some manner? Rachel now becomes a participant in the couple's drama, rather than a spectator, and the resulting police case has surprising twists at the end.

Why It Made the List

After Gone Girl a few years back, this book became the ''Girl'' book of last year. It was praised in a number of reviews and gained an enormous amount of attention in the press via reviews and interviews.

'Read It If You Like'

contemporary mysteries, character studies, crime novels

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Well, this book is almost a sequel, except it's by a different author and was written 200 years after the original. The book is P.D. James' reimaging of the aftermath of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen with a murder. Taking place six years after the original, Darcy and Elizabeth are married and happy. They are preparing for a gala ball, and of course Lydia and her ne'er-do-well husband are not on the guest list. Lydia does come to them with a story of how her husband had chased another man into the woods, where later the man was discovered dead and her husband beaten. When Lydia's husband is jailed, Darcy and his bride decide to solve the crime for themselves.

Why It Made the List

PD James is better known for her long-running series featuring her Scotland Yard detective-poet. Since he is part of a series, this book, which appeared recently, was a candidate for the standalone category. James is one of the British crime queens and her works are always interesting and well-written. The book was made into a BBC mini-series, which is well-worth the effort to find.

'Read It If You Like'

Victorian mysteries, British mysteries

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Andy McClintock works for a construction company in a job he hates. When he decides to quit, his boss offers him a raise and a promotion instead and a murder case to solve. In what originally looks like suicide, the police decide that the boss' death is homicide and the murder weapon belongs to Andy. Then the boss' wife says that she and Andy were sleeping together, providing him with a motive to boot. It becomes a race between Andy and the police as to who will come up with the solution to this case. This thriller has one of the best villains in recent memory and should not be missed.

Why It Made the List

MacDonald is a well-known and well-loved author. Millions of men grew up on his Travis McGee novels, which tell the story of a philosopher-detective who lives on a boat and takes cases while tending to sleep with all the women in the case. While he's best known for that series, MacDonald was a prolific pulp-writer and wrote a number of standalones as well for small paperback original houses. This was one of his earlier books, which tended to run short. You can finish this in an evening.

'Read It If You Like'

paperback originals, pulp stories

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There's a serial killer targeting the young woman of Los Angeles in the years just after World War II. The novel focuses on Dix Steele, a misogynistic vet who longs for the days of war and excitement. He's stuck in an era that doesn't value his skills, and he's lost in the modern society. Jobs bore him, because there is no excitement. He tries dating, but he's ambivalent. He decides to ask his friend Brub who is a detective for the LAPD if he can help try to find the serial killer, hoping to get a thrill except the reader begins to wonder if Steele is the serial killer instead.

Why It Made the List

Many of Hughes' works could be on this list. She caught the post-war angst so well, and she focused on the racial and gender inequalities of the 1940s and 1950s. Ironically, she ended up being blacklisted by Hollywood. This book was made into the ultimate Humphrey Bogart vehicle. If you've never seen this movie, you need to find it now.

'Read It If You Like'

noir, post World War II, serial killers

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Frank Chambers wants a special order when he walks into a cheap diner owned by an older Greek cook. He wants a side helping of the cook's hot wife. However, life is never that easy. They begin a torrid affair, but instead of getting a divorce, the wife wants to have her dessert and eat it too. She wants to kill Frank, so that the entire estate, diner and all, goes to her and by extension, Frank. However, Frank is a lover and not a fighter, which means the first time that he tries to kill the Greek, he gets it wrong. Since it's noir, there's no chance that this pair of lovers is going to get a happy ending; life is out to get them.

Why It Made the List

Noir is hot these days and Cain is one of the earliest practioners of the form. If you want to impress people by being well-read, Postman is your book. Not only is it a masterpiece, it's nearly a novella. Some editions barely hit the 100 page mark, meaning you can finish it in a day or less.

'Read It If You Like'

noir, depression-era mysteries

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Life goes on after a child, and heir to a horse farm goes missing or does it? When the young man who claims to be the missing child returns home, the family is turned upside down. The man's resemblance to his brother and the family is there, but is this really Brat Farrar or a clever fake who wants to be the heir to the horse farm? That's the premise of this book, and Tey keeps all the strings pulled taut, so that you want to finish the book in a single sitting. The author captures the bucolic setting of English horse farms and horse auctions perfectly.

Why It Made the List

Tey is often considered one of the ''crime queens.'' She only wrote a few titles, but each one of them is a gem, and Brat Farrar is one of her few standalones. PBS did this as a Mystery Masterpiece series 30 years ago, and it really needs to be released on DVD, though it has been on Youtube from time to time.

'Read It If You Like'

suspense, missing relatives returned, horse mysteries

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What do you get when a hard-drinking woman author (yes, Craig is a woman) who typically writes comedic legal mysteries, decides to write a cozier mystery instead? A forerunner of the modern cozy mystery, that's what. Rice reimagines her own life as a single female mystery writer with three children who is too busy writing. Her children decide to solve a next-door suburban murder in order to garner enough publicity to make their mother a best-selling author and get her away from the typewriter for a few hours. When Detective Bill Smith arrives to investigate, the three children decide that their mother should have a romantic interest as well as best-sellerdom. Why not have everything in life? Rice had three children of her own, but she drew heavily on her imagination to write the story. That included leaving out her soon-to-be ex-husband beat poet Larry Lipton and her two previous failed attempts at matrimony.

Why It Made the List

The book was a smash hit for Rice. It was made into a great movie in 1946, just before Rice spiraled into depression and alcohol, a lot less funny than her own mysteries. Rice remains the only mystery author to grace the cover of Time magazine, back in 1946.

'Read It If You Like'

humorous mysteries, family mysteries, cozy mysteries

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p>The book looks at how crimes have long shadows. Twenty-five years ago, Dave is abducted while he and two other boys are playing on the street in Boston. He manages to escape a few days later, but not until after the kidnappers have sexually molested him. The events deaden him inside and when the book opens in the present time, he still struggles with those events. The other two boys have become a cop, and an ex-con who owns a local store. The ex-con's daughter is murdered, and suspicions immediately fall on Dave, as the outsider, as the different, as the odd one. Even Dave's wife thinks he might be guilty of the crime. The book follows the official investigation with the cop/former friend and the unofficial investigation by the ex-con, who doesn't think that justice will be served.

Why It Made the List

This was Lehane's breakout book. He'd written a great series before this, but after this book, he began to write more standalones and fewer series works. Today he gets well-deserved attention for his works. Of course, this was made into a movie with Sean Penn and no Madonna, so it did well at the box office.

'Read It If You Like'

crime novels, Boston-area crimes, character studies

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Prosecutor Rusty Sabich is assigned to investigate the murder of a colleague, Carolyn Polhemus. That's probably not a great idea since the two of them were sexually involved, but Rusty is married to someone else, so he neglects to mention that fact. Of course, secrets never stay hidden in a thriller, and Rusty is soon suspected of killing his former lover. Since she was bound and tied in what looks like a bondage scenario gone awfully wrong, the lover is suspected even more of being guilty. He's soon arrested and put on trial for the murder. Suddenly, he's facing his former colleagues and friends who want to put him away for life. This book helped revive the legal thriller, a subgenre that had gone dormant prior to this book.

Why It Made the List

This was Turow's first book which made this something of a feat. The book was an international best-seller, and then went on to have the movie rights to the film purchased before the book even came out. Harrison Ford starred in it, and the movie got good reviews.

'Read It If You Like'

legal thrillers, thrillers, family dramas

Books in Kindle County Le... Series (9)

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The mousy narrator in this book doesnt even feel that shes worthy of being given a name, so she remains nameless throughout this adventure. However, Max De Winter doesnt think shes too bad, and the wealthy recluse marries her in a small ceremony. They go back home to England, where the narrator is quickly reminded that she is the second woman to play hostess at Manderly, and likely not the most-est. She clumsily runs through the chores and encounters with family and friends until such time as the details about the first wifes death begin to come to light. Then she has to fight for her husband and his life. 

On its face, this seems like a typical romantic suspense novel, where the new wife has to overcome the reputation of the previous mistress of the stately home; however, Rebecca works because nothing is as it appears. While the new wife does grow a backbone, she finds that Rebecca set the bar low on being the mistress of the house. Rebecca gave a mean party, but was singularly uninterested in being Mrs. De Winter.

Why It Made the List

Readers across the world can quote the first line to this book, one of the most famous in the world. Alfred Hitchcock won his only Best Picture Oscar for Rebecca and he was partial to using her works for his films, using two other works beside Rebecca. Thats one of the best recommendations around.

'Read It If You Like'

first person narrators, mysterious husbands, romantic suspense

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After a genre has been done to death, then the satire starts. By the early years of the 1900s, the amateur detective was in danger of becoming overdone. While practitioners like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers had yet to come on the scene, EC Bentley wrote Trents Last Case as a lampoon of the genre. 

The story has Philip Trent, a freelance reporter who wants earn the scoop of a lifetime by figuring out who killed banker, Sisbee Manderson. After crowing to the world the name of the murderer Trent finds out that he is wrong on almost all counts. The actual murderer tells Trent the truth as a pity gesture.

Why It Made the List

While its a darn good mystery at face value, the book was supposed to be satire of the genre from start to finish. However, humor can be lost on the multitudes, and as a result, its often taken as a great example of the great detective and puzzle plot form. There are technically a few sequels with Trent, but they came years later and are largely forgotten. This book stands alone as the authors contribution.

'Read It If You Like'

Golden Age mysteries, great detectives, satire

Books in Phillip Trent Series (3)

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If you pick up a Dick Francis novel, you had better like horses, and I'm not talking about the way Burger King likes them. Francis was a jockey before he was an author and his books use the horsey background for nearly every novel. The Danger is no exception. The amateur, Andrew Douglas, is a security consultant who specializes in getting kidnap victims back unharmed and capturing the kidnappers. After the kidnapping of a young girl jockey, Douglas starts to see a pattern to a series of kidnapping. As two more people are kidnapped in quick succession, Douglas suddenly has more work than he can handle.

Why It Made the List

Francis infrequently used the same protagonist more than once, but they tend to follow a pattern. Each of the heroes is young, engaging and chockfull of secrets that are revealed throughout the course of the story. While many of the books are similar, this is one of the better examples of Francis' work, which is saying a lot, as he's won multiple Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America.

'Read It If You Like'

Horses, racing, jockeys, British mysteries

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The Thin Man actually refers to the missing man, Clyde Wynant, whose family wants him back or at least his money and not to Nick Charles, though the films would call Charles by that name. Nick and Nora Charles are painting New York red over Christmas when the Wynant family contacts Nick, hoping to lure him back into the private eye business. Nick doesn't want to do take another case. Why should he since he married well? However, Nora gladly accepts and then the fun begins. The Depression-era saga has more alcohol than a speak-easy. The dialogue is sharp and snappy, reminding the reader of slapstick comedy more than a mystery.

Why It Made the List

This was Dashiell Hammett's last (and probably best known) book before booze and other activities sidetracked his career. The book reflected his own life at the time, which consisted of living the high life and drinking large amounts of alcohol. The films made from this book (and the sequels) changed the way Hollywood made mystery films for a decade. Well worth reading and watching.

'Read It If You Like'

private eyes, New York fiction, Depression era fiction

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This book has a mystery within the mystery because it was never finished by the author. The reader has to assume that Edwin Drood is going to be the victim of the piece. He's in the title, though he's not the main character of the story. His fiance, Rosa Bud, is the object of many men's interest, even though she and Drood are engaged. Drood's uncle, John Jasper, wants to keep things all in the family, because he lusts after the young maiden as well. We're not sure what Jasper would do to get her since he's shown in the opening scenes as an opium fiend and presumably, a criminal element. When Drood and Bud end their engagement, the rest of the men in the book go crazy and Drood goes missing. The book ends before Drood's dead body is found, but the reader has to assume that he got top billing for a reason.

Why It Made the List

It was Dickens' last book and the one most likely to be called a classic mystery. However, the fact that Dickens died in the middle of writing the book meant that no ending would ever be offered to the puzzle. That makes it a classic standalone. Many authors have speculated on the ending. There was even a musical based on this book.

'Read It If You Like'

Victorian mysteries, British mysteries, unfinished novels

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A caper novel is one where the main characters, who are usually not upstanding men, try to get something out of the other characters in the book. The mark, which is mentioned in the title, is not the German currency, but is the slang term for the victim of a con, the type of person who responds to those people who want your passwords on the telephone. Fred Fitch is a classic mark. When he inherits $300,000 from a rich but forgotten uncle, the con men of New York practically run to his door to get some of his newfound wealth. Matt also seems to have bequeathed a showgirl to his nephew. She too wants to cash in at Fred's expense. However, Fred's problems don't end there. Uncle Matt appears to have been murdered, and the killers are now after Uncle Matt's heirs as well. Westlake takes aim at all the types of people who want to use you for your money including one of Fitch's neighbors who wants Fitch to finance the publication of his novel.

Why It Made the List

Westlake was the king of the caper novel, focusing on the lives and lies of minor criminals. He wrote Dortmunder capers and more under other names. This was a standalone caper, and one of his best. The book won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar award.

'Read It If You Like'

humor, capers, anti-heroes

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While a child custody battle doesn't sound like the stuff of mysteries and thrillers, this book proves that wrong. The older sister in this book is fanatically devoted to her younger sister until the girl marries. Then she turns her devotion to the sister's son. After a while, devotion is no longer enough, and she decides that she wants the boy for herself. She charges the sister with neglect and takes her to court for custody. The court battle grows ugly. Of course, this is a psychological thriller so violence ensues, and the reader is shocked by the revelations that follow.

Why It Made the List

Barbara Vine is a pen name for Ruth Rendell, one of the modern British crime queens along with PD James. If that's not enough reason to read it, Rendell wrote her psychological thrillers under the Vine name, so this book looks at the things people will do to maintain their own worldview.

'Read It If You Like'

domestic thrillers, families gone bad, psychological suspense

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Just before World War II as the threat of war grew imminent, spies and espionage relatedmysteries sprouted up like war bonds. The subgenre wouldn't grow to its current level of interest until after the war was over, but Ambler's book, which appeared just before World War II, would remain one of the best examples of the genre. He tells the story of a struggling, mystery writer (aren't we all?) is fascinated by the life and death of a dead criminal. He begins to trace down leads to people who tells stories about Dimitrios; however, none of them have a good thing to say about the dead man, which only serves to spur the writer on to learn more about the man and why he was so roundly despised.

Why It Made the List

The book is the archetype of today's modern spy thriller, but even more than that, Ambler was a writer's writer. His works were emulated by countless other would-be authors, and his impact was felt by a full generation of mystery and suspense authors. Many of his contemporaries, like Dorothy B. Hughes, called him a role model.

'Read It If You Like'

World War II fiction, spies, thrillers

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Higgins was a low-level prosecutor. Part of his job description was to listen to wiretaps and read transcripts of the various criminals, lawyers and police. After a while, Higgins picked up the way that the men spoke and he caught that cadence of speech when he wrote The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Higgins caught the voices of the characters as they spoke in real life and not in more genteel books. Even the mafia spoke in perfect English. The story is not what brought readers in; it was the realism and the dialogue that rang true. Eddie is a small-time crook who is returning to prison for yet another crime. Before he goes, he sets up a final arms sale and then snitches on the buyer to the police, hoping to get a reduced sentence for his ''good deed.'' However, the buyer figures out who turned them in and then the fun begins.

Why It Made the List

This 1971 novel was considered radical at the time it was released and was a huge seller at the time. Elmore Leonard called it the best crime story ever written. It's still reprinted from time to time, and is a consistent seller.

'Read It If You Like'

crime novels, capers, short novels

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When a military veteran comes back from the Korean War, he is awarded the Medal of Honor for saving his platoon. However, that story is fiction. In reality, he had been brainwashed to obey commands every time he sees the queen of diamonds playing card. The Communists have plans for the vet. He's to commit a political assassination, allowing for a military state to be created in the assassination's wake. The only problem is that other vets have started to remember the truth, and they are trying to stop the vet before it's too late.

Why It Made the List

This was the start of the political thriller as we know it. The US political scene in 1959 was ripe for a book like this, and Condon used characters based on contemporary politicians to populate his book. Part of the fun was seeing who each character was supposed to be. It also played heavily on the idea of communist infiltration of American society and politics. The book has been made into movies twice, but neither is completely faithful to the book, which is far better.

'Read It If You Like'

political thrillers, conspiracy theories

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Rinehart was one of the top-seller authors of the first two decades of the 20th century. She did not limit herself to mysteries, but she is best remembered today for her romantic suspense novels. She was the first to write a novel where the butler did it, coining the perpetual joke. She also started the Had-I-But-Known school of mysteries, which ran until the 1940s. This is one of her best known works where a maiden aunt, her niece and her nephew all decide to summer in a house once owned by a bank robber.

Why It Made the List

Rinehart was the first of the mystery authors to use the Had-I-But-Known mystery trope. Had-I-But-Known (or HIBK) was the type of novel that included sentences like ''Had I but known that Al Capone was in the basement, I would never have gone down the stairs with my gun in my bedroom and both hands tied behind my back.'' Sadly, that was as bad as some of the books became where the women would be apprehended by the real killer and held in peril until saved by a man.

'Read It If You Like'

Romantic suspense, improbable plots

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Julian Symons is largely forgotten as a mystery writer today. He's best known for his book on the history of the genre, Bloody Murder, which still strikes a strong opinion on the genre. In this novel, a henpecked husband falls head-over-heels for a beautiful woman. Too bad that it's not his wife. The man sees red (what Symons calls the colour of murder) and then the interesting part of the novel occurs. Since this is a crime novel, you can guess what happens to the wife and you can pretty much know what will happen to the husband as well.

Why It Made the List

Symons knew the genre better than most from his years of study and had a firm grasp on what features he liked and his own pet peeves. His criticism of the genre in Bloody Murder and other works will let you know if you don't already. His novels are character studies in a sense, as the reader learns about each person in the book and his/her motivations. It's worth the trouble to hunt his books down.

'Read It If You Like'

crime novels, legal thrillers

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