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Top 100 Best Mystery Books Ever Written

The Top 100 Mystery Books You Should Absolutely Read Before You Die

A list of the top best 100 mystery books ever written. This is our grand attempt to bring you a comprehensive overview of the best of the best in the Mystery genre. We've previously covered The Top 25 Mystery Books, but a list of 25 is by nature quite restrictive. We felt such a list left off some remarkably good reads that every mystery fan absolutely needs to read.

And hence we present to you our Top 100 Best Mystery Novels. This list pulls from every genre where the mystery is a central part of the story and draws on classics, cult hits, to brand new mystery books. We feel it's the most comprehensive mystery list available.

So sit back, grab a very large cup of coffee and find your next best 100 mystery book reads. There is absolutely a few dozen books here for every mystery lover, no matter how eclectic or mainstream your mystery tastes just might be.

Note: for the first 25 Top books of this 'top 100 list', please visit the Top 25 Best Mystery Books. This list continues the Top 25 list on from #26 on wards.

There aren't that many humorous mysteries on the list, but some must be included for their wit and their excellent plots. Horace Rumpole is an English barrister who is mixed up in some crazy cases. He only defends people in court; he never prosecutes. He's a common man whose wife aspires to greatness. He semi-fondly calls her "She Who Must Be Obeyed."

Why It Made the List

Rumpole has one of the strangest routes into print as well. He started as a BBC television series. The series was such a hit that Mortimer, who had written all of the scripts, wrote the novelizations of the television shows. The show ran 14 years and is still replayed on TV as well as some Roku stations. It wasn't until 1995, after the show was cancelled, that he actually wrote something that hadn't been on television first.

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Funny lawyers, those who represent the underdogs, and main characters who tend to be slackers

Books in Rumpole of the B... Series (16)

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When Lord Peter's car ends up in the ditch, he has to stay in a small village until transport can be found. While he's there, of course the villagers share the local crimes with him. Of course murder follows him with one of the most unusual means of murder ever. The poor victim is rung to death by church bells.

Why It Made the List

It's on this list for two reasons. First is that the book was one of Sayers' first attempts at using the fens of East Anglia for mood. The setting plays a part in the murder, just as Chandler would do with LA a continent over from her. The second reason is the research Sayers did on the book. While you may not stay up late contemplating it, bell-ringing is a very complicate art and Sayers researched all the details to get it right in this book.

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British mysteries without too much blood and lots of atmosphere. British peers, Golden Age puzzles

Books in Lord Peter Wimse... Series (15)

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In the 1970s, a type of sleuth developed who really couldn't give a shit. Rather than the early detectives who wanted to find a hobby despite the fact that they were already worth millions, these detectives got by with as little work as possible. That's Fletch, more formally known as IM Fletcher, a reporter who sits on the beach watching drug deals and trying to work on a story about it. Fletch is approached by a millionaire who has a terminal illness and wants to die. For each step of the process, he'll pay Fletch an increasing sum of money, including $1000 just to listen to the proposal. Fletch wants to see how far this will go, and opts to keep playing along with the guy. What could go wrong with that?

Why It Made the List

The books are nothing like the Chevy Chase movie of the same name, and McDonald, which seems to be the only name for a hard-boiled writer, finished the series with two novels about Fletch's illegitimate son.

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Sarcastic anti-heroes, capers gone bad, the 1970s

Books in Fletch Series (13)

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Write about what you know, so former spy John Le Carre wrote about spies. This book was the first of his George Smiley trilogy which features Smiley as an older spy who has seen it all. In this book, British Intelligence is concerned about a possible Soviet spy in their midst. The names from the title are the code names given to the possible candidates.

Why It Made the List

Needless to say there are many twists and turns to the story, but the author manages to tell the story without the usual overdramatic tendencies of spy fiction. That's one reason why Le Carr is constantly mentioned as one of the best writers of spy novels around. Though there aren't as many spy novels around since the end of the Cold War, but Le Carr's novels are still worth picking up today.

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spies, Cold War, convoluted storylines

Books in The Karla Trilog... Series (6)

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When the mystery came to be, the first mysteries were written as a series of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. It wasn't for another decade or two until authors tried their hand at mystery novels. The Woman in White is one of the first mystery novels and one of the best. His story tells of a hero who meets a woman running through a park. Since this was published in 1860, it's on the melodramatic side. Think Dickens and Austen here. Lots of vapors and handkerchief and women in corsets.

Why It Made the List

Anyone who loves mysteries should definitely pick up this book. First are always interesting, and it's important to see where the genre started to better understand where it's at today. The book is typically free as an eBook, so you don't even have to worry about paying for it.

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Bodice rippers, Victorian romance, historical romances

Books in Penguin Classics Series (24)

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What happens when a novel that was supposed to be a parody of the amateur detective novel ends up on a list of 100 Best Mysteries? Trent is a gentlemen sleuth, as they called themselves in the early years of the 20th century, who decides to investigate the death of a financier. He promptly falls in love with one of the suspects, but he manages to collect all the clues to the mystery. He reveals the killer only to find out that he got it all wrong. In the end, the real killer confesses all to Trent, who vows not to do look into any more crimes.

Why It Made the List

Despite its attempt to mock the detective stories of the time, this book became a big hit. However, the main character had promised not to look into other crimes, so Bentley waited another 25 years to write another book about Trent.

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parodies, Golden Age mysteries, traditional detection

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America has long loved the idea of getting rich without the hard work. Westlake writes capers, which are funny stories of the big scheme to get rich quick. He's one of the best writers of the caper novel, which takes a special skill of keeping the interest high while the crime is planned and executed.

Why It Made the List

However American's also don't like it when other people get away with crimes, so Westlake created Dortmunder, probably one of the most comic offenders in the history of the genre. He has wonderful plans that always end up in the trash heap. This one, the first in Westlake's series, is brilliant as Dortmunder and his gang go after the Balaboma Emerald, a huge gem that is a symbol in the battle between two nations.

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Capers, humor in your mysteries, characters that can't catch a break

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America has long loved the idea of getting rich without the hard work. Westlake writes capers, which are funny stories of the big scheme to get rich quick. He's one of the best writers of the caper novel, which takes a special skill of keeping the interest high while the crime is planned and executed.

Why It Made the List

However American's also don't like it when other people get away with crimes, so Westlake created Dortmunder, probably one of the most comic offenders in the history of the genre. He has wonderful plans that always end up in the trash heap. This one, the first in Westlake's series, is brilliant as Dortmunder and his gang go after the Balaboma Emerald, a huge gem that is a symbol in the battle between two nations.

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Capers, humor in your mysteries, characters that can't catch a break

Books in Dortmunder Series (15)

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Every police officer knows that you don't get involved with a suspect in the case you're investigating. The situation causes too many problems, especially if you're sleeping with the killer. Nobody apparently told Officer McPherson the corollary to this; don't fall in love the victim. Yup, that's right. He fell in love with a dead person while attempting to figure out who killed Laura.

Why It Made the List

Laura is one of the books recently labeled as domestic suspense, a newish subgenre that looks at fiction of the 1940s and 1950s with competent women who are in bad situations. Since Laura had her face blown off by a gun, she's in a bad situation too. The Library of America has a book of domestic suspense slotted for 2015, so these women authors will hopefully get some of the recognition they deserve.

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Private eye novels, twists in your mysteries, less hard-boiled private eyes

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There's only one Mickey Spillane. After World War II, men coming back from the war wanted hard-living and hard-loving detectives who reflected their own lives and experiences. This was an age of paperback private eyes and hard-boiled detectives. No one though was any tougher than Mike Hammer. I, the Jury was his first novel and pretty indicative of his work. The action takes place around prostitutes and heroin, which are pretty standard features in these books. The killer shoots the victim, and then watches him bleed out. Spillane makes sure to describe the violence fully, not leaving out any details. Fights usually end with someone getting hit and vomiting all over. Writing "oompf" and moving on is not the Spillane way.

Why It Made the List

Spillane was one of the first of this extremely hardboiled school of writing. The 1950s and 1960s were full of these books, but he rode the wave of this movement, and he's still recognized as one of the leaders in that subgenre. Read it because you want to see a good example of this type of writing and because you want to shoot someone in cold blood and watch the life ooze out of them over the course of three pages.

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Man's man fiction, graphic descriptions of violence

Books in mike-hammer Series (25)

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Jim Thompson was one of the darkest writers around. His works were like noir on steroids. He suffered a breakdown at an early age, and the experience colored the author's works for the rest of his life. His works, which typically stemmed in part from his own life, told about down and out people who once had it all. In The Killer Inside Me is told in first person and depicts the life of a man who is slowly going crazy. In his mental state, he takes the law into his own hands. The book was made into a movie, which was so intense that people had to get up and leave during the first showings.

Why It Made the List

While Thompson wasn't well respected during his life, he began to be noticed after his death. Today you can't find a noir or horror writer who doesn't admire Thompson's works. He's one of the few authors who had become more famous.

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Okay, so technically this is a short story collection and not a novel, but it's still one of the best things going. Edgar Allan Poe might have developed the mystery short story, but Ellin was one of its finest practioners. He hinted and teased about what was going on in his stories, but in many cases, the reader had to draw their own dark conclusions to his stories. That's probably why he was one of the most familiar names behind those popular 1950s mystery shows on television.

Why It Made the List

The man won three Edgars for his work, and his first story, "The Specialty of the House," won the title of Best First Story of the Year from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. It was every bit as upsetting and shocking to mystery fans as "The Lottery" was when Shirley Jackson published it.

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Last minute shocks, surprises at the end of the fiction, graphic stories

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The first in a series that's now on X is for ray, Grafton's early Kinsey Millhone books are her best. The series started in the 1980s in a wave of fresh talented women who wrote about women PIs. Grafton has had staying power, producing a book every 1-2 years. All have been best-sellers. Kinsey is a tough loner who has bloomed through the series, gaining friends and a few family members over the years.

Why It Made the List

So why read this book? Kinsey is one of the first (and one of the best) of the female PIs that came on the scene in the 1980s. The books are fairly hard-boiled with touches of a woman's sensibility, but not many. The books are perennial best-sellers so you can appear to be knowledgeable about the genre if you pick up one or two of them to read.

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Women private eyes, series fiction, continuing casts of characters

Books in Kinsey Millhone Series (25)

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No list could be complete without a title featuring Miss Marple, the English village snoop who constantly upstages the constables and inspectors to solve murder in rural England. Miss Marple by herself has creamed a phalanx of nosy older women sleuths that continue today. While she technically wasn't the first such sleuth, she's definitely the best, tossing clues at the reader about the resemblance that Mr. So-and-so has to the fishmonger who cheated on his wife.

Why It Made the List

A Murder is Announced is, by far, the best Marple. She's brought in by a local clergywoman after a murder is announced in the local newspaper and then comes to pass. Miss Marple makes short work of the crime, while Christie uses the characters to look at the social and economic changes brought on by World War II. Who says murder can't be enlightening?

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spinster sleuths, English village murders, puzzles you won't solve

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Dashiell Hammett, who wrote a number of books on this list, couldn't write a bad mystery if he tried. Each of Hammett's novels are radically different, though they all seem to share a common morality to them. In The Glass Key, Ned Beaumont, the friend of a crime lord, is asked to take a look into the murder of a Senator's son. The crime lord is concerned that either he'll be blamed for the crime or it will mess up his impending marriage to the Senator's daughter. Beaumont gets beat up and kidnapped while trying to figure this out, but he finally does.

Why It Made the List

Hammett is widely regarded as the creator of the hardboiled school of mystery, and while he may not have been the first person to write this type of work, he certainly was one of the best.

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political corruption, dark worldviews, and excellent writing.

Books in The Continental ... Series (2)

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Two sisters begin a custody battle over the older sister's child. The older sister was devoted to her sibling until the girl married, and now has transferred that same level of devotion to her son. The younger sister can't pop out her own bun, so she decides to go to another bakery instead. She accuses her sister of neglect and sues for custody. Of course, this is a 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 best-selling mystery writers of the 20th century. 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. Rendell, who passed away earlier this year, was one of the best suspense writers around and this is one of her best works.

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domestic thrillers, families gone bad, psychological suspense

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Bond, James Bond. Along with shaken, not stirred, they bring to mind the debonair spy who saves England time and again while getting laid. Fleming was the original author of the series, and Nobody Does it Better. The Bond novels all share a number of characteristics, but this is the best of the bunch. Bond is coming back from Russia via train with a variety of super-spies and villains out to do him in. Of course, Bond takes care of business while not getting wrinkled or spilling his drink. Some of the older books show signs of age with their concentration on the Cold War, but they're still the best of the bunch.

Why It Made the List

This franchise has run 50 years, with multiple actors playing the role of Bond on screen and multiple authors writing new novels using Fleming's characters.

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spy fiction, debonair manners, Mad Men styled situations

Books in James Bond Series (14)

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It's not every author who gets to create his own particular type of mystery, but that's exactly what Ed McBain (the pen name of Evan Hunter) did. He created the police procedural in books and later on television, a subgenre that has produced everything from Dragnet to Barney Miller to Chicago PD. Cop Hater was the first book in McBain's 50 year long series of stories about the 87th precinct, set in a city that looks a lot like New York. The stories follow a group of police officers as they solve crime and have personal problems.

Why It Made the List

So why read this book? It's the first of a first. No one had really written a book that featured a mystery with the heroes being the cops from a particular precinct. The first books are shorter, more action-packed, and grittier.

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mysteries set around a police station, stories with an ensemble cast, books set in fictional versions of NYC

Books in 87th Precinct Series (61)

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Award Nominations:1993 LocusSF

Carr is remembered as the guy who wrote a lot of books about murders that couldn't happen, but did. They're called impossible crimes, which means that rationally, the murder should not have taken place. The room was locked. The gun was empty. The knife was in another city. However, someone needs to tell the dead guy, because the crime actually did happen.

Why It Made the List

In this book, the main character decides to give a lecture on locked room murders, murders that happen in a place where no one could have entered or exited without being seen or leaving a clue of some sort. The lecture recounts all the different ways that the crime could be accomplished and how. The lecture was so complete that no locked room mystery novel has been written that doesn't use one of the methods discussed by Carr's detective. Beyond that, Carr tells a ripping good example of a locked room murder as well.

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mysteries that make you think to find the answer, funny detectives

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So what if you threw a murder mystery and everyone came with their own answer? That's what happened in The Poisoned Chocolates Case, where a group of friends is discussing the case and each one comes up with a different solution based on the same clues. The case itself is easy. A box of chocolates is delivered to a man, who takes it home and gives it to his wife. She dies from the poisoned chocolates. The solutions are not quite so easy.

Berkeley had to design a book, where the murder mystery is so vague that it can have a variety of interpretations without throwing any clue into the mix that would scratch any player from being the killer. While it's an easy case for the reader, the writer has to sweat bullets over a book that could be all things to all sleuths.

Why It Made the List

People still talk about this book, because the level of ingenuity in writing it was far above the typical whodunit. This book was more a super-whodunit.

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multiple possible solutions, multiple detectives studying a case

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For a first novel, this one is a pip. Highsmith wrote Strangers on a Train while staying at a writer's retreat. She sold the book and then quickly sold it to Hitchcock. The resulting movie was far more cheerful than the original novel, which it was based upon. The story tells about two men, one who is likely crazy, talking about switching murders. In that manner, neither would be suspected since they didn't have a motive to kill the other's victim.

The problem is that once you've killed for someone else, you're kind of stuck with them. The novel really studies what happens when two people are bound to each other by secrets. Hint: it's not a lot of fun. Highsmith was never one for rugged heroes, so don't expect Prince Charming in any of her works. She's more likely to make the evil stepmother be the main character.

Why It Made the List

Highsmith was a major force in shaping the anti-hero in the 20th century. Her books were controversial for allowing sociopaths to get ahead in the world. She's still one of best at making people want to read about those who don't empathize with others.

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Anti-heroes, average people in impossible situations, a bleak worldview

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Raymond Chandler's descriptions of LA during the 1940s and 1950s brings the city to life, making it almost a character in the story. Of course, having said this, this novel doesn't take place in Los Angeles for the most part. A wealthy client who wants his soon-to-be ex-wife found sends Philip Marlowe to Little Fawn Lake. As only Chandler can, the story moves ahead with unfaithful wives and schemes to get rid of women who have outlived their usefulness.

This book was set just after the US got into World War II, and the story is filled with references and plot twists that could only be associated with war. Chandler paints a bleak picture of a city that is consumed with fear of air attacks and dangerous enemies.

Why It Made the List

It's Chandler, so I really don't need to say much more. The man could elevate the language of the private eye novel to a level seldom seen. Be sure to check out the film of this book, as the camera acts as Marlowe, so the audience sees what he sees.

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private eyes, great writing, World War II books

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In the years running up to the US involvement in World War II, mysteries began to appear that dealt with spies and espionage. The subgenre would blossom after the war, but Ambler's book would remain one of the best. His novel is one of the earliest and best examples of this type of book, which serves as a forerunner for the thriller genre. In it, a mystery writer is fascinated by a dead criminal. He begins to trace down leads to people who knew 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 Dimitrios.

Why It Made the List

Beyond being a prototype of today's thriller, Ambler was a writer's writer. 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. She dedicated one of her books to him.

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World War II fiction, spies, thrillers

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Many of the books on this list are firsts in a series, where the author had the time to plot, write and edit without the glaring headlights of deadlines and publication dates. Not so with this book. A Taste for Death is actually the seventh book in James' Adam Dalgliesh series. In it, a bum and a baronet are killed in the same location at the same time, and presumably by the same killer. What could the highest and lowest echelons of society have to do with each other? It takes the poetry-writing Dalgliesh to figure it out while James adds in social commentary on the still rather rigid caste system of British society.

Why It Made the List

At the top of her game, few authors rival James for her ability to weave in thoughts on societal woes while providing a rich and complex mystery. If you haven't read a PD James mystery yet, this is probably your best bet for starting the series with a winner.

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social commentary, modern British fiction

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The title alone should give you an idea about the book. Published three years before Stonewall and the start of the gay rights movement, this was one of the first mysteries to feature a gay sleuth, and a gay black man as well. Pharaoh Love was the detective who had a different perspective than most of the hard-boiled, rough and tough detectives of that era.

Why It Made the List

The book introduced readers to the Manhattan gay subculture, which unlike today was secretive and unknown to most people. The author showed the seamier side of a culture that was hidden in plain sight, but didn't make any judgements on the nature of the subculture. The New York Times loved it. Baxt would go on to write four more books about his detective and a series of historical that featured famous Hollywood actors, but nothing would make the splash of his first novel.

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subculture stories, gay fiction, mysteries with unique detectives

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Before there was Silence of the Lambs, there was Red Dragon. Harris, who specializes in serial killer books, wrote a prequel to the most famous of his works. The story is that of a quiet killer who gets the attention of the FBI. They're chasing the "Tooth Fairy" who kills families in their homes. The crimes seem random, and it's up to Will Graham to discover the identity of this man before any more families, including his own, are slaughtered.

Why It Made the List

This book is a gem that was overlooked the first time around. It wasn't until Silence of the Lambsbecame so popular that the other books in the series obtained the same level of sales, and this novel is the first appearance of Hannibal Lecter. So there's a lot of tense moments and a few evil twists all waiting for you in the book. .

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serial killers, violence, Hannibal Lecter

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Dr Kay Scarpetta is a Medical Examiner in Virginia, who is called in by the police for the latest victim of a serial killer. The police are baffled, and Scarpetta discusses DNA evidence and an odor in the vicinity. Of course, the ME cannot stay away from the investigation, and she becomes the bait for a killer.

Why It Made the List

The first novel in the series about Dr. Kay Scarpetta, this book won every major mystery award the year it came out. It's a dark look at the medical examiner's office and the work they do. Up to that point, most of the work done had been looking at time of death and a few other factors; however, recent advances in the field made book like this inevitable. Definitely worth reading the first books in the series.

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forensic evidence, police and legal characters, serial killers

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What looks like a hunting accident could be murder and that's enough to get Chief Inspector Gamache to come to the small Quebec town. He soon decides that the hunting accident is really murder and he has to find the killer of a well-respected artist, and member of the community.

Why It Made the List

This was the first of Penny's books, and it was nominated for CWA's Debut Dagger. Since then, Penny has won so many awards for this series that it's not funny. She probably takes a U-Haul with her to awards ceremonies. The series is wildly popular and read by millions who adore each book. Penny uses the bi-lingual background to bring in her usual thematic touches that make these books best-sellers.

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cozy, British (well, actually Canadian) mysteries, classic detectives

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This is another collection of short stories, but I couldn't help it. This round-faced detective is something to behold. Father Brown is indeed a Roman Catholic priest, and the crimes he solves are seen through that perspective. Though Chesterton was a friend of Conan Doyle, his character is unassuming, the anti-Holmes. He's more likely to let a repentant man go than most. In fact, his sidekick is a reformed criminal, Flambeau, who Brown helped lead from a life of crime. A number of the stories debunk a supernatural element by showing how it could be realistically accomplished.

Why It Made the List

Brown was a uniquely different sleuth than most who had come before. Father Brown did not look for the big clues, but by putting himself in the criminal's shoes to see what the perpetrator would do. That allows Brown to determine who the sinner is.

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short stories, religious characters, thought on God and redemption

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While the book is best known for its look at life in the bucolic South during Jim Crow, the book has a crime at the center of it, the alleged sexual assault of a white woman by a black man and has a lengthy courtroom scene where the accused is on trial. Atticus Finch is a great lawyer in the tradition of Perry Mason and others. Additionally, the readers are treated to the mystery of who and what is Boo Radley.

Why It Made the List

This was until recently Harper Lee's only published novel. The story is timeless and tells of how well-intentioned people can make a difference in the world. The novel and the film are classics which are taught in most high schools around the nation. Lee is also known for her assistance in researching Truman Capote's In Cold Blood as she was the kind stranger to Capote's brash city man during the research in Kansas.

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southern novels, courtroom dramas, social justice

Books in To Kill a Mocki... Series (2)

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Here's how to get on this list. Die before you finish the book. While most writers will say no thanks to the author, that's exactly what Charles Dickens did. The famous author was known for writing serials, novels that were printed in magazines prior to being published in book form. He only finished a portion of Drood, his only true detective story, before he passed away. He left no notes or indications as to how he planned to finish the book.

Why It Made the List

Everyone loves an enduring mystery, and no one has ever completely solved the mystery of the unfinished novel. There have been multiple suggested endings, but they're all still suggestions. Dickens went to the grave with the solution and it will stay a mystery forever.

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books without an ending, Victorian novels, drug-related crimes

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Victorian London had odd choices for entertainment, including the Wobble a rather long pedestrian race lasting six days without a rest. When one of the contestants cramps up and dies, murder is suspected. Then his trainer dies too. Sergeant Cribb has to join the race, putting both his mind and body to the test as he walks and tries to solve a murder.

Why It Made the List

Lovesey writes several series, but this is one of the early series to be set during Victorian London. The characters and the situations are researched and fascinating to the reader. A spate of Victorian historical mysteries would come after this book, but it's still one of the best. The use of the unique sporting background makes it educational as well as entertaining, which just proves that mystery fans are a smart bunch.

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Victorian mysteries, historical mysteries, sporting backgrounds

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Yes, the W. Somerset Maugham, who is better known for his work Of Human Bondage, also wrote spy fiction. The subtitle for this book is The British Agent, which indeed is what Maugham did during World War I. Partly based on his experiences in the war, these stories (and they are more stories than a full-blown novel) tell how mundane espionage can be. There are exciting moments in the book, but Ashenden's main job is to listen and report what he hears to the intelligence office.

Why It Made the List

Virtually every other espionage writer on this list is indebted to Maugham. Many critics call Ashendenthe "archetype" of the modern espionage novel. If you want to see what spying used to be like before the NSA and the CIA, this is the book you need to read. Hitchcock used Ashenden as a starting point for his Secret Agent.

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World War I, espionage, British Intelligence

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When Holmes is bored, he uses a solution of seven percent cocaine to stop the ever-grinding gears of his mind. With it, he can relax and stop looking for crime. However, when the drug starts to become an addiction, Holmes needs to rid himself of the drug use and he hooks up with Sigmund Freud to shake the habit while trying to solve a kidnapping. The cocaine usage is actually a part of the original Conan Doyle stories, though seldom discussed in the canon.

Why It Made the List

There have been literally hundreds of pastiches (the fancy word for fan fiction) regarding Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. So why this book? Meyer included a number of historical people in his novel and a unique plot. The fact that it was filmed helped as well.

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Sherlock Holmes, Victorian London, psychological mysteries

Books in Nicholas Meyer ... Series (5)

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Nero Wolfe is the fat detective who rarely leaves his house for business. He grows orchids on the roof and serves gourmand meals in the dining room. When a client comes to him and asks Wolfe to strong-arm the FBI into stopping their surveillance and harassment of her, Wolfe initially declines but end up taking the case.

Why It Made the List

Rex Stout, the series' author, made forays into politics from time to time, and this book dealt with the overwhelming power held by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI in the 1960s. The spot-on discussion of domestic surveillance and harassment of citizens shows that he was aware of the ugly side of the FBI before Hoover's death and the subsequent discoveries about his life and his career.

Read It If You Like

mysteries where the detective outfoxes the police, political messages in a mystery, or Nero Wolfe in general

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Mary Stewart isn't mentioned often today, but she wrote a number of romantic suspense and adventure novels between the late 1950s and the 1970s. Go into a used bookstore, and the shelves are full of her works. In this book, one of her best, Camilla is vacationing alone in Greece, due to the fact that she dumped her fiance and her friend broke a leg. When a taxi comes and tells her to get in it to visit Delphi, she decides to see what the oracle says. Instead she finds a young man who is looking for answers as to why his brother was killed in Greece.

Why It Made the List

Mary Stewart could write romantic suspense like few other authors, then or now. While many of her contemporaries let idiot heroines stroll into danger, her leading women were smart and ambitious. Given the length of her career, there are very few women of a certain age who haven't run across a Mary Stewart novel and enjoyed it. You should read one as well.

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romantic suspense, Greece and mentions of the Gods, lost treasures

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Dick Francis, an ex-jockey, wrote a number of standalone mysteries, all with horses involved in them.He's won two Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America for his works. In this book, Andrew Douglas is a man who deals in kidnapping he arranges the ransom, the drop-off and in many cases he catches the kidnappers. Now the latest and greatest female jockey has been swiped, followed by the kid of a derby winner. Douglas has to solve the case and apprehend the kidnapper before the kidnapper apprehends him.

Why It Made the List

Francis was the type of author who wrote book after quality book. He could always be counted on to write a mystery worth reading. His main characters, many of them jockeys, were engaging young men who were making the decisions that would impact their jockey careers and their futures.

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horse mysteries, British thrillers

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I know. You're going to say that this is a horror movie, not a mystery, but mystery and crime take so many forms that the editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine once posited that ALL writers write mysteries at some point. Everyone knows the story of the bloodsucker from Transylvania and his trip to England. In a sense, he's an early serial killer, since he destroys the lives of the men and women he feeds on. Harker and his fiance have to track him down and apprehend the centuries-old killer. If that's not a mystery tale, then I don't know what is.

Why It Made the List

It's an original. It's spawned a million take-offs and pastiches that it's hard to know where the real story ends and the fan fiction begins. It's definitely worth picking up the original book and seeing what started it all. You'll be surprised what misunderstandings have built up over the years from all the interpretations. And, it's a work that's spawned an entire tourisim industry in Transylvania, Romania, the source landscape that inspired the origional Dracula legends, made pop culture by Stoker.

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Gothic romance, horror, vampires

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Perry Mason and his faithful secretary Della fight for their clients, and they'll need to in this early adventure. Two couples are intertwined when the husband of one couple and the wife of the other begin an affair. When one member of the quartet is shot and another member becomes Perry Mason's client, it's obvious that this will be a puzzle to be solved before the jury returns with a verdict.

Why It Made the List

The early Perry Mason books are the best ones before Gardner got interested in selling the books to the women's magazines market and trying to make his characters palatable to the middle class. This case has one of the better twists I the series and stands out as a great example of the legal thriller. The television series is still one of the best known legal shows around, and several stations run episodes on a daily basis.Not bad for a 50 year old show.

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dog mysteries, legal mysteries, hardboiled lawyers, the Perry Mason TV series

Books in Perry Mason Series (86)

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Higgins was a low-level federal prosecutor who spent his day listening to wiretaps and reading transcripts. He came to understand the way that criminals talked, and that was how he wrote too. He mimicked the style of dialogue he'd heard throughout his career. The book was a huge success at the time it was released, but sales have dropped off today and it's sometimes hard to find a copy now. The story is short and simple. A small-time crook wants to reduce his impending sentence so he sets up a small gun buy and then rats out the buyer for a deal. Only he forgot to count on the dealer not being okay with this.

Why It Made the List

This is a writer's book. Read an interview with a male mystery author of a certain age, and he will undoubtedly list The Friends of Eddie Coyle as an influence on his own writing. That's the power that this book has. Elmore Leonard called it the best crime story ever written.

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small time crooks, capers, novels about getting around the legal system

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Sayers is one of the few authors with three titles on the list. There's a reason for that. She used the mystery form to discuss other things and develop her characters. Readers should be prepare to learn when they read one of her mysteries. In this book, Lord Peter's brother is arrested for murder and he gives an entirely phony alibi. Lord Peter not only has to figure out who is really the killer and why his brother is lying.

Why It Made the List

Not only is it a great story, it's perhaps the only novel published that portrays how a criminal trial works in the House of Lords. Sayers, through her character the Duke of Denver, has the House of Lords judge him on the crime of murder. It's a fascinating look at a side of Parliament that is rarely discussed.

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royalty, classic mysteries, aristocratic novels

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Condon wrote this novel on the cusp of JFK's election, following the McCarthy era. It's a political thriller that tells about how the son of a prominent family is poised to become president, only the reader learns that the son is also programmed to be a killing machine during his time as a POW. Of course, another soldier who was also a POW begins to figure out the plot and tries to stop it before the son can become president and flush democracy in favor of a Soviet-favored dictatorship.

Why It Made the List

For starters, it was made into a movie with Sinatra, who is always worth seeing. Timely political thrillers are always worth reading, and Condon managed to squeeze the Cold War, the Kennedy and McCarthy all into a single novel. It's been pointed out that Condon seems to have borrowed large parts of I, Claudius, in writing the novel which makes the writing process as morally ambiguous as the characters.

Read It If You Like

Cold War, political thrillers

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Helen Clarvoe is alone, very alone. She's turning 30 and things are looking bleak for her future. Her only friend seems to be a woman on the phone, but the "friend" turns nasty and begins a campaign of harassment against Clarvoe and several acquaintances in her social circle. The end is a twist (which has been done by other authors since Beast in View), but it still packs a punch.

Why It Made the List

Millar was one of the few women to win the Edgar in the 1950s and 1960s. She was the queen of psychological suspense and should be more well-known than she is. She's mostly known now as the wife of Ross MacDonald. Millar's works are dark and usually with a haunting twist at the end. Millar is hands-down the best mystery author you've never heard of. This book is included in the recently released Library of America collection.

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psychological suspense, twists at the end, domestic suspense

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This book is a did they/didn't they question. The Sharpes, mother and daughter, are accused of kidnapping Betty Kane and beating her. The women deny the crime, and it becomes a tense situation of not knowing who to believe. The evidence of the crime is more related to the people involved rather than physical evidence, and the reader will go back and forth as to whether the women are guilty or if the girl is making it all up.

Why It Made the List

Josephine Tey only wrote eight mystery novels, but each one was a doozy. They are powerful dramas with poignant characters and all of them could appear on a "best of" list.

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character study mysteries, kidnapping, uncertain guilt

Books in Inspector Alan G... Series (6)

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When Lord Peter decides to look at a simple poisoning case, he has no idea that he's going to fall in love with the defendant, but he does a passionate love that hits him like a free-falling piano. It's rather a shock if the reader has followed Wimsey's adventures, because he's been as serious as a comedian for the first several books in the series. Of course, the challenge to save her becomes more pressing after she's found guilty. The case is finally solved, and Harriet is freed, but it will be a while before she realizes the depth of Lord Peter's feelings.

Why It Made the List

The book introduced the character of Harriet Vane, the eventual bride of Lord Peter. In this book, she's on trial for murder and the solid case against her keeps the reader intrigued. The introduction of Harriet also led to a more serious, less twee Lord Peter which brought about some of her best works.

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romantic suspense, courtroom dramas, English puzzle mysteries

Books in Lord Peter Wimse... Series (15)

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A crime writer snaps after the death of his son and decides that the only way to work through this is to find and kill the man driving the car who killed his son. Being a mystery writer, he doesn't just shoot him in an alley; he devises a wickedly perfect crime to throw suspicion off of himself. However when the motorist is killed, the police immediately look to the writer, who claims to have been framed. After this auspicious beginning, the job of finding out what really happened falls to Strangeways.

Why It Made the List

Cecil Day-Lewis, the man behind the Blake pen name, was the poet laureate of England from 1968-1972. Daniel Day-Lewis, the actor, is his son. The man had a way with words, which he bequeaths to his detective, Nigel Strangeways. Beyond the beautiful words, Blake writes complex, psychological thrillers and this is one of his best.

Read It If You Like

psychological suspense, literate whodunits.

Books in Nigel Strangewa... Series (16)

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A stark novel that depicts a World War II veteran trying to fit back into society in Los Angeles. Dix Steele, and yes that's his name, has trouble holding a job or a woman. He's borderline misanthropic, and when the police begin to look into a series of killings in Los Angeles, the reader begins to wonder if Dix might be the man behind them. As his own life spins out of control, the reader has to ask did he or didn't he?

Why It Made the List

The book is probably one of the best examples of noir around, and it was written by a woman with a strong background in minority and women's rights. Her take on the issue of the assimilation of soldiers with multiple kills back into a peaceful society will bring goosebumps to your arms. Hughes pulls no punches in this book, and the Bogart version of the movie only served to make this book more popular.

Read It If You Like

noir, veterans with PTSD, serial killer novels

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Dashiell Hammett could likely write a grocery list, and it would end up on this list. The author had a power way of using his words, and unlike many stories at the time, he was unflinching in his depiction of life in America during the Depression. From his own time as a private eye, Hammett had seen many of the things he wrote about. These became the basis for most of the Continental Op stories. In this story, the Op is hired to come to Personville (better known as Poisonville) to clean up the town. Before he even gets there, the man who hired him is shot and killed. The violence only escalates as the Op tries to clean up the town.

Why It Made the List

Red Harvest is Hammett's first book, and it's a doozy. The book was named one of Time Magazine's best 100 novels. Not mysteries, but novels overall. IT's a powerful read on the problems of corruption at a time when the economy didn't gave nothing to the poor.

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private eye novels, corruption tales, Depression-era books

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The Third Man was originally a screenplay for the movie of the same name. Greene, in order to prepare for writing that screenplay, wrote the script as a novella. He hadn't thought that it would be published; however, after the overwhelming success of the movie, he published the novella. The third man of the title is the missing third man who helped carry Harry Lime, a friend of the hero, off the street after being hit by a car. He wants to track down the man to find out what really happened to Lime, who is not what he seemed. Being noir, no one comes to a happy ending in this book.

Why It Made the List

The film is one of the best examples of film noir, and stars Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. It's still frequently played on TCM and other old movie channels. Greene is a prominent author, typically considered one of the best British authors of the 20th century. It's a match made in heaven and shouldn't be missed.

Read It If You Like

noir, World War II novels.

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Sadly Sarah Caudwell only wrote four mysteries in this series over the course of 20 years before her death. She took her time with the series, but each one was a gem. The series revolves around a law practice and a set of young barristers (Caudwell was a barrister too.) They call in Hilary Tamar, a professor whose gender is never stated in any of the books to help solve crimes. In this case, a family wants to change their trust, but one family member disagrees and ends up dead.

Why It Made the List

The fact that we don't know if Hilary is a man or woman should give you a hint as to how these books are different. The books are literate and wickedly funny, with tons of asides and barbs at those the barristers look down upon (which is nearly everyone.) Given the complex and detailed plots, these are nearly the perfect books for those who love a comedic mystery.

Read It If You Like

British mysteries, comedic mysteries, legal mysteries

Books in Hilary Tamar Series (4)

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Reginald Hill is known for his complex plots and his complicated characters and this book is an incredible example of that. A poor mining town has had more than its share of death. All but one of a series of missing children were blamed on a man who killed himself. When the main suspect of murdering the last child is found dead in a mine, people assume that he too took his own life. However, when his son comes to town, he befriends a policeman's wife which sparks an interest in the case.

Why It Made the List

Hill has been called a born storyteller and many call this book near perfect. Dalziel and Pascoe are one of the best combinations of policemen around. Pascoe is restrained and by-the-book. Dalziel is none of those things. However, together they get the job done. The series has been a TV series as well, which only served to enhance its popularity.

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British police, local setting, odd couples

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Greene worked six years on this book before it was published. The story is of a young lawyer who works at the firm where Horatio Leavenworth did his business. When Leavenworth is discovered murdered, the lawyer becomes involved in the case. Greene did such an outstanding job on the legal and forensic aspects of the novel that it used by Ivy League law schools as an example of the problems with interpreting circumstantial evidence. Greene used evidence such as the angel of the gunshot wound to rule out suicide, showing her understanding of the field of early forensics. Greene would go on to write over 30 more books, but her first was her most successful.

Why It Made the List

This novel was the first full-length detective story written in the United States. It was obviously the first written by a women, and some call it the first bestseller. Agatha Christie named the book as one of her influences, which should be enough for anyone.

Read It If You Like

Victorian novels, puzzle plots, and legal thrillers

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Brand was a versatile author who wrote fantastic mysteries as well as children's books and short stories. Her best-known series involved Inspector Cockrill of Kent, a humorous and charming character. In this book, a patient is killed at a rural hospital during World War II, and then the head nurse is murdered when she suspects that the patient's death was not an accident. Cockrill has to come into the hospital and find out who was responsible for the deaths before there are more. The reenactment of the first death in surgery is not to be missed.

Why It Made the List

Green for Danger was also made into a film starring Alistairs Sims, which routinely shows up on everyone's best mystery list. Brand also wrote the Nurse Matilda books, which were made into the Nanny McPhee films starring Emma Thompson. All around, Brand is a great writer who needs more recognition.

Read It If You Like

puzzle plots, hospital mysteries, World War II mysteries.

Books in Inspector Cockr... Series (7)

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Millar was the wife of Ken Millar (better known as Ross MacDonald) and sadly she is not well-known today. Her psychological thrillers are some of the best ever written. Her Edgar-winning novel was already on this list, but this entry packs a wallop. Millar was known for writing books with a twist at the end, and this one has a doozy. It tells the story of a pedophile recently released from a program and two young girls. The stories are told separately at first, but the reader can begin to see the intersection of the stories as the book progresses. The tension is ratcheted up with each passing chapter.

Why It Made the List

As stated, Millar loves to leave the reader with a twist at the end, and this book is no exception. The last pages of the book challenge the reader in ways that were not expected. Given that Millar had recently lost her own daughter who was herself a young mother, it should be no surprise that the book considers family and children. The final work is haunting.

Read It If You Like

psychological suspense, twists at the end

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While sailing down the Nile on a honeymoon cruise, the bride is bumped off by a shot to the head. The husband was shot by an ex-girlfriend, so he can't be the killer. So who is? The body count continues to rise until HerculePoirot solves the crimes. Christie, who was married to an archaeologist, wrote novels set all around the world. This is probably the best of her HerculePoirot novels.

Why It Made the List

The Queen of Crime wrote many novels that stood mystery on its head. No one seems to be the killer. Everyone is the killer. The reader is the killer. However, Death on the Nile is probably the best plain detective story she wrote. Is it complicated? You bet, but it's also a fair play puzzle that the reader could solve. It's been made into a movie twice, so it's worth watching as well.

Read It If You Like

Egyptology, Vacation mysteries, classical detection

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Ellery has a book to turn out and he goes to Wrightsville to avoid distractions. Famous last words. He becomes involved in the town gossip and has a front row seat when the town recluse is reunited with her runaway fiance. . The town is shocked when she takes him back, and shocked further still when a murder occurs at their new home. Ellery is called out to solve the murder, which is one of the trickier cases he has to solve.

Why It Made the List

It's the first of the Wrightsville books for Ellery, which many critics feel are the best of the bunch. The book is a clean break from the previous turns Queen had as a detached thinking machine and a hero for romantic suspense. This book is always near the top of the list of favorite Ellery Queen books as well. The plot is well-done and turns on some well-placed clues.

Read It If You Like

classical detections, holiday themed mysteries

Books in Ellery Queen Det... Series (36)

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Rinehart was a big deal around the turn of the 20th century. She wrote a number of best-selling novels, but she was best known for her romantic suspense mysteries. Her works coined the term "the butler did it," and the Had-I-But-Known school of mysteries, which ran until the 1940s. In this book, a maiden aunt and niece and nephew move into a house that had been owned by a bank robber, because what could go wrong with that plan?

Why It Made the List

It's the first of the Had-I-But-Known school of mysteries. Had-I-But-Known (or HIBK) was the type of novel that included sentences like "Had I but known that John Dillinger was behind the door, I would never have gone in the room alone with the lights off and blindfolded." The school would get a bad rap later as the heroines began to do even more stupid things which led to them being caught by the real killer and threatened with death until a man (always a man) saved them.

Read It If You Like

Romantic suspense, improbable plots

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Julian Symons is not well-known today except for his book on the history of the genre, Bloody Murder. Real mystery fans take the time to search out his books, but the rest of the public knows little about this man. It's worth the trouble to hunt his books down. In The Colour of Murder, a mousy little man falls head-over-heels for a beautiful woman. Too bad that he's already married. The man sees red (which Symons calls the colour of murder.) You can guess what happens since this is a list of crime books.

Why It Made the List

Symons knew the genre well, and had a firm grasp on what aspects he liked and didn't enjoy. His novels are rich and feature characters you'll remember long after you've closed the book. Besides you can impress your friends that you've actually found and read these books.

Read It If You Like

crime novels, legal thrillers

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Detective Superintendent George Gideon is having a bad day. You know what I'm talking about the type where everything turns to crap. He starts by getting a ticket, which is embarrassing to say the least. Then he learns that one of his officers has been taking bribes. In the meantime, he's still expected to catch a murderer and stop a series of bank robberies.

Why It Made the List

JJ Marris is one of the many pen names of John Creasey, who holds the record for most mystery novels written. In his 40 years as a writer, Creasey wrote over 600, yes you read that right, 600 mystery novels. That's about 15 books a year, or a book every 3 weeks or roughly 20,000 words every week. Week in and week out without fail. You'd think that his works would suffer for the speed, but his series including Gideon and the Toff are still read and discussed.

Read It If You Like

British police, long mystery series

Books in Gideon Series (23)

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I've selected a lot of first books on this list, but this is actually MacDonald's second book in the Lew Archer series. In it, a woman is accused of having an affair. She's not concerned about her husband (who may or may not be gay) finding out, but of her mother-in-law who rules the roost and the purse strings learning about it. She comes to Archer to find out who is threatening to tell all.

Why It Made the List

MacDonald along with Hammett and Chandler are considered the top three private eye writers ever. MacDonald (who was married to Margaret Millar on this list) wrote 18 books about Lew Archer, a private eye who seems to get involved with a number of cases about dysfunctional families. The Coen Brothers just bought the rights to another of the Lew Archer novels, so read it now before everyone does. You can look like a trendsetter if you start now.

Read It If You Like

private eyes, California settings, f-up families

Books in Lew Archer Series (19)

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Nancy Drew, along with her friends George and Ned, have been solving crimes for almost a hundred years. Nancy struck a nerve with American kids then and now, because she is somewhat free to do what she wants (her mother is missing and dad is trusting.) She has a strong sense of curiosity and justice and a great roadster for chasing down bad guys. The books have sold millions of copies and can still be found in stores today. Though Carolyn Keene was a house name for several authors, no one has ever thought less of Nancy for it.

Why It Made the List

It's the first of the Nancy Drew books. Nancy is not only a strong woman sleuth, she also motivated an entire generation of women to become mystery authors.

Read It If You Like

puzzle mysteries, young adult books

Books in Nancy Drew Series (101)

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This was Grisham's second book, but his first to make it big, selling over seven million copies. Grisham was a lawyer before he was a writer, but he'd done a bit of everything including a stint in Congress, talk about getting to work with criminals. This book tells the story of Mitch McDeere, who starts to work for a very generous law firm, only to find out that the partners there have a very short lifespan. As he starts to look into the reasons for the death of the lawyers, he starts to learn more about the downside of something looking too good to be true.

Why It Made the List

Grisham made his name writing legal thrillers. He started slowly, actually selling books out of the back of his car until he made it big, mostly thanks to a series of movies based on his books. Now he's a frequent sight on the best-seller lists. Be sure to check out the movie as well, which was fairly faithful to the book.

Read It If You Like

Southern mysteries, legal thrillers

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Elmore Leonard is a hard writer to classify. He was a more crime writer than detective story author. However, he also wrote about marginalized anti-heroes who pulled some audacious capers. He had a style of using short sentences or sentences that merely felt short. He did some follow-ups and series, though not many. In this book, Ex-con Ernest Stickley (Stick of the title) is randomly targeted for murder by a drug-dealer. Since he's got a very short lifespan, he decides to jump back into his previously illegal pursuits.

Why It Made the List

It's a shame that Elmore Leonard is getting more notice now that he's passed away. The FX series,Justified, is based on his stories as are the movies Freaky Deaky, Killshot, and 3:10 to Yuma. Stickwas made into a movie, but it was a Burt Reynolds vehicle and politely sucked. Much better to stick to the book with this one.

Read It If You Like

anti-heroes, capers, crime fiction, good writing.

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This is the first of the Amelia Peabody series, a rather lengthy series written about a strong-willed woman during Victorian times who goes to Egypt and meets the man of her dreams. While it may sound like romantic suspense, there is some, but Amelia is entirely too sassy to be swept off her feet.

Why It Made the List

This is one of the consistently excellent series out there. The tone is pure Amelia, which is equal parts feisty and wrong. There's a humorous subtext of Amelia frequently being wrong, while the series is long enough to watch Amelia and Emerson go from young lovers to grandparents. Given that the author was a known Egyptologist, the background is spot on and several historical figures put in an appearance.

Read It If You Like

Egyptology, tongue-in-cheek, romantic suspense, generational sagas

Books in Amelia Peabody Series (20)

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Sorry, Frank and Joe ,but you didn't make it as high on the list as Nancy Drew. These intrepid young adventurers also appeared on the scene around the same time as Nancy Drew, and while they are always a good back-up to Nancy, Nancy Drew won the hearts and mind of readers. In their first adventure, the boys are on the lookout for a friend's car when they run across a bigger problem. Fortunately, dad's a private detective, so he can help out.

Why It Made the List

This is the first of the Hardy Boys books, so it's worth picking up. This book made the Publisher's Weekly list of all time best-selling children's books at #55, selling more than two million copies. It's considered one of the best 10 of the Hardy Boys adventures, which makes it a great place to start. The Hardy Boys (along with Nancy) was a TV series as well in the 1970s with lots of feathered hairstyles and Shawn Cassidy to boot. The series is available on DVD.

Read It If You Like

car thefts, adventure, young adult

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Sorry, Frank and Joe ,but you didn't make it as high on the list as Nancy Drew. These intrepid young adventurers also appeared on the scene around the same time as Nancy Drew, and while they are always a good back-up to Nancy, Nancy Drew won the hearts and mind of readers. In their first adventure, the boys are on the lookout for a friend's car when they run across a bigger problem. Fortunately, dad's a private detective, so he can help out.

Why It Made the List

This is the first of the Hardy Boys books, so it's worth picking up. This book made the Publisher's Weekly list of all time best-selling children's books at #55, selling more than two million copies. It's considered one of the best 10 of the Hardy Boys adventures, which makes it a great place to start. The Hardy Boys (along with Nancy) was a TV series as well in the 1970s with lots of feathered hairstyles and Shawn Cassidy to boot. The series is available on DVD.

Read It If You Like

car thefts, adventure, young adult

Books in Hardy Boys Series (99)

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A missing child comes home after being gone for many years. The resemblance is there, but is this really Brat or someone else 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. Tey captures the setting of horse farms and horse auctions perfectly.

Why It Made the List

Tey was a master at make a reader question his/her own inferences. The book will keep you guessing as to the real identity of Brat and what happened to the missing years. Tey only wrote seven books, several of which are on this list. You need to check them all out. 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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