12 bookish mysteries about bibliophiles and bookstores

12 bookish mysteries about bibliophiles and bookstores

Hey readers, it’s almost Independent Bookstore Day! We enjoy celebrating our favorite indies year-round, but Saturday, April 24th is a special day to recognize the importance of independent bookstores in our communities.

If you can’t browse a local shop in person this weekend, there are plenty of ways to show indie bookstores some love from afar. Don’t have a local indie? You can find plenty of bookstores to support in the comments of this post about YOUR favorite independent bookshops. Plus Libro.fm is celebrating Independent Bookstore Day by giving away a free audiobook when you show proof of a $15 purchase from any independent bookstore (in person or online).

To fully immerse ourselves in the world of books and bookstores, we have a special book list for you today. These literary mysteries take place in antiquarian bookstores, dusty libraries, and modern bookshops. They’ll have you by turns racing to find out what happens next and lingering on nostalgic passages about the reading life.

I find that bookish content often delivers a dose of comfort in a genre filled with murder and crime, but some literary thrillers contain graphic scenes or references. Your experience may differ from mine, so mind your triggers.

I hope you find a mystery to get lost in, readers. Happy Independent Bookstore Day!

12 literary mysteries for book lovers

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale

This mystery, set firmly in the tradition of Gothic greats like Jane Eyre, kept me guessing from start to finish. The premise is intriguing (and you may find yourself a little bit envious of the narrator's bookish existence). Reclusive author Vida Winter hires a biographer to share her story. Margaret has one question: Why? While she decides whether to take on the assignment, she begins reading one of the author's works: Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. Winter's fairy tale collection is as well-loved as it is famous for the mysterious missing thirteenth tale. She is captivated by the stories, and puzzled by them because the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? A moody literary mystery, perfect for curling up with on a cold day. More info →
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The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel

The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel

Author:
With an inventive plot, Fforde introduces us to literary detectives who protect books and their characters, going so far as to slip inside the books themselves. When Acheron Hades steals an original manuscript and kills a minor character, that character disappears from every volume of the novel in existence, which is bad enough. But his next target is Jane Eyre herself and detective Thursday Next will have to do everything in her power to stop him and return Bronte's classic to its former glory. If you enjoy this one, pick up the next book in Jasper Fforde's comic fantasy, alternate history, nerdy and self-aware The Thursday Next series, with seven titles out so far. More info →
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First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen

Author:
Who really wrote Pride and Prejudice? That mystery drives this literary thriller, which plunges the reader into the world of first editions, secondhand books, and zealous collectors. When a young librarian discovers a document that casts doubt on Austen's authorship of Pride and Prejudice, she struggles to clear her beloved author of plagiarist charges before it's too late. Lovett flips back and forth between the time when Jane was writing her best-known story and today's desperate race to prove her innocence. Lovett's love of books permeates every page. Farfetched? Of course, but piles of fun for book lovers. Charlie Lovett's The Lost Book Of The Grail, centered around Arthurian legend, and The Bookman's Tale, concerning Shakespeare, are also fantastic. More info →
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The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind

I'll confess I had a hard time getting into this sweeping literary mystery, but after I got oriented I couldn't turn the pages fast enough: I loved the post-war Barcelona setting, the rich cast of characters, and the surprising twists and turns the story took. This is a lifetime favorite of several readers I know with great taste, and I'm so glad I finally read it. It's a book about books, a mystery, a love letter to literature, a beautifully written masterpiece, a work worthy of a lifetime favorite list. If you're looking for a book in translation to complete a reading challenge, consider this atmospheric novel. More info →
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I’ll Be Your Blue Sky

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky

From the 2018 Summer Reading Guide. While you don't have to have read the previous books in the series to enjoy this one, this is the sequel I didn't know I wanted. The day before her wedding, Clare has cold feet. Enter Edith, an elderly stranger Clare connects with instantly, who nudges Clare to cancel her wedding to a man who scares her. Not long after, Clare receives notice that Edith has died, and bequeathed her a strange gift—her house. Easy to read while covering serious emotional territory, packed with literary references that will warm book lovers' hearts. More info →
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Possession

Possession

Author:
“Think of this - that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other.” I love A. S. Byatt, particularly for the wonderful way she writes her female characters. In this literary mystery and comedy of manners, two scholars research the lives of Victorian Era poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. Through letters, journals, and poetry, Ash and LaMotte spring vividly to life. Through parallel plot lines, two separate love stories and a literary mystery unfold as we push past the surface and get to know all four characters. More info →
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Magpie Murders

Magpie Murders

Editor Susan Ryeland has worked with Alan Conway for years, putting up with his eccentricities for the sake of his bestselling detective series. Every Atticus Pünd mystery novel feels pretty much the same to Susan by now, each one set in a small English village, following an Agatha Christie-like formula. When Susan reads Conway’s latest, however, she finds there might be more to the fictional mystery at Pye Hall. The more she reads, the more she becomes convinced of a real life mystery between the pages. A tale of greed and gruesome murder prompts Susan to investigate in this clever novel-within-a-novel. More info →
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Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

With its countless literary references and bookish setting, this debut mystery-within-a-mystery is meant for bookstore and library lovers alike. When a dedicated bookseller loses one of her favorite patrons to suicide on the top floor of the Bright Ideas Bookstore, she follows the literary puzzle he left behind. Joey Molina bequeathed all of his worldly possessions to Lydia Smith, including a bunch of disturbingly defaced books. As she works to uncover a hidden message among the pages, Lydia's own secrets come back to haunt her. I don't want to say much more as I think it's best to know as little as possible about the plot. Though there were some gruesome scenes, I enjoyed picking up quips and quotes about the reading life along the way. More info →
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The Lions of Fifth Avenue

The Lions of Fifth Avenue

Author:
This novel is a book lover’s dream. In 1913, Laura Lyons lives with her family in the New York Public Library, a perk of her husband’s job as superintendent of the grand building. Her dream to become a journalist conflicts with her husband’s desire to provide for his family himself. Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie Donovan’s scored her dream job as an NYPL curator, landing a plum appointment on the team for the famed Berg Collection. But when valuable manuscripts start disappearing from under Sadie’s nose, she’s first scorned for her incompetence—and then suspected as a thief. Sadie suspects the theft traces back to her grandmother, the renowned feminist journalist Laura Lyons, but Sadie can’t imagine how. A literary mystery that’s full of surprises. More info →
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Eight Perfect Murders: A Novel (Malcolm Kershaw)

Eight Perfect Murders: A Novel (Malcolm Kershaw)

Author:
This psychological thriller set in the world of books and bookstores is an homage to classic mysteries. Years ago, bookseller Malcolm Kershaw wrote a little-read blog post about the “Eight Perfect Murders” in the classic mysteries he loves. He says he hasn't thought about it since—until an FBI agent shows up on his doorstep to ask for his help. A murderer is on the loose, and appears to be using Malcolm's blog post as a guide. This meta take on the genre will be best appreciated by fans of those classics, like Strangers on a Train and The ABC Murders, but be warned—spoilers abound for the older books in this plot. More info →
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The Mystery of Henri Pick

The Mystery of Henri Pick

Author:
Imagine a library filled with unpublished manuscripts, countless novels that never came to be. In the tiny village of Crozon, a small town librarian collects and cares for these unloved manuscripts. While on holiday, a renowned French editor visits the library and stumbles upon an undiscovered masterpiece, which she and her author boyfriend soon discover was written by a small-town French pizza chef. She champions its publication and turns it into an instant bestseller. Readers everywhere swoon for the book and the story behind its publication, but one snobby literary critic questions the book’s origins, and resolves to get the real story. (Is it weird to say this plot thread reminds me of Ratatoille?) Funny and endearing, a quirky mystery for book lovers, and a great read for anyone who fancies a peek into the publishing industry. A highly discussable novel-in-translation for book clubs, especially because of the sure-to-be-controversial epilogue. More info →
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Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore

Author:
This fast-paced book is mystery, quest, and love letter to the written word, all rolled into one: think Harry Potter meets National Treasure. After a few days working at Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, Clay starts to wonder about the curiously named shop and its strange clientele. Using analysis skills from his Silicon Valley tech days, he starts to uncover much deeper secrets between the pages. A story about friendship and adventure as well as the conflict between new technology and print books, this is another crowd favorite among bookworms. More info →
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Have you read any great bookish mysteries lately? Or visited any lovely bookstores? Tell us about your favorites in the comments.

P.S. 15 literary mysteries that balance plot and prose, and more books about books and bookstores!

12 bookish mysteries about bibliophiles and bookstores

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68 comments | Comment

68 comments

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  1. Sarah says:

    I was hoping Mr. Penumbra’s was on this list! I bought it at a local bookstore before my honeymoon because an employee wrote the following review: “This book is great! Nobody dies.” I thought it sounded like a nice honeymoon book! And, I’m encouraged to pick up Shadow of the Wind again.

  2. Sue Kerr says:

    There is a great series by John Dunning featuring bookman Cliff Janeway. I think there are 5 in all, including The Bookman’s Promise, Booked To Die, The Sign of the Book, The Bookwoman’s Last Fling, and Booked to Die

  3. Robin Smith says:

    Murder at the Library of Congress by Margaret Truman (and you probably have to go to your library to find it)

    And “The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco was a struggle but worth it – I read and listened at the same time; it was the only way I could get through all the Latin.

    • Elisabeth says:

      The Name of the Rose is such a beautiful book; I am glad I read it while I was in the midst of taking Latin classes in college!

  4. Marianne B Dean says:

    Loving the Hemingway Files by Hal Bush! Takes place in Japan in the 90s. Great setting and lots of literary intrigue!!!

  5. Nicola J says:

    So many good ones & a nice smattering on this list. The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett was a good one I found recently.

  6. Sherri L Cuddeford says:

    Each time I click on one of these lists, my TBR pile grows exponentially! But how can it be anything but a GOOD problem? This has been my favorite so far!

  7. Kate Dillingham says:

    The three books by Charlie Lovett that Anne mentioned are all fantastic. My favorite is The Lost Book of the Grail.
    I just finished The Labyrinth of the Spirits, which is the fourth book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – it’s a true testament to the power of a good story and very atmospheric with a cast of memorable characters.

  8. patricia says:

    You just loaded up my to-be-read list! Between your list and suggestions by other readers.
    I found The Haunted Bookshop to be a better title than a book. His other book, Parnassus on Wheels, is a much more charming book. And in keeping with the subject; it’s a traveling bookshop.
    Jenny Colgan has a series about bookshops as well: The Bookshop on the corner and The Bookshop on the Shore.

  9. Carol blunier says:

    I had forgotten all about Possession. It was required reading for a class on research techniques I took in graduate school for my M.A. in Literature. At the time I wasn’t thrilled to read it because I was working full time while going to graduate school and it just seemed like extra homework that wasn’t important to the class. I might have to pick it up again, now that it’s 25 years later and I’m not as stressed!

  10. Kara says:

    So many good titles here… I don’t even know where to begin!

    Also, The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish is historical fiction with a bit of mystery for the bookish crowd.

  11. Betsy says:

    These are all great looking books. I’ll add the Fiona Davis title about the NYPL to my TBR list for sure. Loved her book about the famous Dakota (The Address). I would strongly suggest The Library Book by Susan Orlean. A mix of non fiction, Memoir and crime all centered around the famed Los Angeles Public Library. Couldn’t put it down!

  12. Brenda says:

    More books to dive into:
    The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
    The Bookshop of Yesterdays
    The Library of Lost and Found
    The Printed Letter Bookshop
    The Storied Life of A.J.Fricky

    • Diane says:

      I have read several of these but The Storied Life of A.J.Fiikry is a must for book lovers! It is a real feel good novel that will stay with you

  13. Brindi says:

    THANK YOU for including The Shadow of the Wind!!!! It’s one of my top 5 favorite books, and the reason my husband and I ever went on our first date. I wish more people would pick up this one. CRZ was a talented writer, and his works are brilliant, breath-taking, and just beautiful.

  14. Ruth O says:

    I loved I’ll Be Your Blue Sky! And I didn’t finish Shadow of the Wind. Some added to the TBR list.
    Not exactly a bookstore or library, but about the publishing industry and murder mystery, discovered a Judith Flanders series while looking for something by Fannie Flagg in the library. The first one is A Murder of Magpies. Loved the snarky sense of humor, and the main character is closer to middle age than 20. On to the second one now.

  15. Robin EH Bagley says:

    I really need to read The Eyre Affair; it’s been on my TBR for a long time. I have to admit, I didn’t like Mr. Penumbra’s as much as most people seem to enjoy it. I thought it started out strong, but the ending seemed pretty outlandish. Great list!

    • Laura says:

      The Eyre Affair was pretty good but the 2nd and 3rd book in the series are excellent, so press on. So funny and clever, full of literary references and characters come to life!

  16. Liesl says:

    I loved The Thirteenth Tale. Total gloomy fall book. I didn’t love Mr. Penumbra’s Bookstore, sadly.

    Another I would recommend is the Mirror Visitor Quartet. The first one (A Winter’s Promise) is not so much about the book, but the rest of the series so far (The Missing of Clairedelune, The Memory of Babel) becomes about this book that tells the origin of their immortals. This is loosely about books and about so much more, but I love to recommend it as much as possible!

  17. Liesl says:

    Ooooh also, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is a good one!

    I also like many of Jenny Colgan’s, which take place in little bookshops.

  18. Elizabeth Wallen says:

    Oh, I was so excited to see this booklist. Imagine my disappointment when I see I’ve read almost all of them. What does that say about me? I believe I’ve identified a favorite “genre”. Well, let’s dive into the comments and see what we find there!

  19. Sally says:

    I am looking for a great mystery/crime read! I loved Defending Jacob so much , that I compare all others to it. Twists and turns, can’t-put-it-down page turners and surprise endings are the best.
    Anyone, anyone?

  20. Erica says:

    I would add The Paris Library to the list. I’m currently reading it and I love how the main character, who is a librarian, connects books to their Dewey decimal number and pulls passages from books to match a feeling, mood, or situation.

    • Ruth Brigandi says:

      The Paris Library is a wonderful book. Also The Last Bookshop in
      London, which just came out the first week of April. Both set during World War 11, and show the power of reading to bring people together in challenging times. The American Library in Paris is still there and the book is based on true events. The author worked there for a few years.

  21. Pauline says:

    Have to add Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-paul Didierlaurent Quirky book about books . and for any Dickens fans a very quirky fantasy The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by HG Parry. Brilliant read.and Dear Reader The Comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink memories of childhood books .

  22. Jill Yagoda Myers says:

    I just joined and loving all the book recommendations brief description and then comments from the community. Subscribed to What Do I Read Next and discovered Modern Mrs.Darcy Book Club Thank you

  23. Tessa says:

    The Hell’s Library series by AJ Hackwith is really fun! Though it’s more about libraries than bookstores. The Library of the Unwritten is the first in the series.

    The Lonely Hearts Bookshop series by Annie Darling is also a really sweet romance that all takes place around a romance only bookstore

  24. Roxane Netzler says:

    I recommend a series (6 books) by Julia Kaewert. They are set in modern day London and the main character owns a small boutique publishing company. There’s a lot about the business of antiquarian books and publishing with a murder mystery to solve in each.

  25. Terry Miller says:

    I read Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair almost twenty years ago, shortly after it was published. I was so impressed with his creative mind; I had never read another book even somewhat similar. I eagerly awaited and read each book until the series ended. I still feel sadness when I think of no more Thursday Next books. So I reread the series every couple of years. I also enjoyed Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and its (later published) prequel.

    So happy to add MORE books to my TBR piles. Magpie Murders was already on as well as the next in the series Moonflower Murders.

    A strong recommendation: Out of the Easy by Ruth Septys. It is described as a teen/young adult book, but this old retired lady truly enjoyed it. It is the story of a 17-year old who works in a bookstore, trying to get enough money to leave New Orleans for college. Along the road out of NOLA, she cleans a brothel, comes up against a dead body, and runs with some interesting characters. It is a book well worth reading.

    • Laura says:

      I heard Jasper Fforde speak on a book tour 2 years ago and he hinted that a new Thursday Next novel was in the works by popular demand 🙂

    • Rebecca Lewis says:

      I really enjoy Ruta Sepetys’s books. I agree…they are good for any age. My book club (none of us are teens or young adults and haven’t been for a while) read Out of the Easy and everyone enjoyed it.

  26. Christine from Australia says:

    Yes, ‘The Weight of Ink’ is a great read. I’m enjoying Pip Williams’ ‘The Dictionary of Lost Words’, but perhaps it has not reached America yet.

  27. Emma says:

    ‘The Postscript Murders’ by Elly Griffiths is a fun Agatha Christie-style cosy murder mystery about the death of an elderly woman who helped crime novelists with their plots. Lots of literary references and charming characters.

  28. Molly Pisula says:

    I loved so many of the books on this list! Happy to add the few I haven’t read to my TBR. The Jasper Fforde Thursday Next series is one of my absolute all-time favorite series–I wish there were more! I’m currently 2/3 of the way through Moonflower Murders, which is the sequel to Magpie Murders–it’s excellent too!

  29. Elizabeth W says:

    Possession is a book I cannot read enough. I delight in the prose, poetry, mystery, and the love stories. I go back again and again to read just a “snippet.” I have to confess, I have mutilated my precious little copy with underlines and highlights. But, it is so loved.

  30. Carrie Padgett says:

    I’ve really enjoyed the Jasper Fforder books. The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck has a great literary mystery that she actually threads through a couple of books.

  31. Suzy says:

    I thought Eight Perfect Murders was the best mystery I’d read in like, AGES!! Can’t wait to read more by Peter Swanson!

  32. Terri T. says:

    I’ve read five of these (plus all the other Charlie Lovett books). But I have to admit I was sorely disappointed with The Lions of Fifth Avenue. I love parallel historical stories and one about books made it a must read but the execution fell short.
    Another author in the vein of Charlie Lovett is Matthew Pearl.

  33. Sarah W. says:

    I really liked The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. The librarians serve as keepers/spies/secret agents, who are sent to retrieve books from different worlds (all accessed through “The Library”, acting as a central hub), in order to keep the balance between order (dragons) and chaos (fae).

  34. Robin T says:

    Books about books are the best! I love The Invisible Library Series by English Author Genevieve Cogman. I believe the 8th (and ?final) book comes out this year. It skews a little YA, but I (46 year old) love them and my 16 year old daughter and I compete for who can pick the newest book up from the library first.

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