I’ve noted a common theme in my conversations with readers of late: many of us want to read more of the backlist books on our TBR lists.
So I had a thought: why not ask avid readers which books they recommend over and over again? In other words, of all the available books to read, which ones have legions of readers found to be unquestionably worth their reading time?
Today, we’re sharing our readers’ favorite mysteries. These are the titles you say you read and talk about the most—the ones you share on the blog, rave about in the MMD Book Club forums, purchase for your own bookshelves, and check out from the library.
Our readers enjoy a mix of literary mysteries, classic detective novels, cozy British puzzlers, and heart-pounding procedurals. (As a rule, mysteries tend to revolve around sensitive—sometimes gruesome—content, so take care as you open up these books.)
Whether you’re looking for a character-driven slow burn or a fast-paced suspense, I hope you find a mystery novel that’s right for YOU on this list.
Tana French is a crowd favorite. In the second of her Dublin Murder Squad series, which can be read in any order, detective Cassie Maddux is pulled off her current beat and sent to investigate a murder. When she arrives at the scene, she finds the victim looks just like her, and—even more creepy—she was using an alias that Cassie used in a previous case. The victim was a student, and her boss talks her into trying to crack the case by impersonating her, explaining to her friends that she survived the attempted murder. The victim lived with four other students in a strangely intimate, isolated setting, and as Cassie gets to know them, liking them almost in spite of herself, her boundaries—and loyalties—begin to blur. A taut psychological mystery that keeps you guessing till the end. More info →
It's no surprise that our community loves books about books, including this literary mystery. 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 →
Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series has garnered many dedicated fans over the course of seventeen novels (and counting). The first installment introduces Gamache as he investigates a murder in the small town of Three Pines, Quebec. Three Pines is the kind of place where people don’t even lock their doors, but serene small town life is disrupted when a beloved local woman is found in the woods with an arrow shot through her heart. The locals believe it must be a hunting accident, but the police inspector senses something is off. The story is constructed as a classic whodunit but it feels like anything but, with its deliberate pacing, dry wit, and lyrical writing. Readers, take note: these mysteries are meant to be read in order. More info →
This delightful mystery is especially excellent on audio, as narrated by Jayne Entwistle. Main character Flavia de Luce is a precocious 11 year-old chemist and amateur sleuth growing up in the 1950s. One day, she finds a dead bird on the doorstep of her family's crumbling manor house, a stamp affixed to its beak—and later, she comes across a dead man in the garden. For Flavia, these mysterious events are both frightening and exciting. She says, "I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life." Thus begins her investigation, a delightful coming-of-age mystery starring one of the most charming heroines ever written. More info →
We couldn't publish this list without including the Queen of Mystery! This is one of her most well-known works, a classic of the genre. It was supposed to be the perfect crime. But an avalanche stops the Orient Express in its tracks just before a passenger is found murdered in his berth, foiling the perpetrator's getaway, and trapping 13 potential suspects—each with an airtight alibi—in the train car with Inspector Hercule Poirot. Christie's crime classics are excellent on audio, especially when narrated by Dan Stevens. This one is a great place to start, but our avid readers also recommend And Then There Were None and Death on the Nile. More info →
This bingeable mystery series strikes a lovely balance of cozy and compelling, with darker details of WWI as the backdrop and a wonderful heroine to root for. The first book introduces Maisie as she trades wartime nursing for her own private investigation practice at the end of the Great War. Her first case appears to be run-of-the-mill infidelity, but something tells her to look deeper. When she finds disturbing secrets connected to the war, she is forced to confront her own trauma in order to solve the case. Maisie’s strong empathy and nurse’s training make her uniquely suited to detective work, and learning more about her is just as delightful as following the mystery. Audiophile alert: this series is fabulous on audio. More info →
Part campus novel, part intricately-plotted mystery: this is Sayers’ tenth Lord Peter novel, the first told from the perspective of Harriet Vane, and undoubtedly one of her finest. (They needn’t be read in order.) When Ms. Vane returns to Oxford for her college’s reunion (the “gaudy” of the title), the festive mood on campus is threatened by an alarming outbreak of murderous threats. Sayers makes this much more than a crime novel, though it's a good one—through her character Harriet, she grapples with questions of love and friendship, life and work, gender and class, and the writing life. If you love this, go back and read all the Lord Peter mysteries, beginning with Whose Body?More info →
When we read this in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club, Veronica Speedwell gained a bunch of new fans. This the first novel in Raybourn's Victorian series featuring the badass but well-bred heroine: Veronica travels the world hunting beautiful butterfly specimens and the occasional romantic dalliance. When her guardian dies, the orphaned Veronica expects to embark on a grand scientific adventure. But Veronica quickly realizes that with her guardian's death, she is no longer safe—and she begins to unravel the mystery of why she poses a threat to dangerous men. Toss in a handsome partner-in-investigation and witty dialogue aplenty, and you can see why this mystery series is a lot of fun. More info →
Grafton is best known for her Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mysteries. In the first novel, Kinsey sets up a new detective agency in Santa Teresa, California. She's a classic noir detective—twice-divorced, a loner, fond of the underdog—and she finds herself drawn in by a woman out on parole for her own husband's murder. As the twists keep coming (and the bodies stack up), Kinsey finds herself in more and more danger. Kinsey is a great character: rough around the edges, tough and motivated. If you enjoyed Veronica Mars, check out this series. It has enough installments to keep you happily occupied for ages! More info →
This 1951 British crime novel often lands on the "best mysteries of all time" lists. It's the fifth book in the Inspector Alan Grant series, but you can read Tey's books in any order, and many readers say THIS is the one to pick up. While Alan Grant is cooped up and healing a broken leg, his friend suggests he spend time delving into a historical mystery—one that won't require him to get out of bed, but will keep his mind busy. Intrigued by a portrait of King Richard III, Grant decides to investigate the famous figure, mixing centuries-old British politics, history, and logical deduction to arrive at his conclusions. Readers who enjoy a steady procedural mystery ought to give this classic a try. More info →
If you're all caught up on Louise Penny, try this engaging series of Scotland Yard police procedurals. I breezed through a bunch of them a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. This first installment reminds me of Dorothy Sayers: detective Duncan Kincaid happens to be vacationing at his posh cousin's time share when a body is found in the resort pool. The local detective rules suicide, but Kincaid is certain there's more to the story. As the series progresses, the police work is only half the content: in addition to their cases, Crombie devotes considerable ink to her detectives' personal dramas and romantic entanglements (in other words, do read these in order). Highly recommended for mystery-loving Anglophiles. More info →
I recommended this to a What Should I Read Next guest who loves books with plenty of plot twists on Episode 252: Books that send you racing to Google—but that's not the first time I've shared it! I love putting this one in mystery readers' hands. This tightly-crafted novel makes your jaw drop time and again, without feeling gimmicky or manipulative. On a dark, rainy night, a mother lets go of her son's hand for just an instant. The devastating accident sets the plot in motion. Part police procedural, part domestic suspense, with the ring of authenticity, no doubt thanks to Mackintosh's own 12 years as a police officer. This is an emotional roller coaster of a book. More info →
This clever YA series puts a fun spin on the classic Sherlock Holmes stories, though you don't need any familiarity with the famous detective to enjoy it. In this modern day adaptation, Jamie Watson transfers to Sherringford, a fancy Connecticut prep school, on a rugby scholarship where he meets the eccentric Charlotte Holmes. Charlotte seems to have inherited her great-great-great grandfather's keen eye and unpredictable temperament, and Jamie decides to avoid her. However, when they're suspected of murdering a fellow classmate, Jamie and Charlotte must team up, much like their ancestors, and solve the case to clear their names. More info →
Our community has recommended this to pieces since it appeared in the 2017 Summer Reading Guide. "You lied. Luke lied. Be at the funeral." Federal Agent Aaron Falk is summoned home with these words after his best friend Luke dies in a heartbreaking murder-suicide, turning the gun on himself after killing his wife and 6-year-old son. Falk obeys—but he can't believe his best friend could have done such a thing, and so he starts digging, dragging long-buried secrets back to the surface. The setting is the drought-ravaged Australian Outback, and the brittleness and heat are almost palpable. Of all Jane Harper's books, this debut continues to top our readers' list of favorites. More info →
If you love to be transported by your books, heads up: some critics call the Commissario Brunetti mysteries "the next best thing to being in Venice." In this first installment, a renowned opera conductor is found dead in his dressing room, a victim of cyanide poisoning. It's significant that this is a particularly painful way to die. As the investigation unfolds, it's clear the man had a dark past and many enemies, and that the perpetrator wanted to make his victim suffer. But why? Death at La Fenice is an excellent place to begin, but there's no need to read this series in order. More info →
The Lady Hardcastle mystery series is perfect for readers who enjoy cozy capers and Downton Abbey. Lady Emily Hardcastle and her companion Florence Armstrong just moved to the English countryside, hoping to pursue leisurely interests and enjoy neighborly gatherings. After a few days of regaling one another with tales from their top secret past, Emily and Flo find it impossible to sit still. When they discover a dead body in the woods, they eagerly offer to help investigate the murder. Much to the village's surprise, these two ladies are exceedingly skilled at detective work. They’re also hilarious; their witty banter makes for a delightful audiobook experience, as narrated by Elizabeth Knowelden. More info →
This gender-bending Sherlock Holmes series is completely clever and best read in order. Charlotte Holmes has never been comfortable with high society’s expectations for well-bred women, so she hatches an escape plan. By posing as Sherlock Holmes, Charlotte uses her incredible intellect to solve mysteries and secures the freedom to live as she pleases. When her family falls under suspicion for a series of London murders, Charlotte puts her skills to work to find the real killer and gathers new friends, and enemies, along the way. Sherry Thomas expertly weaves vivid historical detail and excellent character development in her mysteries. More info →
Readers fell in love with this light-hearted mystery—in which a Bavarian widow moves to Sicily and rediscovers her love of living—after its appearance in the 2018 Summer Reading Guide. "On her sixtieth birthday my Auntie Poldi moved to Sicily, intending to drink herself comfortably to death with a sea view." So says Poldi's nephew Michael. But life gets in the way: when Poldi's handyman goes missing, Poldi resolves to find him—with the help of the sexy police Commissario and a host of quirky Italians. Her quest brings Poldi back to life, and all she loves about it—namely prosecco, men, and gossip. Big-hearted and funny, smart and escapist: it's like taking your own Italian vacation. More info →
Perveen Mistry is Bombay’s first female solicitor, employed by her father’s respected firm. When her father’s Muslim client dies, he is tasked with executing the will, but the three devout widows "stay behind the veil," and must not be seen by men. When the duo discover irregularities in the estate documents, Perveen resolves to speak with the widows, because—as a woman—she's the only one who can. Perveen understands the cruelty women can endure under the law and vows to protect the widows. Readers love this series for its tightly-crafted murder mysteries, vividly-drawn settings, and plucky heroine fiercely taking on the challenges of her time. More info →
Avid readers also love The River, but Heller's nature-plus-noir detective novel tops our list of favorites. Celine is a 60+ private investigator and artist in New York City, and perhaps the reason the character rings so true is that Heller based the character on his mother, who was also a detective and artist in NYC. In this story, a young woman seeks out Celine to help her find her father, who's been missing for decades, so Celine and her partner head to Yellowstone National Park, where it becomes clear someone wants this man to stay missing. Read this for Heller's nature writing, and the way he explores the intersection of family, privilege, and the secrets we keep. More info →
A wholly satisfying domestic mystery, perfect for Liane Moriarty fans, that keeps readers guessing till the end. In the ten years she's known her, Lucy has never felt her mother-in-law Diana approved of her—an especial disappointment because she'd hoped Diana would finally be the mother she'd never had. Yet she's distraught when the police show up to announce that Diana has died by apparent suicide—and even more so when they reveal that the evidence points to possible murder. As we get to know the family members, we discover each of them had a motive to harm Diana, and stood to benefit from her death. The story is told alternately from Lucy and Diana's points of view, so we get to understand what's going on in their minds, and how badly they misunderstand each other through the years. But is it badly enough to lead to murder? Note: I devoured this on audio. More info →
My husband Will is hooked on this series—and I've enjoyed reading the first few books, too. After losing his job and separating from his family in a marital dispute, Cork O’Connor can barely crawl out from under his guilt. Cork is eager to win back his family—winter in Minnesota lake country is hard enough without bitterness and loss. But when a local judge is murdered, and a friend asks Cork to find her missing son, he takes on the investigation. Town officials try to stop him at every turn, but Cork is determined to find the truth, even if that means exposing a dark secret. Part Irish, part Anishinaabe, Cork straddles two worlds and calls on friends who owe him favors in order to solve the case. More info →
The universe clearly wants me to read this book: I can't believe how many readers have urged it on me in the last week alone! 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 →
This fascinating and multi-layered spy thriller is told from the perspective of a Black woman, recruited by the CIA in the all-white, boys' club-era of the 1980s for an important African mission. Her assigned task is to fall in love—or pretend to—with Thomas Sankara, the president of Burkino Faso, known as "Africa’s Che Guevara." (Sankara is a real historical figure and I was so curious about how Wilkinson would handle his story.) The book's epigraph is from Ralph Ellison: he refers to being "a spy in enemy country," and I'm grateful this work inspired me to learn more about the rich literary history of African American spy novels and the theme of double consciousness. A rewarding read on so many levels.
Another character-driven, intricately-plotted mystery that makes for a propulsive read. These Canadian procedurals center the investigative team of detective Esa Khattak and his assistant Rachel Getty, who are often called upon to investigate crimes in the Muslim community of Toronto, navigating cultural and political divides to do so. I beg you, do NOT read the spoiler-laden reviews of this book, or even the description! I'll just say that the pair is called in to investigate the seemingly accidental death of a wealthy local man, and it slowly becomes apparent that this crime's roots go deeper than the detectives could have dreamed. This is the first in a series that is now five books strong; I've read three so far and am looking forward to catching up on the rest. More info →
Attica Locke knows how to write atmosphere and creates a compelling character in this modern noir. As a Black Texas Ranger, Darren Matthews has an intricate understanding of racial tensions in East Texas. He’s proud of his roots and his family, but when his loyalty lands him in trouble, he agrees to get out of town and investigate a crime for a friend. He drives up Highway 59 to the town of Lark, where a recent murder has stirred up hatred and history. This one ends on a cliffhanger, so you might want to queue up the second book, Heaven, My Home, right away. (You might not be able to put that one down, either!). More info →
For fans of Tana French's dark mysteries that focus on the lives of the detectives in equal measure to the mystery they're solving, this police procedural is about two sisters. Kacey lives on the streets of Philadelphia, an addict in and out of recovery. Mickey keeps an eye out for Kacey on her police beat, constantly worrying about her sister. When Kacey disappears at the same time as murders spike in the area, Mickey grows ever more obsessed with finding the murderer—and her sister—before it's too late. In this page-turning mystery, we get a picture of complicated sisterhood, of addiction and families, and of pressing social issues. More info →
This fun mystery reminded me so much of Angela Lansbury and Murder She Wrote, and holds appeal for readers aged 18 to 80-something and beyond. It's set in a retirement community, where four friends meet in the Jigsaw Room every week to chat about unsolved crimes. This group of 70-somethings call themselves "The Thursday Murder Club." When bodies start piling up in a live and local case, they set out to catch a killer. Getting to know each elderly character and their quirks is just as delightful as solving the case alongside them. Completely charming, and the audiobook is so well-narrated by Lesley Manville. More info →
Tiffany D. Jackson's books are the quintessential "YA that's not just for young adult readers," and they're completely unputdownable. In this psychological mystery, Monday is missing, but no one seems to care but Claudia. She and Monday have been best friends since they were little, so when Monday doesn’t show up at school for several weeks, Claudia gets worried. Claudia investigates her friend's disappearance while dealing with her own struggles. Despite being an absolute page-turner, and targeted towards a younger audience, this thriller tackles important and timely topics that we should all be paying closer attention to. More info →
Fans of gothic mysteries can't stop recommending this one (and I must admit I'm drawn to its lovely cover). Well-endorsed with author blurbs from Charlie Lovett and Louise Penny, this British murder mystery features a high school English teacher who teaches a niche course on gothic writer R. M. Holland every year. When one of her colleagues is found dead with a quote from R. M. Holland left nearby, Clare Cassidy starts to see her favorite works of literature in a whole new light. What follows is a procedural campus mystery for book lovers, told in three rotating perspectives—a perfect novel to read curled up in an armchair with a hot cup of tea. More info →
I can't tell you how many times I've read The Pelican Brief to admire its unique structure. I wax poetic about Grisham's action-packed legal thriller on my seasonal podcast One Great Book Volume II Book 2. The story opens with the assassination of two Supreme Court judges, then breathlessly follows a young law student who believes she know why. She can't help investigating, and writes a brief of her findings. When the brief travels from the trash to the FBI, all hell breaks loose. This is backlist at its best: stories about seeking justice in the face of political corruption and cover-ups will never get old. More info →
What are your go-to mystery recommendations? Share your favorites in the comments.
P.S. Reflect on your favorite reads this season with my new reading journal, available online or in a bookstore near you! If you’d like a signed copy, place an order from my local indie Carmichael’s Bookstore and include a note in the order comments for personalization.
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