When I (metaphorically) draw the Venn Diagram of my reading life over the last year, genre fiction makes up a BIG slice. During stressful weeks, I devoured romance novels and puzzle-like mysteries for a dose of escapist bibliotherapy.
There’s nothing wrong with bookish distraction, but I’m most satisfied with my reading life when my weekly reading routine includes a robust mix of genres. That’s why, for the same reasons I adore compulsively readable literary fiction, I LOVE when a book combines the best elements of an unputdownable mystery and a beautifully written literary novel.
Today I’m sharing 15 titles by talented writers who deftly balance propulsive plot and stunning prose. Some of these books are shelved in the literary fiction section, but they contain a mystery that’s central to the plot. The remaining titles are mystery novels with exceptional writing and strong narrative choices.
With a mix of historical settings, courtroom dramas, and Gothic fantasy, this list is suited to a variety of reading tastes. I find that literary mysteries can sometimes be more HSP-friendly, perhaps because I’m entranced by the writing, perhaps because they’re less likely to include graphic depictions of violence. Your experience may differ from mine, so mind your triggers.
15 page-turning mysteries that read like literary fiction
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.More info →
Do you have any “literary mysteries” to recommend? Share with us in the comments!
P.S. Love mystery novels? We’ve got you covered with 16 page-turning mysteries that aren’t too dark and gloomy, 20 unputdownable mysteries and thrillers to keep you glued to the page, and 20 historical mysteries featuring feisty female protagonists.