I’ve always been a mood reader, picking up a book according to what sounds good in the moment rather than sticking to a strict to-be-read list. No matter which genre I’m craving, I always hope for something page-turning, whether it’s an intense plot or compelling characters.
But in times of stress, I also seek out books with a more hopeful tone. As a highly sensitive person, I tend to be wary of anything too gory or violent, but especially right now. When the world feels bleak, I need some feel-good fiction, or at least a dose of hopefulness.
Mysteries are my typical go-to for a can’t-put-it-down reading experience, but lately, many thrillers are too dark, too full of despair. And while mysteries will always contain some heart-pounding moments, some crime or murder, but a few authors handle this with a lighter touch.
Today I’m sharing a list of favorite mysteries that fall squarely within the confines of the genre, yet maintain a hopeful tone throughout. In other words, they are aren’t too dark and gloomy. The characters are, overall, good people (or at least they’re trying to be). The mysteries are puzzle-like, not overly gruesome. And the endings are satisfying.
If you’re craving a page-turning mystery to energize your reading life, I hope you find one here.
16 page-turning mysteries with a hopeful take on human nature
You don't have to be a fan of the TV show or movie to enjoy the Veronica Mars books (although I highly recommend the show to noir mystery-lovers). This book starts ten years after Veronica's high school graduation, a few months after the movie left off. Veronica is called in to investigate when a girl disappears from a Spring Break party, but it soon becomes apparent this is no ordinary missing persons case, and Veronica is quickly pulled back into Neptune's seedy underworld. This wasn't high literature or anything, but it was so much fun (and had such good narrative drive) I didn't want to stop until I knew how it ended. More info →
If you need a completely bingeable mystery series right now, I highly recommend this one. With 15 books and counting, Maisie Dobbs remains a compelling heroine. The first book introduces Maisie as she trades wartime nursing for her own private investigation practice at the end of WWI. 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 Great 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. The narration on this series is stellar. I highly recommend it on audio. More info →
This historical novel is based on a real-life unsolved mystery that was huge news in its day: the disappearance of a New York Supreme Court judge in 1930. In her debut novel, Ariel Lawhon cooks up an interesting theory to explain what really happened, and unravels her tale from the point of view of the three women in his life. More info →
This is such a fun YA spin on the classic Sherlock Holmes stories. 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. Clever and witty, you'll want to keep reading this series. More info →
If you like your mysteries with a good dose of historical detail and secrets, this one is for you. It's 1947, and society girl Charlie St. Clair is desperate to find her beloved cousin Rose, who mysteriously vanished during the war. Her inquiries lead her to Eve, a cranky old woman, who Charlie soon discovers has intimate ties to the first female spy network, and who may have personal and professional reasons for tracking down Rose—and getting revenge in the process. More info →
On a small-town Southern Friday night, after the football game, two cars driven by local teens collide, killing three cheerleaders instantly. The only survivor is the driver at fault. Whalen expertly weaves together four voices, of four women whose lives were upended by what happened that night, to reveal to the reader what really happened—and why. Gripping, timely, and hard to put down. Plus, Joshilyn Jackson narrates the audio version, which is just perfect for this Southern story! More info →
In this light-hearted mystery, a Bavarian widow moves to Sicily and rediscovers her love of living. "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. A delightful surprise and I'm happy the series continues. 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. Toss in a murder investigation, and you get a tightly-crafted mystery, a vividly-drawn multicultural setting, and a plucky heroine fiercely taking on the challenges of her time. More info →
This is the perfect domestic suspense for summer evening reading. A tight-knit group of women gather around the backyard firepit, drink a little too much wine, and stay up way too late. By morning, one of them has vanished, and so have her children. As the authorities (and the women) begin to investigate what might have happened, they find they have more questions than answers, and the husband’s suspicious behavior has them all looking over their shoulders. Did their friend simply run away, or was she harmed, and above all—why? More info →
Jackson’s latest Southern story feels both exactly like the books her long-time readers know and love and like a total departure—and I loved it. Her domestic thriller (yes, really!) begins at a book club meeting in a quiet suburban neighborhood. These women live quiet lives revolving around family and sometimes work; they know each other well, and everything unfolds as usual … until a new guest arrives, one who has a score to settle based on long-buried secrets, and who won’t rest until she makes the woman pay for her crimes. But what happened back then, and why does it matter now? I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough in my quest to discover the truth for myself. An absorbing, rewarding mystery that will delight her loyal readers and entice new fans. More info →
This murder mystery from Nantucket novelist Hilderbrand brings back beloved past characters but also stands on its own. Celeste and Benji’s wedding is supposed to the big event of the season … until Celeste finds her maid of honor’s body floating in the bay on her wedding day. She was up before dawn because she was sneaking away from the scene of the festivities with a packed bag. Everyone thought Celeste and Benji were the perfect couple, so what is going on? As the Nantucket police open their investigation, the timeline moves back and forth between the wedding weekend and the start of the couple’s relationship, allowing the reader to slowly put the pieces together. This easy-reading mystery features well-developed characters, a solid plot, plus the food and style readers expect from Hilderbrand. More info →
I can count on Blake Crouch for fast-paced thrillers that also make me stop and think. In the book’s opening, an NYPD police detective is summoned to the 41st floor of a Manhattan highrise to try and talk a woman struggling with a terrifying new condition known as False Memory Syndrome down from the edge. Meanwhile, across the country, a brilliant scientist is hard at work on her passion project, a chair that will shield Alzheimer’s and dementia patients from the worst effects of the disease by reactivating their most important memories. As the detective begins to trace the line from False Memory Syndrome to the scientist—and the sinister motivations driving the project—the stakes for not just the parties involved, but the entire world, grow ever higher. Part save-the-world thriller, part police procedural, part love story, and above all, a real brain-bender. More info →
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? A wholly satisfying domestic mystery, perfect for Liane Moriarty fans, that kept me guessing till the end. I devoured this on audio. More info →
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 →
If you enjoy cozy mysteries, add this series to your list. Susie Mahl adores her job. She paints pet portraits for wealthy families, perfectly capturing the personalities of their furry family members. On site for one of her commissions, she witnesses the gruesome death of the 9th Earl of Greengrass. Her artist's eye for detail mixes with her curiousity, and soon she's an amateur sleuth on the case. A creative premise, filled with fun Downton Abbey-like characters and a fun puzzle-like mystery to solve. More info →
Veronica Mars meets the Serial podcast in this small town YA thriller. While the whole town believes that Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Pippa Fitz-Amobi thinks otherwise. For her senior capstone project, Pippa takes on the investigation. Told through interviews and case logs, this fast-paced mystery is really fun on audio. As she gets deeper and deeper into the case, Pippa has to decide who she can trust, and how many risks she's willing to take to expose the truth. More info →
Have you read any great mystery novels lately? Help us build our TBR lists in the comments.