Readers, I love a good mystery, and a recent conversation has me thinking about the mysteries I love—those books that are so ingeniously put together that when you get to the big reveal, you take a deep breath and ask yourself, How did the author DO that?
Because of a project I’m working on (coming soon!), I recently had the opportunity to re-watch last summer’s Book Club conversation with Marisa de los Santos to discuss her newest release I’ll Be Your Blue Sky. Whenever we chat with authors, we always ask them what they enjoy reading, and I was surprised to hear Marisa confess her love of mysteries.
She told us she would love to write procedurals, but alas, that’s not the kind of writer she has. (I adore her books, so that’s just fine by me.) But she reads mysteries and procedurals by the bucketful all the same, both for her own enjoyment, and to pick apart how a skilled author can ingeniously put a plot together. She loves when you get to the big reveal and can see the author has been building toward it all along, even though you had no idea how significant those clues were at the time.
Today I’m sharing books from master plotters: the 4 authors that Marisa says she reads when she wants to go to Plot School. If you’re a reader, get ready to get wrapped up in an absorbing mystery. If you’re an author, get ready to take some notes. Some authors are contemporary, some are now shelved in the classics section, all would make excellent summer reads for the right reader.
I know I’m not the only one who loves a good mystery, so enjoy today’s list, and please share your favorite intricately plotted novels in the comments section.
12 intricately plotted crime novels that will keep you turning the pages
by Dorothy Sayers
In Book Club, we paired I’ll Be Your Blue Sky with the classic Sayers’ mystery Gaudy Night as a flight selection. When I chose the pairing, I had no idea Marisa was a Sayers fan, but we loved hearing her explain exactly what she loved about Sayers’s plotting. In a word: it’s seamless.
by Kate Atkinson
Before Atkinson took her recent detour into historical fiction, she was best known as a crime novelist for her now-beloved—and recently returned-to—Jackson Brodie series. She loves reading and writing secrets, and wouldn’t have minded a career as a secret agent herself, according to interviews. Lucky for us, she’s channeled her interest into the pages of her books instead.
Fans of Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series will be delighted to learn about this release, nine years after the last book Started Early, Took My Dog. Brodie lives in a quiet seaside village now and works as a private investigator. When his current job leads him to discover a human trafficking network, he also learns just how far back the crimes go. Atkinson writes mysteries exploring the human condition with trademark wit balancing out the devastation. You'll fly through the pages until justice is served.More info →
by Tana French
I’m a longtime French fan, and was delighted to hear Marisa sing the author’s praises during our chat. She’s best known—and deservedly so—for her Dublin Murder Squad series, a family of mysteries that inhabit the same world, but don’t need to be read in order.
In the second of Tana French's 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 thriller that keeps you guessing till the end.More info →
by Louise Penny
It’s a good thing Marisa is a devoted Penny fan, because I don’t know if I could have put together a list of crime novels without including the Canadian author. My usual disclaimers: yes, start at the beginning, book 1 is slow, the murders are weird in 2 and 3, but good gracious does she hit her stride in book 4. It’s possible I’m counting the days till her next release on August 27.
In the idyllic small town of Three Pines, Quebec, where people don’t even lock their doors, 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. A stunningly good first novel. Still Life is the first in a series that keeps getting better. Great on audio.More info →
Readers, what are YOUR favorite mysteries? Please tell us your favorite intricately plotted novels in the comments section.
P.S. 7 series to read next after you’ve run out of Louise Penny novels, 8 novels that are delightfully self-aware about the writing process, and 20 hot new releases everyone will be talking about this summer.