15 literary mysteries
The Luminaries

The Luminaries

New York Magazine calls this "A very clever, absurdly fun novel that reads like a cross between a locked-room mystery, a spaghetti Western, a game of Sodoku, and Edwin Drood." This bestselling, Man Booker Prize-winning novel is set in New Zealand during the gold rush of 1866. At 848 pages, this novel is an investment, but those who are up for the challenge are rewarded with a large cast of well-drawn characters, a sophisticated structure, and a well-developed and ultimately rewarding mystery. More info →
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The Lola Quartet

The Lola Quartet

This is the kind of page-turner I love: a compulsively readable literary mystery, featuring stylish prose plus a plot that keeps you turning the page to find out what happens next, by Emily St. John Mandel, author of bestseller Station Eleven. I talked about it on an impromptu episode of What Should I Read Next that laid the foundation for One Great Book. I was so impressed by the way Mandel unfolded the story piece by piece, introducing us to a seventeen-year-old girl in hiding (with piles of cash duct-taped to the underside of her baby's stroller), and slowly revealing how she ended up there—and how the members of the old high school musical group the Lola Quartet are connected to her disappearance. Set in muggy South Florida, the story is dripping with atmosphere and has a noir feel. More info →
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The River

The River

I didn’t know a book could be both gorgeous and terrifying—but then I devoured this in a day. When two college friends plan a long canoeing trip in northern Canada, they anticipate a peaceful yet memorable summer escape filled with whitewater paddling, fly fishing, and campfire cooking. The first hint of danger is a whiff of smoke, from an encroaching forest fire. The next comes from a man, seemingly in shock, who reports his wife disappeared in the woods. If these boys didn't feel compelled to do the right thing and go look for her, they’d be fine, but instead they step in to help—and are soon running for their lives, from disasters both natural and man-made. A tightly-written wilderness adventure, a lyrical mystery, and a heartrending story of friendship, rolled into one. More info →
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American Spy

American Spy

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. More info →
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Bluebird, Bluebird

Bluebird, Bluebird

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. Atmospheric and intense, and terrific on audio. It 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!). Locke is such a talented writer. I can't wait for the next installment in her Highway 59 series. More info →
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Long Bright River

Long Bright River

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. Mind your triggers, as this book covers many (addiction and abuse to name a few). More info →
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Miracle Creek

Miracle Creek

Described as an addictive legal thriller, Kim's debut is also a complicated family story, a mystery, and a page-turning literary novel. Korean immigrants Young and Pak Yoo run "The Miracle Submarine," an experimental medical treatment involving an oxygen chamber. When the submarine explodes and kills two people, the community grieves and seeks justice, attempting to answer, "what exactly happened that day?" Angie Kim brings her experiences as a Korean immigrant, lawyer, and parent to her intricately crafted novel. More info →
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Rebecca

Rebecca

This 1930s Gothic classic feels surprisingly current (and Mrs Danvers is as creepy as ever). Du Maurier's approach is unusual: the woman of the title is dead before the action begins; the young second wife, our narrator, is never given a name. Because she doesn't understand what's going on for a long time, neither does the reader. And by the time you find out what really happened, you may find yourself one of the many readers who feel almost complicit in the crime. Suspenseful, and it holds its tension on a re-reading: a sure sign of a well-crafted thriller. More info →
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The Searcher

The Searcher

You may know French from her Dublin Murder Squad mysteries. This one strikes out in a totally new direction, though her talent for prose remains. French calls The Searcher "her version of a Western," and for the first time, her protagonist is American—a retired Chicago cop who quit the force when he began to doubt his own moral code, and wanted to move far away to start over in a small Irish village. This is also the first time she's written in the third person, and as a writer, I enjoyed noting how that affects the telling. If you're looking for a gripping novel that won't let you go, this isn't it. But for careful prose from a seasoned writer, and an especially interesting 13-year-old character, this may be worth picking up. More info →
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Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on Cedars

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, a courtroom drama, mystery, and compelling work of literary fiction. This lyrical and heartbreaking first novel is set in an isolated, snow-covered Washington State island town in the 1950s, where a Japanese man stands trial for murdering a white fisherman. The trial brings the town's painful history and many citizen's long-submerged sense of guilt and shame sharply to the surface; Guterson skillfully unfolds both the history of the town and that of two star-crossed lovers layer by layer. More info →
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Piranesi

Piranesi

Susanna Clarke's hotly anticipated second novel is a fantasy novel that plays with fantasy tropes, a mystery but not just a mystery, an altogether weird and extremely compelling book set in a strange house with labyrinthine passageways and just fifteen inhabitants, only two of which are alive. It's decidedly weird and took me a solid 20% to get oriented, but once I did I couldn't stop reading. Our narrator is Piranesi—though he suspects that's not really his name—and while I don't recommend googling the plot before you begin reading, I do recommend those reading with a literary lens google the Italian artist who shares his moniker. More info →
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Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You

$11.99$1.99Audiobook: 7.49 (Whispersync)
"Lydia is dead, but they don't know this yet." That’s not a spoiler, that's the opening line of Ng's stunning debut novel. When this unexpected loss is discovered, the family begins to fall apart, and as they struggle to understand why it happened, they realize they don't know their daughter at all. Ng's use of the omniscient narrator is brilliant: she reveals what's going on in her characters hearts and minds, allowing the reader to learn the truth of the tragedy, even if the family never does. An exploration of love and belonging, fraught with racial and gender issues. When I was in NYC I watched a woman miss her bus stop because she was utterly absorbed in this novel. It's that good. Powerful, believable, utterly absorbing. More info →
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If We Were Villains

If We Were Villains

Author:
Series: 15 literary mysteries
Genre: Mystery
I love a mystery that starts at the end. We know that Oliver Marks has just been released from jail after serving a ten year sentence, and he's finally ready to tell the truth. Ten years ago, Oliver was part of a close-knit group of Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, where rivalries and romance affect the troupe off stage with just as much drama as their performances. Their final year reads more like one of Shakespeare's tragedies. When violence erupts, the group tries to find out what happened while covering the truth to protect each other. A campus mystery full of Shakespeare references, perfect for fans of Donna Tartt. I just downloaded the audio version from Libro.fm so I can buddy read this with a friend. More info →
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Case Histories

Case Histories

The first book in the Jackson Brodie mystery series kicks off with private investigator Brodie following three seemingly disparate cases in Edinburgh. What do a missing little girl, an attacked office worker, and a new mother who snapped have in common? Jackson Brodie follows the threads back over the past 30 years as surprising connections emerge. This was an excellent detective novel, with good writing and strong characterization, and reminded me very much of Tana French. But like Tana French, some of the content was seriously disturbing. More info →
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Things in Jars

Things in Jars

Readers, this book has been sitting on my TBR shelf for forever. If you've read it and loved it, I could use a push to pick it up. Bridie Devine, infamous female detective and supernatural consultant, gets called to work on her most intriguing case yet. Christabel Berwick, secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, possesses mysterious powers that have collectors and curiosity hunters circling. Bridie comes in to figure out who kidnapped Christabel, while grappling with her own complicated childhood experiences. Full of lush descriptions of Victorian London and a heaping dose of Gothic mystery, this ghostly novel makes an interesting genre mash-up. More info →
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