When I’m tempted to keep scrolling the news on my phone, I need a book that pulls me in and keeps me rapt for hours. There’s nothing like a well-plotted mystery novel to shake me out of a reading slump or to get the pages turning when it feels hard to focus.
I appreciate a variety of mysteries that hold my attention: a fast-paced thriller that keeps me on the edge of my armchair, a cozy literary mystery whose characters feel like friends, or a puzzle-like procedural that keeps me guessing all the way through.
Today I’m sharing 20 unputdownable mysteries and thrillers that grabbed my attention and didn’t let go till the last page. These books contain jaw-dropping plot twists, compelling investigators, and plenty of puzzles to solve. I enjoyed every one of the books on this list and couldn’t stop turning the pages, well past my usual bedtime.
I’ve included as much variety as possible on this list, in terms of tone and writing style, and I hope you’ll find a book that you just can’t stop reading. Tastes differ, of course, and I’d love to hear about your favorite page-turning mysteries in the comments section.
Please note: some of these books contain triggers for violence, abuse, and other heavy themes, as noted in the descriptions.
This 1930s Gothic classic is an un-put-down-able, curl-up-by-the-fire mystery. 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 →
This addictive mystery plays with the ideas of long-lost love and what might have been—and it's a good one. When he was 19, Frank Mackey planned to run off with his girlfriend Rosie Daly: they would cut ties to home, get married, and start a new life in England. When Rosie didn't show, Frank assumed she changed her mind and left without him. But 22 years later, Rosie's suitcase is found hidden in their planned meeting spot. Frank never got over her, and he'll do whatever it takes to uncover what happened. Please note that like many of French's novels, this one contains much profanity and violence. This is a sad, sad story, but it's such a good one. (Hot tip: the fabulous accents in the audio version bring it to life.) More info →
In this contemporary psychological thriller, a British single mother gives her 8-year-old son permission to run ahead a little on their evening walk in the park ... and he disappears, without a trace. MacMillan invites the reader to come along on the hunt for the boy, alternately focusing on police procedure and family drama. The tight writing and sharp execution made this hard to put down. I'd recommend this to fans of Tana French or anyone who wants a page-turning domestic thriller without much gore and violence. More info →
I recently 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. This tightly-crafted novel makes your jaw drop time and again, without feeling gimmicky or manipulative. I was stunned as I slowly came to see that the story wasn't about what I thought it was about at all, and THAT is what you'll be burning to talk about. On a dark, rainy night, a mother lets go of her son's hand for just an instant—and the devastating accident sets the plot in motion. Part police procedural, part domestic suspense. This is an emotional roller coaster of a book. More info →
"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 be my favorite. More info →
A literary mystery, scavenger-hunt style, from one of my favorite authors. Arthur is a staid and steady—perhaps a trifle boring?—old-school Brit; Bethany is a techie American who's come to his English library to digitize his beloved ancient manuscripts. Arthur's smitten, yet quite concerned—will she interfere with his personal quest for the Grail? Books, romance, and literary high jinx—what's not to love? This book is perfect for readers who love a page-turning puzzle, minus the murder and violence of many crime-driven mysteries. I couldn't put it down because I was equally delighted with the literary references and wanting to know what would happen next. More info →
Ellison sets the tone with her first line: "You aren't going to like me very much." But who is this narrator, and why does she say that? Sutton and Ethan Montclair seem to have the perfect marriage—two successful writers who not only love each other, but understand and support each other. Or that's what people think, until Sutton disappears, leaving a note telling Ethan not to look for her. As the hours tick by, Ethan begins to look more and more suspicious, and as a local investigator starts quizzing friends and family, it quickly becomes apparent that their perfect relationship was anything but. And THAT is when things get really creepy. More info →
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 →
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 →
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 →
My husband Will is hooked on this series. 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 →
This is the first in a series that is now five books strong; I've read two so far and am looking forward to catching up. 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 jacket copy! 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. More info →
I loved this book; I read it so fast and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. The writing style is compact and clever. I was hooked from the opening words, “meet our girl.” Our girl is watching TV, when she sees a news story with footage of a crying boy, speaking the name of detective Alice Vega. On page 4 we meet Alice, who takes on a new job and calls in her old friend Max Caplan to help her. The two make a great team —they have wonderful rapport, and their dialogue is so well-written. This is a tough book, because the subject matter is hard, but Luna handles her characters with sensitivity. I knew going in that it was the second book in a series, but I was assured that it could stand alone just fine on its own. More info →
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 timely, 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!). 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. Mind your triggers, as this book covers many (addiction and abuse to name a few). More info →
Virgil Wounded Horse is a Native American vigilante for hire: when people can't get justice through the reservation's official channels they turn to him to enact their own. This happens with depressing regularity because of the 1885 Major Crimes Act: certain felonies can only be prosecuted by the federal government, but at their discretion—and they typically decline to prosecute any case that doesn't include murder. When Virgil's nephew gets entrapped in a fake drug bust, authorities more or less force the young teen to take a dangerous undercover assignment so they can nail the men who are trafficking heroin on the reservation. While the story is solid, this book shines for its setting, and its powerful exploration of identity. (Though the story is rarely graphic in portraying violence, the novel does begin with Virgil knocking out a child molester's teeth in a parking lot, please be mindful of the associated content.) More info →
This new thriller, described as Rear Window meets Get Out starts with a bang and never lets up; her familiar voice is put to good use in this shocking tale of history, lies, and gentrification. Sydney’s Brooklyn neighborhood is turning over fast, with longtime older tenants moving out and upstart young couples moving in. But when she accidentally discovers a sinister connection, these moves suddenly begin to look threatening. Add in a tortured past, present family challenges, a budding romance with a hot new neighbor (and heads up, f-bombs galore), and you’ve got a thrilling read. More info →
Alternating between past and present, this twisty mystery weaves two women's stories together. We follow private investigator Grayson Sykes as she searches for missing woman Isabel Lincoln. With every new clue Grayson picks up, she realizes that this isn't a simple missing persons case—and she and Isabel might have a lot in common. This thriller is full of jaw-dropping moments, and the format gripped me from the beginning. In addition to the page-turning investigation, this is a story of survival. Do be aware that this story involves domestic abuse and heavy themes. More info →
Imagine a library filled with unpublished manuscripts, countless novels that never came to be. In the tiny village of Crozon, a small town librarian collects and cares for these unloved manuscripts. While on holiday, a renowned French editor visits the library and stumbles upon an undiscovered masterpiece, which she and her author boyfriend soon discover was written by a small-town French pizza chef. She champions its publication and turns it into an instant bestseller. Readers everywhere swoon for the book and the story behind its publication, but one snobby literary critic questions the book’s origins, and resolves to get the real story. Funny and endearing, a quirky mystery for book lovers, and a great read for anyone who fancies a peek into the publishing industry. A highly discussable novel for book clubs, especially because of the sure-to-be-controversial epilogue. More info →
As a homicide detective, Casey Duncan knows her secret is going to catch up with her someday. Diana, her best friend, is also on the run from an abusive husband. When he catches up with Diana and Casey is attacked soon after, Casey knows it's time for both of them to leave again. There's a town in the Canadian wilderness called Rockton. Those who are on the run from their pasts can apply for solace and residency there. Rockton is picky about its residents, and with no phones, internet, or a way to get in or out without permission, it doesn't seem like a place that would accept Casey's past deeds. And yet, Rockton just had its first murder case. They need a detective to investigate, making Casey the perfect candidate. As she investigates, she starts to wonder if Rockton is the safest place for herself and Diana after all. More info →
Have you read a twisty mystery lately? Which book kept you up all night turning the pages? We’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments.