Best Crime Novels: Top 5 Suspenseful Stories Most Recommended By Experts

The modern crime novel takes many forms: the murder mystery, the heist, and the crime family drama are just a few of the subgenres that exist under the larger tent of crime fiction. Our list of the top five best crime novels explores some of the greatest hits to ever be written in this thrilling genre. Read along with us as we discover tales of hardened criminals and the law officers that must face them.

Famed American author Edgar Allan Poe is often credited with one of the earliest entries in the crime genre: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841). It is one of the earliest examples of a crime novel by way of a detective story. As the genre grew, crime books began to move away from detectives solving cases to include narratives that follow criminals as the primary story protagonists.

The mid to late 19th century was a hotbed for the emerging crime drama. Poe’s first dip into detective crime would be matched by the work of his contemporaries. In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” (1866) wherein the reader follows the exploits of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov as he commits murder and the mental process he goes through to self-justify his choices.

Crime fantasy is another emergent subgenre that remains popular with readers. Brandon Sanderson’s 2006 “Mistborn” series started with “Mistborn: The Final Empire.” The first book in the series tells the story of a cadre of magical thieves gone revolutionaries in a world where magic exists and can be used by a few individuals. Fonda Lee’s “The Green Bone Saga” (2017) can be described as “The Godfather” meets wuxia martial arts heroes in a riveting family drama about honorable criminals that are a legitimate part of their society.

The best crime novels can walk the line of lawful morality and challenge readers not to align with cops or robbers, but instead to connect with these characters as complex individuals driven by personal motivation. Our sources helped us rank out the top five below. Let us know your favorites in the comments!

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The List: Best Crime Novels, According to Readers


1. “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote (1966)

True crime fiction and stories that are “based on true events” may have been popularized, in part, by this seminal classic from Truman Capote. One of the earliest examples of true crime fiction, “In Cold Blood” is macabre and well-written. The Telegraph raves, “Seven years after publishing ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ Capote published this sensational ‘non-fiction novel’ about the senseless and brutal murder of a Kansas farmer, his wife and two of their children. Based on interviews with the appalled community and the killers, the book reinvented reportage.”

“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote (1966)
“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote (1966)

Happy praises, “While the central crime is based on factual events, many of the most critical plot details of ‘In Cold Blood’ are fictionalized. A pioneering novel of the genre, Capote has been universally praised for his ingenious use of a triple narrative structure, which alternates between the perspectives of the victims, murderers, and rural community.”

“A true classic crime drama that singlehandedly invented the nonfiction novel genre, ‘In Cold Blood’ is Truman Capote’s re-creation of the savage murders of the Clutter family of Kansas. The author reconstructs the family’s lives—and the crime, trial, and execution of their murderers—with profound talent and empathy,” exclaims Country Living.

2. “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie (1934)

“Murder on the Orient Express” is top tier writing from mystery master Agatha Christie. Her writing style, coupled with a clever narrative resolution has made this an enduring classic of the crime genre. The Economic Times says, ‘“In Murder on the Orient Express,’ renowned detective Hercule Poirot finds himself on a luxury train that becomes the scene of a gruesome murder. As the train is stuck in a snowdrift, Poirot is tasked with solving the murder mystery before the killer can strike again.”

“Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie (1934)
“Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie (1934)

Shortform describes the premise of this seminal mystery, “Just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train is surprisingly full for the time of the year, but by the morning it is one passenger fewer. An American tycoon lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.”

Happy elaborates, “In my opinion, Agatha Christie is G.O.A.T. of hard-boiled crime fiction. She’s written over 60 detective novels and ranks amongst the most translated authors in the world. The Orient Express was a luxury, long-distance passenger train that followed a route from Istanbul to Paris in the late 1800s, and ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ details, well, a murder on the Orient Express.”

3. “The Dry” by Jane Harper (2016)

This crime read takes place during a brutal drought in Australia. Harper’s narrative voice offers a thrilling look into murder through the lens of an investigator. Dead Good comments, “Three members of the same family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks the husband is guilty and committed suicide after killing his wife and six-year-old son. But when policeman Aaron Falk returns to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend and is drawn into the investigation, he is quickly forced to question the truth behind the killings.”

“The Dry” by Jane Harper (2016)
“The Dry” by Jane Harper (2016)

Shortform adds, “A small town hides big secrets in this atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery by award-winning author Jane Harper. In the grip of the worst drought in a century, the farming community of Kiewarra is facing life and death choices daily when three members of a local family are found brutally slain.”

Country Living details, “When Federal Agent Aaron Falk’s childhood friend Luke dies, Aaron returns to his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral. Twenty years ago, when Aaron was accused of murder, Luke was his steadfast alibi. Now Luke is dead, and more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth all those years ago.”

4. “The Daughter of Time” by Josephine Tey (1951)

This novel is one of the earliest examples of historic true crime. It explores death and murder in the court of King Richard III. Pan Macmillan explains, “‘The Daughter of Time’ has an unusual premise for a crime novel: investigating the role Richard III played in the death of his own nephews. Inspector Alan Grant is laid up in hospital with a spinal injury and he’s bored. Renowned for his ability to read a face, he passes the time looking at old portraits and one which particularly grabs his attention is of Richard III.”

“The Daughter of Time” by Josephine Tey (1951)
“The Daughter of Time” by Josephine Tey (1951)

Book Bub offers, “Richard III reigned for only two years, and for centuries he was vilified as the hunch-backed wicked uncle, murderer of the princes in the Tower. Josephine Tey’s novel ‘The Daughter of Time’ is an investigation into the real facts behind the last Plantagenet king’s reign, and an attempt to right what many believe to be the terrible injustice done to him by the Tudor dynasty.”

Crime Reads states, “In ‘The Daughter of Time,’ the underappreciated Josephine Tey… stages an entire novel within the confines of a hospital room, suspense and intrigue intact, and she pumps the coldest of cold cases (think fifteen-century cold!) full of urgency. As a bonus, ‘The Daughter of Time’ — the title refers to a proverb about truth—offers a wholly credible solution to one of history’s most enduringly baffling mysteries.”

5. “Mystic River” by Dennis Lehane (2001)

“Mystic River” examines the complex web of interconnected lives against a murder. As the narrative unfolds, readers learn more about these richly detailed characters. Greg Hickey claims, “A homicide detective investigates the murder of the daughter of his childhood friend-turned-criminal as a third friend emerges as a suspect in this winner of the 2002 Independent Mystery Booksellers Association Dilys Award and the 2002 Massachusetts Book Award.”

“Mystic River” by Dennis Lehane (2001)
“Mystic River” by Dennis Lehane (2001)

Country Living relates, “‘Mystic River’ is Dennis Lehane’s incredible novel about Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle, three young friends who are confronted by a stranger in the street one day. One of the boys got into the stranger’s car, while the [other] two did not. The result changes their lives forever.”

Crime Reads reviews, “Mystic River remains my favorite because of the kaleidoscope of voices, the deep dive into character, and the deft weaving of timelines and plots into one perfect tapestry. I’m not sure how many times I’ve reread the book or picked it up and started reading at a random page, but whenever I do, I’m inspired by the language, the voice, and the atmosphere of this masterwork.”

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