The mystery and crime genres are among the most popular types of media available. Readers love a masterfully written story that lays out facts, motives, and case details for murder and other crimes. Our list of the top five best mystery books centers on crimes as well as the clever investigators who solve them. These books not only provide thrilling and suspenseful plots but also offer readers a chance to engage in their own detective work as they try to piece together the clues. From classic whodunits to psychological thrillers, these stories will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.
Whether or not it’s true that “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” as Leo Tolstoy famously wrote, other people’s domestic misery seems to be a constant source of interest. What lies behind the public’s fascination with familial trauma, especially when it turns deadly? And what occluded anxieties or longings do people confront or exorcise as they consume these stories of mayhem and murder? The interest in true-crime podcasts, series, and documentaries is nothing new. The public appetite for easily accessible portraits of real-life murders stretches back to the early days of print, when they were repackaged and sold as ballads, domestic tragedies, and lurid penny pamphlets. Perhaps the ongoing fascination with dysfunctional, broken homes is based in schadenfreude, and the comforting realization that as troubled as our own families may be, we have not taken violent action against them. Or the appeal may lie in the idea that any of us might, in fact, be capable of such things.
Crime stories don’t come with the warning “don’t try this at home,” but maybe they should! One in eight true crime fans believes they could successfully pull off a bank robbery after learning tips from film and television. A survey of 2,000 adults who enjoy the genre reveals that these people watch an average of 20 hours of fictional and real-life lawbreaking TV shows per month. Consequently, three in 10 respondents actually think they could solve a robbery using the knowledge they acquired on their couch! Almost six in 10 (59%) respondents enjoy watching the crime genre as a form of escapism from everyday life, and 39 percent appreciate watching people try to outsmart each other. Moreover, 71 percent think some true crime events are wilder and more unbelievable than fictional stories.
This research suggests that the popularity of crime shows is not only driven by entertainment but also by a fascination with real-life criminal events. Crime and mystery are highly-lauded genres within narrative storytelling. We turned to our sources to rank the top five best mystery novels of all time. Let us know your favorite mysteries in the comments below!
The List: Best Mystery Books, According to Readers
The wildly imaginative Agatha Christie is the undisputed master of the mystery genre and could easily dominate this list with her books alone. “Murder on the Orient Express” is considered by our sources to be one of her top-tier works. Esquire raves, “So, why ‘Murder on the Orient Express?’ … It’s a murder mystery, an immortal work of detective fiction, a locked room mystery, a tale of international intrigue, a master class in deductive reasoning, and a great reminder of why Christie was, is, and forever will be the Queen of Crime.”
Books of Brilliance praises, “Mystery novels have been around for hundreds of years. Something about them makes them hard to put down. Our love for the genre had led to many amazing novels as well as authors. … No mystery list is complete without Agatha Christie. She has helped push the genre forward and you can see her influence on many modern novels.”
Parade exclaims, “Of course, the Queen of Crime would top the list. (Not that it’s in any particular order!) But which Christie to choose? On Goodreads, the various rankings of best mystery books feature more of her titles than the body of a gangster-turned-rat has bullet holes… we chose Hercule Poirot’s ‘Murder On the Orient Express.’ The solution to the crime is so elegant, so simple and so audacious we imagine every other mystery writer alive that read it smacked their foreheads and said, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?'”
Here we have what is often considered the greatest of the many Sherlock Holmes stories. A detective so famous that he is still a household name, Holmes has been played by no fewer than 75 leading actors. Book Riot says, “Like Agatha Christie, a round-up of the best mystery novels of all time would be incomplete without mentioning Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work. After all, Sherlock Holmes is one of the most recognizable fictional detectives in pop culture. This novel follows Holmes and his faithful chronicler Dr. John Watson as they investigate the apparition of a monstrous dog.”
“Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective Sherlock Holmes and his partner, Dr. Watson, are two of the best-known characters in mystery fiction. In this classic tale, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles,’ the brilliant duo investigates the legend of a supernatural beast. Does the hound exist — and could it have been trained to kill,” describes Book Bub.
Read This Twice emphatically elaborates, “Enter the eerie moors of Devon where a supernatural creature haunts the Baskerville family. When Sir Charles Baskerville dies suddenly, Dr. Mortimer believes it to be the work of a vicious hound with blazing eyes and jaws. To protect Charles’ heir, Sir Henry, from the same fate, Sherlock Holmes is called upon to investigate the Baskerville curse, a legacy of death and mayhem that has plagued the family for centuries. Will Holmes be able to uncover the truth before it’s too late?”
Pulp noir at its absolute best can be found in the pages of “The Maltese Falcon.” The legendary gumshoe Sam Spade is at the center of this famous mystery. Pro Writing Aid comments, “Sam Spade takes a job for Miss Wonderley to find her sister, who has eloped, but finds himself embroiled in a hunt for the jewel-encrusted Maltese Falcon. Both hunter and hunted, Spade must track down this treasure that is worth killing for before the Fat Man finds him.”
“Dashiell Hammett is considered the father of the hard-boiled detective genre. In this type of mystery, there’s a no-nonsense, tough-guy detective solving crimes and/or mysteries. And these types of books usually rely more on dialogue and less on everything else, such as long-winded descriptions to move the plot along,” adds Upjourney.
Nerd Munch? details, “Sam Spade thinks he has been hired to track down Miss Wonderley’s sister, who has recently eloped with a man that Mrs. Wonderley does not approve of, a fairly straight forward job. But when Spade’s partner, Miles Archer, is shot while on the job, a series of new mysteries begin to reveal themselves.”
“The Big Sleep” is a euphemism for death and stars famous Private Dick Philip Marlowe. This book captures the appeal of the mystery noir subgenre. Discovery explains, “Raymond Chandler’s… ‘The Big Sleep’ is no ordinary story: private eye Philip Marlowe gets hired to investigate the blackmailing of Carmen Sternwood, the second daughter of a wealthy general. The further he digs into this messy business, the more complicated the story gets, as Carmen continues to be blackmailed by others in a web of unexpected relations between the characters.”
“In ‘The Big Sleep,’ a dying rich man hires Marlowe to take care of a blackmailer who’s messing with one of his two problematic daughters. The case seems simple, but Marlowe soon finds himself involved in kidnapping, seduction, and murder as he tries to get the job done,” says Esquire.
Parade states, “It doesn’t get any bigger than ‘The Big Sleep,’ the detective novel Time magazine named one of the 100 best novels of all time… It doesn’t shy away from the seedier aspects of the erotica and orgies trade or the then-illegal homosexuality of a key character. You’ll read the book and say, ahhh! Chandler was a master of atmosphere and character.”
“Devil in a Blue Dress” is a crime story that introduces readers to famous detective Easy Rawlins. This classic was also adapted into a major motion picture starring Denzel Washington in the lead role. Esquire claims, “Few novels have been as frequently listed or celebrated as widely as Mosley’s ‘Devil in a Blue Dress,’ the first and perhaps the most well-known novel in Mosley’s bestselling ‘Easy Rawlins’ mystery series. Set in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, Devil in a Blue Dress introduces readers to Easy Rawlins, a recently unemployed Black war veteran who’s offered good money to locate Miss Daphne Monet, a beautiful blonde known to frequent Black jazz clubs.”
Parade writes, “No series is greater than the ‘Easy Rawlins’ books, launched in 1990 about an African American private investigator and WWII vet. The series has it all: great mysteries, a great and complex hero and—as the books unfold and document decades in L.A.—a great history of life in America.”
“This novel is the first in the ‘Easy Rawlins’ hardboiled detective series… It’s a thought-provoking mystery that examines racial and social issues in the United States. In 2016, Walter Mosley was named Grand Master at the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Awards to recognize his lifelong achievements within the mystery genre,” reviews Book Riot.
You might also be interested in:
- Books of Brilliance
- Book Riot
- Book Bub
- Read This Twice
- Pro Writing Aid
- Nerd Munch?
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.