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10 Best Murder Mystery Books of All Time

By Andrew Peloquin  |  Updated April 9, 2024

10 Best Murder Mystery Books of All Time

Who doesn’t love a good murder…mystery? (very important that last word!)

Murder mysteries are one of the oldest forms of modern fiction. Since Edgar Allan Poe penned The Murders of Rue Morgue and the “whodunit” genre was born, it has grown to become—and remain for nearly 200 years—one of the most popular genres of fiction.

And let’s be honest: we’re all a little bit addicted to these books. We love burning through the pages to get to the next big twist, the next clue, the next suspect, or, finally, the grand finale where the true killer is revealed.

From Father Brown to Hercule Poirot to Jack Reacher, murder mysteries are a true delight.

  • It’s all about the mystery of the murder. What sets murder mystery apart from thrillers is that the focus isn’t necessarily on the excitement or action, but on the step-by-step process followed to solve the murder. Some may be thrilling and action-packed, but others may be slow or even cozy (yes, cozy murder mysteries do exist). There’s plenty of flavor to choose from, but at the end of the day, it’s all about solving the murder.
  • Too many to count. With mystery being one of the two most popular genres on the planet, it should come as no surprise that there are A LOT of books to read—far too many for one reader to begin to get to them all. There’s a good chance that I missed a book you believe deserves to be on this list because I simply haven’t yet had time to read it!
  • Taste is subjective. We don’t all love the same books. I may love a book you hate and hate a book you love. But that’s absolutely okay. You may not jive with all the books I’ve listed below, but I’m guessing one or two on this list will end up on your shelf for decades.

Murder mysteries (Sherlock Holmes, specifically) were actually some of the first books I ever read, and set me down my path to becoming a sci-fi and fantasy author. Thanks to them, every story I tell is infused with some level of mystery along with the adventure, and there’s nothing I love more than peeling back the layers to unmask a murderer, traitor, thief, or enemy.

Below, I’ve put together a list of what I consider to be the best murder mystery books. Some are a staple of the genre, others game-changing in their creativity, and others just a whole lot of fun.

Dive into this list and let’s get you loaded up with a few more amazing, murderous mysteries to enjoy.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

It’s nearly impossible to pick just one Agatha Christie novel to include on this list because they are all so wonderful. So why And Then There Were None instead of genre staples like Murder on the Nile or Murder on the Orient Express? Simple: it all comes down to the tension.

And Then There Were None plays with darkness and silence and the empty spaces within a grand mansion, weaving a tense, nerve-wracking setting through which the characters must move (fearfully) as they desperately try to figure out why are they are being killed off one by one before they all succumb.

Absent the wit and humor of the great Hercule Poirot, it is a far more tense, nail-biting murder mystery that brings in plenty of thrills and chills.

Published: 1939

The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes by A.C. Doyle

I received this book for my 9th birthday, and to this day it still sits proudly in a place of honor on my bookshelf.

No one does weird, wild, and utterly bewildering mysteries like Arthur Conan Doyle. From A Study in Scarlet to The Valley of Fear to The Hound of the Baskervilles, the murders solved by Watson and Holmes are delightful in their complexity and the sheer impossibility.

There is something truly marvelous about Holmes pulling out some bit of esoteric knowledge (like he does in Dancing Men) to solve a crime or murder or mystery.

And with the stalwart Watson as narrator, you get to be blown away right alongside him as Holmes does something amazing and brilliant in every new story.

Published: 1892

Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

Father Brown does away with the fast-paced, frenetic, high-action thrills of other murder mysteries, and instead takes you along small, quiet journeys with the clever and friendly British vicar, Father Brown.

The mysteries are as bewildering as any Sherlock Holmes riddle, but the stories are much more human, with the focus on the people rather than the bizarreness of the crime.

Father Brown always offers some riveting insights into the nature of the people he’s investigating and there’s a real sense of humanity baked into each book.

You’ll love the cozy feel of these murder mysteries as much as the fascinating ways by which they are solved using “imaginative empathy” to put himself into the shoes of the killers and understand the emotions that drove the actions.

Published: 1910

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

For those who want a story that deals with the mystery of why friends become killers, The Secret History is the book for you.

It follows a graduate of Hampden College (a place exactly as Gothic as you’d expect) as he attempts to unravel the secrets behind the death of one student of his six-person class.

There is drama aplenty, backbiting and betrayal on full display, and you are drawn along on the journey as the friendship slowly decays—and ultimately ends with murder.

It’s more than just a great story and a fascinating murder mystery; it’s an amazing look at friendship group dynamics and a sobering warning about how your actions can either make or break even the tightest-knit cohort.

Published: 1992

Shutter Island by Dennis Lahane

I fell in love with Shutter Island because of all the hidden codes and slowly doled-out secrets, but stayed for the psychological elements and the truly spectacular ending.

Be warned: it’s not for the faint of heart. Set on Shutter Island, home to the criminally insane, this is a mind-bending, spellbinding descent into madness and the deviousness of the human mind.

The plot is incredibly tight, with no wasted words or scenes, and even things that seem ordinary can quickly become macabre. Brace yourself, because this one’s a wild ride.

Published: 2003

The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher

Believed to be the first detective novel ever published by an African-American author, The Conjure Man Dies is a fascinating glimpse into Black history and culture in the early 1900s.

The product of the Harlem Renaissance, it is a masterpiece of fiction and one truly enthralling murder mystery.

The story follows a “conjure-man” of Harlem, a fortune teller who speaks from the shadows and predicts the future for his clients. Only one client discovers that the conjure-man sitting across from him is actually dead…murdered.

Thus sets off one of the most fascinating murder mysteries of its age, which draws you through the streets, sights, and sounds of Harlem in the 1930s. Get ready for a murder mystery unlike anything else you’ve read.

Published: 1932

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

While Silence of the Lambs may be the best-known of the Hannibal Lecter novels, Red Dragon is arguably the better.

It follows the FBI profiler Will Graham in his search to identify the Tooth Fairy, the serial killer behind a string of gruesome and macabre murders.

But the murder itself is only part of what makes it such a truly spectacular story. For while Will is attempting to unravel the mind of the incredibly psychopathic killer, he consults with a friend and mentor, one Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Though Dr. Lecter’s part in the story is small, you can see the beginnings of Will’s descent into darkness, the way Dr. Lecter subtly manipulates him to embracing his darker urges and nature.

It is a chilling story where psychopathy is on full display, and one that will have you questioning your own morals as you set out to solve the crime alongside Will.

Published: 1981

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

The Devil and the Dark Water is the most bizarre murder mystery I have ever read…and that’s what makes me love it.

In the vein of Sherlock Holmes, we—through the eyes of the protagonists—are presented with a murder that is impossible: a cripple speaking from atop a stack of boxes he could not climb, shouting a dire warning though he has no tongue.

Every page draws you deeper into a tangled web of interpersonal drama, but also the grim, often-bloody life aboard a ship. And as the bodies keep dropping, more impossibilities begin to present themselves.

Until the very end, you don’t really know if you’re reading a fantasy novel, historical fiction, science fiction, horror, or something else entirely. An amazing and utterly enthralling story from start to finish.

Published: 2020

The Alienist by Caleb Carr

The Alienist is a fascinating look at some of the early applications of psychological profiling to track killers.

Set in 1896 New York City, it follows crime reporter John Moore and Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, an “alienist”—aka, psychologist. Through the pages of the novel, these two team up to track down the person killing young male prostitutes.

We get to meet JP Morgan, Teddy Roosevelt, and other notables of the time, and we’re offered a fascinating—if dark—glimpse at what New York City was like at the turn of the 20th century.

This book is a wonderful blend of historical fiction, psychological thriller, and murder mystery, one I strongly recommend.

Published: 1994

Sweet Silver Blues by Glen Cook

As a die-hard fantasy reader, I couldn’t let an entire list go by without adding at least one fantasy book!

Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I. series follows a hard-boiled detective (the titular Garrett) in his investigations into crimes in the fantasy city of Tun-Faire, home to everything from deranged pixies to starving gods to ancient beings of evil to a particularly vicious parrot who has made it its life’s mission to torment him.

Garrett P.I. combines the originality of a fantasy setting with the color and marvel of magic, throws in a generous helping of humor, and wraps it all up in a series of mysteries that will have you scratching your head all the way to the grand reveal.

No other murder mystery series I’ve read has ever been so much fun or made me laugh out loud like this one!

Published: 1987

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