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13 Best Mystery Books of All Time

By Andrew Peloquin  |  Updated February 15, 2024

13 Best Mystery Books of All Time

Ahh, mystery books. Bloody and perplexing crimes, clever detectives, and plot twists that’ll break your neck.

There’s really nothing that can compare!

Even though I’ve been a die-hard fantasy and science-fiction reader (and author) for 20+ years, my first and oldest love will forever be mystery books.

From the age of eight when I was gifted the Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes (the book that started my lifelong journey to loving fiction), mysteries have been an absolute joy, a pleasure that I’ll go back to time and again. Sometimes the classics, sometimes the latest-and-greatest, but always an enjoyable read guaranteed.


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
  • My list is guaranteed to be incomplete. I could spend my entire life reading and never have enough time to complete every mystery on the planet. With so many new books being released on a daily basis, it’s impossible to keep up. So if a book you loved didn’t make it onto this list and you believe it deserves to, please accept my apologies.
  • “Best” is very much a matter of taste. A book I love may not work for you, while a book you think is spectacular may only be “meh” for me. Art is so subjective. Keep that in mind when reading over my list below.
  • The list won’t stop changing. It’s likely that every year this list will be updated because of how many spectacular new books are published. But that’s the great thing: every time we update it, you can discover a new murder mystery to fall in love with!

Below, I’ve put together a list of what I consider to be the “Best Mystery Books of All Time”. With these books, you might just find the love of mysteries that sparked my passion for reading and writing, and have a bloody good time escaping into a twisty, turny, jaw-dropping great story.




The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle



This was the book to start it all off for me, so it will always hold the “best” spot in my heart.

There was something wonderful and fantastical about Sherlock Holmes, the enigmatic, brooding, seemingly superhumanly intelligent detective of 221B Baker Street. Every story was a puzzle that I tried my hardest to solve, but they were just so complicated—and often illogical to my fledgling mind—that I never could figure it out.

Right up until the end, when he pulled some truly fascinating and macabre discovery out of his hat and unmasked the murderer in truly spectacular ways.

No detective will ever quite compare with Sherlock Holmes for me, and I still keep the complete volume with all of his stories sitting on my bookshelf to this day.

Published: 1892






Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie



Many will argue that Murder on the Orient Express is the pinnacle of Agatha Christie’s works, but for me, it will always be Death on the Nile.

There was something so colorful and exotic about the setting—a steamboat chugging down the Nile—and so memorable about the cast of characters Monsieur Poirot must interrogate and investigate.

I’d argue that Death on the Nile also has some of Agatha Christie’s most memorable quotes, including the one that has influenced detective novels and mystery fiction as a whole every since: “They conceive a certain theory, and everything has to fit into that theory. If one little fact will not fit it, they throw it aside. But it is always the facts that will not fit in that are significant.”

Published: 1937






Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton



Where Sherlock Holmes was energetic and enigmatic and Hercules Poirot was charm and cunning, Father Brown played a simple, humble parish priest who happened to be very good at solving murder mysteries.

No detective in fiction is more lovable than the quirky, genuine, kind Father Brown, but few can match his sharp wits, either. His stories are far less exotic and colorful than Sherlock Holmes tales, but it’s in their simplicity and “cozy” flavor that they do what G.K. Chesterton did best: showcasing the humanity behind the crimes.

Published: 1910-1936






The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John LeCarre



The Spy Who Came In From the Cold is John LeCarre’s third novel, but the first to really put him on the map. This one is set in the West Berlin vs. East Berlin divide, at a time when the Cold War was reaching its pinnacle. Clever, insightful, and filled with plot twists that even a seasoned mystery reader will never see coming, it’s a true masterpiece of the genre.

And what makes his works truly fascinating is that much of it is derived from his real-life experience in the British Intelligence service.

Published: 1963






The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco



Centuries before Father Brown, there was Brother William de Baskerville. Set in an Italian abbey in the 1300s, it’s a truly fascinating—and sometimes macabre—look into religion, society, and culture of a long-bygones era, a beautifully rendered period piece that is absolutely engaging from start to finish despite its slower pace.

There is something wonderful about the priest’s endless curiosity, dry humor, and particularly his fondness for saying, “The most interesting things happen at night.”

Published: 1980






In Cold Blood by Truman Capote



In Cold Blood is the only true-crime book on this list, but it stands up to all the other works of fiction because of the bizarre nature of the crime, as well as the detailed, insightful writing that slowly teases out the truth from the lies.

The suspense of this novel will leave you breathless, and you’ll find yourself shaking your head as more and more strange revelations come to light. It’s a truly transcendent work of fiction that rightfully makes Truman Capote a master of the genre.

Published: 1959






The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet



Sam Spade begins the story much like every other Private Detective in fiction, but quickly takes on a life of his own and becomes a character apart.

A bit cockier, cooler, and more “manly” than a lot of the detectives before him, he is very much a “guy’s guy” that you can’t help but love. Plus, the fact that he was brought to life by Humphrey Bogart in the 1941 film noir by the same name just makes him all the more enjoyable to read and watch on screen.

Published: 1929






The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson



The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a riveting, if sometimes disturbing, look into the human psyche—particularly the psyche of a woman who has been battered and abused to the point that she is willing to fight back.

It’s a departure from many of the classic mystery novels, but that both sets it apart and above many of its contemporaries. Though not an easy or pleasant read, it’s one well worth adding to your reading list for the year.

Published: 2005






The Black Echo by Michael Connelly



Ahh, there’s nothing quite like a Harry Bosch novel to get your heart pounding and your blood racing.

Bosch is the “maverick detective” you love to read about, the man who is willing to do anything in the name of solving the crime and bringing the culpable to justice. He’s also a man plagued by the horrors of his past and burdened by the gruesome things he witnesses day after day.

The Black Echo, the first of the Bosch novels, is definitely a more “modern” mystery story, but is a true staple of the genre in every sense.

Published: 1992






The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown



The Da Vinci Code plays into everything that we as humans love: ciphers, puzzles, enigmas, riddles, secret societies, conspiracies, and, of course, murder.

Set in Paris, in the spectacular Louvre Museum, it takes you on a wild ride along with Robert Langdom—not a detective, but a symbologist—to unmasking dark secrets that date back hundreds of years and solving a puzzle that has been hidden in plain sight all that time.

For those who love looking for the bizarre and fascinating among the mundane, it’s a book you absolutely have to read.

Published: 2003






Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley



Devil in a Blue Dress introduces us to Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, one of the first African American hardboiled detectives to be published in the mainstream.

Though he starts out as a simple day laborer, his keen insights and tenacious temperament lead him down the path to solving the crime of the missing Daphne Monet. Set in Los Angeles, it’s one of the most unique detective novels on my list—and one of the most enjoyable.

Published: 1990






Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver



In Anatomy of a Murder, there is no real mystery: everyone knows who killed the victim, as well as why he did it. The mystery, then, is will the defendant be punished for his crimes, or can his lawyer find a way to get him off for what he—and many readers—consider a “justified killing”?

This book is slow compared to many of the other mysteries on our list, but don’t let that fool you: the characters are riveting, the legal battle fascinating, and the ending will leave you satisfied yet questioning what you know to be “right and wrong”.

Published: 1958






Sweet Silver Blues (Garrett Files #1) by Glen Cook



My list of mysteries can’t be complete without at least one fantasy book!

The Garrett Files is a detective-noir story set in a fantasy world, where the titular detective (Garrett) teams up with a 500-year old dead man, a half-dark-elf assassin, and, eventually, a parrot, to solve crimes in a world of ogres, fairies, dwarves, vampires, and living, breathing gods.

The humor is sharp and bone-dry, the character a perfect blend of hard-boiled badass and stumbling idiot, and the city of TunFaire is absolutely fascinating. One of the funniest and most engaging mystery fantasy series I’ve read to this day.

Published: 1987





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