The mystery genre is one that sets you a challenge, it doesn’t allow you to be a passive reader. The best mystery books put you in the position of detective and ask you to try and solve this mystery before you turn that final page. Whether that be solving a crime or investigating something paranormal – you best buckle yourself in for the best mystery books ever penned. As a genre that has been around for over 200 years, it has a stunning back catalogue of classics that have paved the way for the genre to flourish in recent years. Given its illustrious history, I have decided to build a reading list of the best mystery books of all time.  Whilst I enjoy a mystery book as much as the next wannabe-detective, I thought it best to assemble an expert panel and ask them what they believe to be the best mystery books they’ve ever read. The result is a wonderful list of head-scratching mysteries that together act an incredible introduction to the mystery genre. Before we discover the best mystery books of all time, we must first meet that panel of experts…

Francesca dorricottFrancesca Dorricott

Francesca Dorricott is an author who has a degree in American Literature with Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, and an MA in Creativie Writing specialising in crime fiction at City University of London. Her debut novel is entitled After the Eclipse and is a stunning psychological thriller that sets you on a mission of solving the case of a young girl who was abducted during the darkness of a solar eclipse.

Charles ToddCharles Todd (one half of pen name Charles Todd)

Charles Todd is one half of the popular author duo ‘Charles Todd’, comprised of Charles and his Mother, Caroline. Growing up in a family of storytellers, Charles has learned the rich history of Britain, including King Arthur, William Wallace and other heroes. The most recent book from Charles Todd is The Black Ascot, part of a series which has been described as; ‘a masterpiece of imagination’, by bestselling author Lee Child.

Caroline ToddCaroline Todd (the other half of pen name Charles Todd)

Caroline Todd is the other half of the Charles Todd writing duo. Caroline has always been an avid reader, with a particular penchant for poetry that possesses a narrative.  She has a background in international affairs which backs up her interest in world events. One of the more recent books from the Charles Todd duo is A Forgotten Place, which is an atmospheric mystery set on a remote Welsh headland.

crystal kingCrystal King

Crystal King is the author of The Chef’s Secret and Feast of Sorrow, which was long-listed for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language, and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in writing and creativity at several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University, as well as at GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US.

Serena KentSerena Kent

Serena Kent is the nom de plume of Deborah Lawrenson and her husband Robert Rees. They met at Cambridge University and pursued completely different careers, she in journalism and fiction; he in banking and music. Deborah has previously published eight novels, with the most recent being Death in Provence, which has been described ‘a gorgeous mystery read to escape with this summer’.

Julia NobelJulia Nobel

Julia Nobel is a middle-grade author from Victoria, Canada. Her childhood obsession with The Babysitters Club turned into a lifelong passion for reading and writing children’s literature. She offers writing masterclasses and courses for writers in all genres and was a Pitch Wars Mentor in 2017. Her debut middle grade novel, The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane, was being published by Sourcebooks Jaberwocky in Spring 2019.

Now, let’s discover some of the best mystery books ever…

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers

Serena Kent:

From the court proceedings that open the novel, this story goes against the grain of expectations. Mystery author Harriet Vane is on trial for the murder by arsenic of her former lover, Philip Boyes. Aristocrat and amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey finds himself fascinated, then romantically drawn to her and sets about finding the real murderer. The novel contains some wonderful comic moments from Wimsey’s “job agency” for cunning and resourceful spinsters. Sayers always provides a fully-rounded world with complex characters and clever, allusive prose that assumes the reader’s intelligence.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Crystal King:

This Gothic mystery is, in my opinion, one of the most masterful examples of suspense. It’s a strange book, with almost implausible situations and characters, and yet, you can’t put it down.
Every twist and turn of this novel leaves you on the edge of your seat. It’s part of the reason why, 82 years later, it’s still just as impactful as it was when first published.

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

Francesca Dorricott:

I grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie and this Marple novel is my absolute favourite. There’s something about Christie’s legendary plotting that just gets me every time! In many ways the concept is ‘classic’ – a body found in the library of a wealthy couple, and Marple is on the case. While the library is completely conventional, the mystery around the body is anything but. It’s really one of those novels you have to devour in one sitting.

my cousin Rachel - best mystery booksMy Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Caroline Todd:

Very few writers can manage to leave the reader uncertain of the outcome at the end, and yet still feel that the story they’ve just read is completely satisfying. The character of Rachel is splendidly crafted. She’s an enigma, not so much a beauty as a woman of sophistication beyond the experience of her late husband’s provincial Cornish cousin. He’s fascinated and yet repelled, drawn to her and at the same time unwilling to let go his earlier suspicions of her, and in the end, we don’t know what he did, what she knew, and whether she was willing to test his love even to the death. At the climax, the reader is as stunned as the only witness and as uncertain of who the murderer in the story really is. It’s like real life—complex and subtle and made possible only by deft storytelling.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Julia Nobel:

Published in 1926, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is not only one of the most well-crafted mysteries, it is also one of the most influential. Christie’s use of character to influence our perception of the story is masterful and was quite controversial at the time.

It is a crime drama that shocks us not with grisly content, but with narrative technique, establishing Christie as one of the best writers of her generation.

A Scandal in Bohemia by Arthur Conan Doyle

Charles Todd:

Sherlock Holmes always stands out as the sleuth who must out think his quarry. Conan Doyle took this to a whole new level in Scandal in Bohemia (1891), Irene Adler was the one woman who stood out in the series as the woman Sherlock respected and admired.
This short story is an excellent example of a detective who thinks beyond the obvious and must adjust his process.

The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax by Dorothy Gillman

Julia Nobel:

The premise of an elderly widow applying to become a CIA agent was what drew me to this series, but it wasn’t what kept me reading. Emily Pollifax is exactly the kind of unlikely heroine we want to cheer for: resourceful, resilient, and unflappable.

Her naivete is countered with a startling sense of how to read situations and people, making her both delightful and surprising at every turn.

before the fact - best mystery booksBefore the Fact by Frances Iles

Serena Kent:

A dark, tense tale of weakness and psychopathy set in the supposedly safe upper-middle-class haven of tennis parties and cream teas in Dorset between the wars. Lina McLaidlaw, bright enough but downtrodden by her father, cannot believe her luck when 27-year-old playboy Johnnie Aysgarth falls for her. Ignoring all warnings, she marries him. Inexorably, Aysgarth is revealed to be a thief, a fraudster and a murderer. Again, this is not a traditional detective story, but a psychological suspense novel by the author of the equally twisty Malice Aforethought(1931). A movie adaptation, Suspicion, was directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1941, but without the book’s unsettling ending.

The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver

Charles Todd:

Some may suggest that The Bone Collector (1999) is a horror/thriller. Jeffery Deaver gives an excellent example of the Holmes approach to solving a mystery via the logic of the protagonist.
Lincoln Rhyme is physically unable to “go into the field”. With the help of Amelia Sachs as his “eyes and ears” Lincoln resolves a complex series of clues.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Francesca Dorricott:

Many people seem to favour Flynn’s Gone Girl, but in my opinion, the mystery at the heart of her first novel is darker, grittier, and much more satisfying in its resolution. Journalist Camille Preaker heads back to the toxic small town where she grew up to investigate the disappearances of two girls. The liquid Missouri heat becomes a character in its own right and the perfection of Flynn’s writing is matched by the slow, inevitable unfolding of the plot as Camille becomes embroiled once more in the lives of the people around her, and forced to accept her own tragic childhood loss. It really is a book that doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of human nature.

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

Crystal King:

Step back into 1865 and you’ll find Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes translating Dante into English. That alone is powerful enough to make anyone keep reading, but what happens when the writers realize that there is a serial killer on the loose using Dante’s Inferno as inspiration for his murders? Well, of course, these poets must get involved. The story is packed with literary clues and whodunit scenarios to keep any mystery lover guessing.

the day of the jackal - best mystery booksThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

Caroline Todd:

This book is meticulously and skillfully constructed, and just as skilled at concealing that construction from the reader—a plot that completely involves him as the hunt begins for an infamous assassin called The Jackal. The French policeman conducting the search is capable of finding his prey, but the prey is just as capable of eluding him. Still, it’s not just the superbly drawn characters but the plot that keeps the reader on the edge of his seat to the end, investing in both the chase and the possibility that The Jackal will bring off the assassination of Charles De Gaulle.  Even though he knows it didn’t happen. But Forsyth holds you to the very end, breathless to discover the outcome, almost ready, down to the last paragraphs, to accept that The Jackal succeeds. The contest between the two men is lost in the suspense, and at the same time is that suspense. The Jackal’s planning, brilliantly conceived, is relentless, single-minded, and yet how the killing is to be done is concealed until the time to act.  Anyone who wishes to understand the difference between plot and plotting will find their answers here.

The Other Woman by Hank Phillipi Ryan

Crystal King:

This novel won the Mary Higgins Clark Award in 2013 and was nominated for nearly every other mystery award available. The book introduces us to Jane Ryland, an investigative journalist who ends up covering a story deep in the midst of a messy senatorial campaign that is surrounded by betrayal and murder. There are so many plot twists and red herrings to this book that your head will spin, and then you’ll be grateful to learn that this is only the first Jane Ryland book in the series.

Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton

Serena Kent:

Not the best mystery ever written in terms of plot and style, but included for its compelling quality and huge influence in introducing millions of children to mystery novels with a rattling good story to keep them turning the pages. This was the first of a long series featuring the adventurous Famous Five: Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog, who had enviable freedom to roam the countryside and camp and rowboats, righting wrongs and solving puzzles along the way. The original (there are “updated” versions) captures a time and a vivid sense of daring as the Five find a shipwreck off Kirrin Island and follow a trail to its lost treasure, looking for clues on the island with its abandoned ruin. But they’re not alone…

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Charles Todd:

Another character who uses intellect and logic is Hercule Poirot, Murder on the Orient Express (1934) remains the best-closed room mystery. Hercule again uses his “little gray cells” along with his solution presentation before the entire cast to arrive ant the only solution. I am always amazed by the true puzzle and the chase between the reader and the writer (Agatha Christie). Hercule always gets to the answers before I do but, it is always a challenge I thoroughly enjoy.

The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

Julia Nobel:

It might be surprising to include a children’s book on a list of top mysteries, but The Name of This Book is Secret fits the bill. Written in the second person, this book is one of the most creative I’ve encountered, centering around a mysterious box containing a Symphony of Smells that allows people to communicate through scent. Bosch’s choice to speak directly to the reader is risky, but he does it in a way that captivates and weaves the reader into the story.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Francesca Dorricott:

This novel blew my mind when I first read it. On the surface it reads like a lot of novels in the psychological thriller genre, telling the story of the cracks forming in a marriage, but the character excavation is ruthlessly vivid, and the ending is something truly spectacular to behold. I’m normally great at spotting twists but this is one I did not see coming! I wasn’t surprised by the choice of the hashtag #WTFthatending when it came to the online promotion following publication.

The King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett

Caroline Todd:

Research is king here. The book is enriched by details that bring to real-life a period in English history most people know very little about. And the drawing of the characters is just as detailed, just as accessible to our imagination so that the reader finds himself engaged in the events of a thriller as vivid as today’s best. The story is about who might have been the real Macbeth, but he’s so far from Shakespeare’s vision of him that he takes on a life of his own and makes you believe in him and his world and his fate. Dunnett’s two historical series, Lymond and Niccolo, are equally well researched, but not everyone is up to multi-volume series. This one showcases her great skill at making formidable research fascinating, never boring.

What do you think are the best mystery books of all time? Let us know which books you’d nominate as the best mystery books, on Facebook and Twitter. If you enjoyed this, don’t miss our recent reading list, The Best Fantasy Books of All Time.