This article lists some of the best mystery novels of all time, from detective stories to spy novels, Agatha Christie to Stieg Larsson, and chilling thrillers to frightening murder mystery novels. We have included some classics and 21st-century novels with a quote from each book to give you a little taste of these best mystery novels.
So, if you love a good mystery novel, check out our list for your next read. Bear in mind that the following list is by no means a list of the only mystery novels worth reading—that list is incredibly long and depends on the reader’s taste.
11 Best Mystery Novels
The books below are not listed in order of quality or success. Each to their own, your taste in mystery novels might make you want to order the list differently.
1. Murder on The Orient Express by Agatha Christie
No list of mystery novels would be complete without at least one entry from Agatha Christie. First published in 1934, Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is one of the most popular mystery novels ever published, and for good reason. The story is so famous that it has been adapted for the big screen four times.
In the novel, detective Hercules Poirot finds himself in a race against time on the famous Orient Express after heavy snowfall stops the train in its tracks. One passenger, a famous but vile tycoon, lies dead, stabbed a dozen times in his compartment with the door locked from the inside.
‘The impossible could not have happened; therefore, the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.’
2. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
The second best mystery on this list is another one from Agatha Christie. ‘And Then There Were None’ sets a high standard for crime fiction and murder mystery novels. Anyone who loves a good mystery book will enjoy reading it. It is clever, well-written, and highly engaging.
Ten strangers are called to visit an island, each for various reasons in the story. Some for vanity, some for money, and some who believe they are needed for work. Each guest arrives on the island and awaits the host, who is not around.
Following the death of one guest, the rest of the islanders become suspicious of each other and wary of their own lives. What ensues is an exciting, surprising, and hard-to-put-down story that will leave a lasting memory. And Then There Were None was and is a fascinating exploration of crime, guilt, and justice that keeps you turning the page for more.
“There was something magical about an island—the mere word suggested fantasy. You lost touch with the world—an island was a world of its own. A world, perhaps, from which you might never return.”
3. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hound of the Baskervilles is a favorite among mystery book lovers. In this classic tale, the infamous Sherlock Holmes returns, presumed dead from a previous Conan Doyle novel, with Dr. Watson to investigate the sudden death of Sir Charles Baskerville, heir to a large fortune and owner of a large but remote estate in the English moors.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles is considered one of the greatest mystery books ever written. Unlike other mystery novels of the time, there is a heavy focus on the story’s setting and eerie landscape, rather than a sole focus on the heroic deductive skills of the protagonist.
“He said that there were no traces on the ground around the body. He did not observe any, but I did – some little distance off, but fresh and clear.”
“A man’s or a woman’s?”
Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered: “Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”
4. The Deep Blue Good-by, by John McDonald
Renowned crime fiction author John McDonald’s The Deep Blue Good-by is the first of a 21 book series following the work of tough, rough, clever, and self-described beach bum detective Travis McGee. McGee is charming, handsome, and makes his living recovering lost or stolen wealth, as long as he gets half in return for his diligent detective work.
In Deep Blue Good-by, McGee leaves his hiatus. He only works when he needs money, and now he is taking a rest in his boathouse to pick up the scent of a young man who has been sexually and emotionally harassing and abusing multiple women. McGee’s attempts to track down the young abuser, a military man by the name of Junior Allen, become not only an attempt to help the young women but to track a lost treasure that Allen has been deeply involved in hiding.
“All the little gods of irony must whoop and weep and roll on the floors of Olympus when they tune in on the night thoughts of a truly fatuous male.”
5. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is at once gripping, disturbing, and intriguing. Flynn made a huge impact in the mystery-thriller genre in 2006 with her debut novel ‘Sharp Objects’ and did not disappoint fans in 2012 upon her return with Gone Girl. The book won several awards and was adapted for the screen in a movie with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.
Gone Girl follows the sudden disappearance of Amy Dunne on her fifth wedding anniversary. Her husband Nick calls the police, but his behavior is strange and suspicious, and he attracts a lot of media attention. The book is written as two narratives: Nick and Amy. Nick’s narrative takes place in the present under the consistent media coverage of Amy’s disappearance. Amy’s narrative is read as past diary entrances, from which we discover Amy’s secret resentment toward Nick.
“Just as Amy took the credit for making me my best self, I had to take the blame for bringing the madness to bloom in May. There were a million men who would have loved, honored, and obeyed Amy and considered themselves lucky to do so. Confident, self-assured, real men who wouldn’t have forced her to pretend to be anything but her own perfect, rigid, demanding, brilliant, creative, fascinating, rapacious, megalomaniac self.”
6. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is a page-turning mystery thriller that has sold over 80 million copies worldwide despite being banned in several countries for its explicit and blasphemous nature.
In The Da Vinci Code, Brown invites us to follow the story of a professor and symbologist, Robert Langdon, and a master cryptologist, Sophie Neveu. It all started after a murder happened in the Louvre, Paris, leading to revelations and more mystery, hidden messages in the work of Leonardo Da Vinci, and millennia-old secrets.
“Coincidence was a concept he did not entirely trust. As someone who had spent his life exploring the hidden interconnectivity of disparate emblems and ideologies, Langdon viewed the world as a web of profoundly intertwined histories and events. The connections may be invisible, he often preached to his symbology classes at Harvard, but they are always there, buried just beneath the surface.”
7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first of a three-part book series—the Millennium trilogy. The trilogy follows investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Blomkvist is hired to investigate the disappearance and potential murder of Harriet Vanger, who vanished in 1966, 40 years before the events of the book take place. The man who hires Blomkvist is Harriet’s aged uncle and industrial tycoon Henrik Vanger.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a highly enjoyable read. It is exciting, intelligent, and filled with rich characters that leave an impact long after you finish the book.
“Her absence had felt like torture–almost a form of personal punishment. He had nobody to discuss his feelings with, and for the first time, he realized with appalling clarity what a destructive hold she had over him.”
8. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is a gripping and chilling nonfiction, true crime novel based on the quadruple murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, who lost their lives in 1959. Capote’s book is based on real-life events, but it is still filled with mystery and unexpected turns that leave your eyes wide open and holding your breath.
“Once a thing is set to happen, all you can do is hope it won’t. Or will-depending. As long as you live, there’s always something waiting, and even if it’s bad, and you know it’s bad, what can you do? You can’t stop living.”
9. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
When Nick Smith, owner of a roadside diner, hires drifter Frank Chambers to work for him, Chambers and Nick’s wife, Cora, fall for each other. Their passionate affair leads them into a devious plan, but not without consequences. Murder attempts, a keen detective, and solutions that only create more problems make this book a classic mystery genre.
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain is sexy, violent, and was even banned in Boston when it was first published for its explicit language.
“I ripped all her clothes off. She twisted and turned, slow, so they would slip out from under her. Then she closed her eyes and lay back on the pillow. Her hair was falling over her shoulders in snaky curls. Her eyes were all black, and her breasts weren’t drawn up and pointing up at me, but soft and spread out in two big pink splotches. She looked like the great-grandmother of every whore in the world. The devil got his money’s worth that night.”
10. In The Woods by Tana French
In the Woods is the first novel by American-Irish writer and actress Tana French. Set in a small town near Dublin in 80’s Ireland, French’s mystery crime novel follows two detectives: Rob and Cassie, as they investigate the murder of a 12-year-old girl after her body was found in the woods.
The case takes on extra meaning for Rob, who made a bloody escape from the same woods twenty years earlier, being the only one of three children who entered the woods that day to come back out. French’s In the Woods has been awarded four major mystery prizes, including the Barry Awards and the Edgar Awards. It is the first of a 6-part series called Dublin Murder Squad, referring to the police detective team who appear in the first book.
“I had learned early to assume something dark and lethal hidden at the heart of anything I loved. When I couldn’t find it, I responded, bewildered and wary, in the only way I knew how: by planting it there myself.”
11. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller told in first-person. Rachel, the proverbial girl on the train, takes the same journey to work and home every day, making the best of her commute by people watching and fantasizing about the lives of her subjects.
She becomes incredibly interested in one couple, Megan and Scott, whom Rachel has named Jess and Jason, and follows their lives. This seemingly perfect couple in Rachel’s head turns out to be not-so-perfect when Rachel sees Megan with another man. Soon Rachel learns of Megan’s disappearance and becomes deeply involved with the mystery surrounding it, a mystery that no news outlets want to cover.
The Girl on the Train is a skilled example of character study and development and engages the reader in a suspenseful journey that makes the book eerie and unforgettable.
“There’s nothing so painful, so corrosive, as suspicion.”
The best mystery writers can take a complex plot, whether in the form of short stories or full-length detective novels, and keep the reader engaged all the way through. If you are an avid mystery reader, then you will already understand how a compelling and engaging piece of work can leave you hungry for more, even when you have been reading for hours.