Beginner's Guide to Mystery Books

By Andrew Hazard

These mystery novels are favorites of our staff.

  • The Poisoned Chocolates Case

    2010 by Berkeley, Anthony

    It should be impossible for me to name a favorite mystery of all time, but Anthony Berkeley makes it easy. Six amateur detectives challenge each other to solve a case of poisoning using the clues provided to them. The first solution makes great sense until the second solution overturns it, only to be overturned in turn, and so on. Berkeley’s ingenuity dazzles, but also his wit and storytelling verve. --Steven

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  • The Moonstone

    2008 by Collins, Wilkie

    A friend and sometimes rival of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins managed to write a book that’s simultaneously one of the first mystery novels (published in 1868) and one of the best. Collins uses multiple narrators, shifting perspectives, and plenty of melodrama to keep his reader’s attention for hundreds of pages. This is the original English country house mystery. --Steven

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  • Crooked House

    2011 by Christie, Agatha

    A good mystery sometimes makes me want to kick myself for being so obtuse. This mystery made me want to kick its author for being so wickedly clever. Dame Agatha is at her most mischievous here as she finds a shocking way to hide her killer in plain sight. You won’t find Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple in this standalone title, but you won’t miss them either. --Steven

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  • Feel the Bern

    2022 by Shaffer, Andrew

    I probably shouldn't admit this, but I absolutely judged this book by its cover. It made me laugh out loud, so I had a strong feeling that the book's contents wouldn't be too dark or heavy--things I avoid when reading. It is an amusing page-turner with interesting characters and witty dialogue, even for readers who don't especially enjoy politics. --Lorrie

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  • The Conjure-man Dies

    2020 by Fisher, Rudolph

    A murder is committed, the corpse vanishes, and the apparent victim turns out to be very much alive. It's a case for Dr. John Archer, the Harlem Renaissance Sherlock Holmes at the center of this fascinating one-off from 1932. Fisher (who seems to have been as remarkable as his creation) expertly combines suspense, humor, jazz, cutting-edge (of 1932) forensics, gorgeous prose, and an all-African-American cast of characters. --Andrew

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  • As the Wicked Watch

    2021 by Hall, Tamron

    Jordan Manning, a journalist with a background in forensics, sets out to find a missing girl that the police don't seem to care about, and realizes that something very sinister is happening. The author is a veteran Chicago investigative reporter and newscaster, and she really makes the reader feel as if they're riding along and piecing the mystery together with her sleuth. --Michelle

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  • The Decagon House Murders

    2015 by Ayatsuji, Yukito

    The Kyoto University Mystery Club gathers on an island with a murderous reputation, and members promptly start dying. With a plot that harkens back to And Then There Were None and an eccentric amateur sleuth, this suspense-filled puzzle draws inspiration from both the Anglo-American "fair play" mystery and the Japanese honkaku traditions. Does the hiding-in-plain-sight solution top Christie's? You decide! --Andrew

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  • All Her Little Secrets

    2021 by Morris, Wanda M.

    A lawyer finds her boss dead, then must solve his murder to avoid either being blamed for it or killed herself. Meanwhile, she's offered his job. There are unexpected twists, and a great exploration of what it's like to be an African-American woman in a professional setting. Bonus: this isn't one of those mysteries where the inexperienced protagonist suddenly becomes a master detective; she makes some mistakes. --Michelle

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  • Green for Danger

    2023 by Brand, Christianna

    A Golden Age locked-room mystery where the room in question is a rural English hospital during World War II and the victim died on the operating table. Featuring a delightfully eccentric Scotland Yard detective and intriguing period detail, this book was adapted into an equally wonderful 1946 British film starring a pre-Scrooge Alistair Sim. --Annabelle

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  • The 7-1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

    2018 by Turton, Stuart

    This book felt like a game. It was something that I as a reader could engage with. I was invested not just in the story but in solving the mystery myself. Every little detail has been thought through, and that amount of world-building allows for deeper and more intricate mysteries. --Grace.

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  • The Maltese Falcon

    2010 by Hammett, Dashiell

    This 1930 novel (and the iconic 1941 movie) did a lot to make hardboiled fiction respectable. Sam Spade, Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Casper Gutman, and the Black Bird everyone's after have become archetypes, recognizable even to those unfamiliar with the book or movie. Undeniably dated in some ways, it still merits a (re)read--just don't be surprised if Effie Perine is your favorite character. --Andrew

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  • Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone

    2023 by Stevenson, Benjamin

    Mystery gets meta in this playful breakout novel from an Australian comedian. The book’s narrator is the author of writing guides on Golden Age-style mysteries, so he reflects a great deal on their characteristics even as he gets caught up in just such a mystery himself. The result is a highly enjoyable introduction to the fair-play school of mystery writing. --Steven

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  • Lavender House

    2022 by Rosen, Lev AC

    Life as Evander "Andy" Mills has known it ends when he's caught in a raid on a gay bar in 1952 San Francisco. Thrown off the police force, his only way forward is a private investigation among people he's just starting to acknowledge as his peers. Rosen has the tropes of "classic" hardboiled writing down, but he reshapes them to explore a side of mid-20th Century America that his predecessors either ignored or depicted in ways that make the modern reader wince. --Andrew

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  • The Silent Patient

    2019 by Michaelides, Alex

    This book has a meandering story but a really fun ending that made me feel good about the journey. --Angela

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  • Jade Dragon Mountain

    2015 by Hart, Elsa

    An elderly Jesuit astronomer is poisoned in a city on the southwestern frontier of 18th Century China. Luminous writing, unforgettable characters (one of whom appears to be workshopping The One Thousand and One Nights), satisfying detective plot, setting that hasn't been done to death...could this be the perfect historical mystery? --Andrew

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  • Secret Identity

    2022 by Segura, Alex

    In 1975, Carmen Valdez is an assistant at a third-rate (at best) comic book publisher, but she doesn't care because she might have an opportunity to fulfill her dream of publishing a female superhero. Until the colleague who was going to make that happen turns up dead . . . This one is literary and noir and comic-y all wrapped up into one great mystery. --Becca

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  • Play the Fool

    2023 by Chern, Lina

    After an attempt at "adulting" in Chicago, Katie is back to living with her parents and trying to figure out what's next using her Tarot cards for guidance. But then she gets wrapped up in a murder and even the cards can't guide her through. This novel is unlike any other mystery I've ever read--it's funny and the mystery is a wild ride that you will be thrilled to be along for. --Becca

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  • Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers

    2023 by Sutanto, Jesse Q.

    Vera Wong lives above her mostly forgotten tea shop in San Francisco's Chinatown. One morning she goes downstairs to find a dead body in the middle of her shop. She doesn't know what happened, but she does know that she would do a better job than the police solving the mystery. Thus Vera goes from shopkeeper to detective. A story about chosen family that is fun, funny, heartwarming, and an original whodunit. --Becca

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