For my first article with Author Attic, I was asked to put my powers of deduction to the test and sniff out the best mystery books around. To me, mystery fiction is not a fixed genre but can encompass elements of crime fiction, spy thrillers and even the supernatural. They are books to keep you hooked. Books to curl up with on rainy afternoons, to eagerly delve into on your daily commute and to keep you awake long into the night with their twists and turns.
Anyway, I’m sure the suspense is killing you. Here are my top ten best mystery books
He set out as a sailor and returned as a spy. This pioneering spy novel is packed with adventure.
When Carruthers is invited on a sailing holiday to the Baltic with his friend, he looks forward a comfortable stay on board a yacht. Imagine his surprise when he learns that all they have is a rowboat and learns that the real reason for the trip is to keep an eye on some German warships that are gathering in secret on the Frisian islands. Who are the mysterious sailors they meet along the way? Can they even trust their fellow Englishmen? Although some of the naval terminology may go over your head, it’s hard not to immerse yourself in the reluctant heroes’ treacherous adventure. The book also includes a selection of maps, so you can follow the journey more closely. An oldie but most definitely a goodie.
The first of the Harry Hole novels to be translated from Norwegian to English and my first Nesbo read.
There is something about the land of icy fjords, misty mountains and long winter nights that lends itself perfectly to a good old-fashioned mystery. But the romantic Scandi landscape doesn’t appear in this novel, where ghosts from the Second World War haunt the investigation of a modern day assassination attempt and pieces of the puzzle are brought together through a series of flashbacks between the Eastern Front in 1942, war-torn Vienna and the neo-Nazi underbelly of downtown Oslo. Nesbo’s writing is fabulously fast-paced and his charmingly incompetent , alcoholic detective often adds some much needed comic relief. It was a novel that honestly kept me guessing until the very end with mistaken identities and complicated past lives. It left some tantalizing threads loose at the end that will undoubtedly keep Inspector Hole (and myself!) busy in the future.
This is the crime novel that Jane Austen never wrote!
Six years after Elizabeth and Mr Darcy overcome their pride and prejudices, they become entangled in their very own murder mystery in the grounds of their house, Pemberley. Lydia Wickham, Elizabeth’s sister arrives the night before the annual Pemberley ball and screams that her husband and his friend have been killed out in the woods (which are incidentally said to be haunted). P.D. James adopts a writing style worthy of Austen and I quickly felt transported back to the Regency era. Whilst it is interesting to see how she can cope solving a crime without her beloved forensic science, this book is perhaps most intriguing because it helps shed light on the biggest mystery for Pride and Prejudice fans. What happened next?!
First book in the George Smiley trilogy. Are there really only good guys and bad guys?
I originally bought this book for my Dad, hoping he would enjoy the tale of espionage during the Cold War but being feeling uninspired by the prospect of reading it myself. That all changed after watching Gary Oldham play the enigmatic George Smiley in the film version of another le Carré novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and I decided to give The Spy a whirl. I really enjoyed the double and triple bluffs that the British and German spies aim at each other as Alex Leamas carries out his final assignment in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. The world of these spies is grittily realistic, nothing like James Bond’s glamorous lifestyle but it is all the more fascinating for it.
There is much debate as to whether this is the first detective story in English, but it’s certainly one of the best.
Sergeant Cuff is brought in to investigate the theft of The Moonstone, a dazzling diamond looted from an Indian statue and given to the beautiful Rachel Verminder on her 18th birthday. It was stolen during a party the very same evening and the Sergeant has his work cut out since no-one present in the house is above suspicion. What’s more, the Hindus believe that the jewel carries a curse with it and a group of Indian priests are also eager to see its safe return. We see the events unfold through the eyes of various members of the household so that we can form judgements for ourselves, but there are more than enough red herrings to fool even the most budding amateur sleuths along the way. The Moonstone certainly is a gem of a mystery novel.
Number 5 in this Best Mystery Books list is a deliciously spooky collection from the American master of macabre.
Like most people I was introduced to Poe through his infamous poem, The Raven when I was a child and, being a bit of a morbid Mary, I was instantly hooked. Now I’m older, I still appreciate Poe’s stylish writing but have a new-found interest in his detective stories featuring amateur detective Dupin. In The Murders in the Rue Morgue, the premise is, in typical Poe fashion, grotesque a mother and daughter have been found murdered in their home. The mother has almost been decapitated, whilst her daughter’s body has been stuffed up the chimney. Dupin, along with his with his fierce intellect and obsession with logic has a desire to find out the truth and wants to solve the murder for his own personal amusement. A clear influence on Arthur Conan Doyle, Dupin could almost rival Holmes for the title of slickest detective ever.
My reader’s expectations were certainly met in this tale of crime, class differences and cracking characters.
There is a wonderful mystery running as a central theme throughout every Dickens novel and it was extremely difficult to pick just one. I settled on Great Expectations in the end, because I think it is one of his darker works. Although I found it quite difficult to wade through Dickens’ wordy prose in places, the complex web of characters continued to reel me in. The novel follows young orphaned Pip’s rise in society thanks to a mystery benefactor. Since he assumes that this must be the wealthy but peculiar Miss Havisham, whom he visited in order to provide a companion to her daughter Estella, Pip conveniently begins to forget other characters from his past, who may soon catch up with him and provide answers that he certainly didn’t expect to find.
“My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”
No best mystery books list can be complete without Sherlock Holmes in it. A collection of twelve short but utterly satisfying treats, where we are amazed by Sherlock’s idiosyncrasies and powers of deduction. I read this after watching the wonderful BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch because I was so drawn to the eccentric main character. In fact, it is his personal quirks and unfaltering reasoning rather than the strength of the plot, which make the Holmes stories such good reading. It is amazing how glaringly obvious it all seems once Sherlock has applied his logic to the mystery. From a jewel thief in The Blue Carbuncle to Irene Adler, the femme fatale in A Scandal in Bohemia, watching Sherlock outwit all of the scoundrels in London is a pure delight.
First book in the Millennium Trilogy starring Lisbeth Salander has been a phenomenal success and deservedly so.
It really would be possible to dedicate a whole list to Nordic Noir fiction because the Scandinavians are on to a good thing at the moment. Although this is more of a slow burner than the Nesbo novel, Larsson’s main characters, disgraced journalist Blomkvist and the tough girl security specialist Lisbeth Salander are much more likable if not an unlikely double act. When they are called to investigate a 50 year old murder, which the victim’s uncle believes was committed by another family member, they are unaware of the danger that awaits them. Perhaps not one for the faint hearted as it is rather violent at times!
You knew it was coming- Agatha Christie demonstrates why she is the best selling author of all time.
You would be forgiven for thinking that Christie is a little dated by now, but the charm of her blunt and brilliant detective is enduring and she is the queen of the surprise ending.
The master of the classic whodunnit detective story triumphs with this novel in the Hercule Poirot series. A man has been discovered dead on the Orient Express train, and was killed sometime on the journey between Istanbul and Calais. The door to his cabin was locked from the inside. The murderer is still at large on board and the (only) famous mustachioed Belgian detective must be the one to expose him. However faced with an array of misleading pieces of evidence, is the murderer playing games with him? You would be forgiven for thinking that Christie is a little dated by now, but the charm of her blunt and brilliant detective is enduring and she is the queen of the surprise ending.
What do you think of my choices for the best mystery books list? Have I left anything important out? Let me know!