The 19 Best Mystery Books to Keep You Guessing Until the Last Page
Do you solve every Law & Order: SVU case before the first commercial break? Do you hate when you start a book and know how it’s going to end by the second chapter? Does your favorite genre of movie include some sort of whodunnit? If so, read on for 19 of the best mystery novels of all time, from classics like The Postman Always Rings Twice to contemporary hits like Gone Girl.
1. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
There’s no whodunit in this perfectly plotted thriller. We know from the start that the killer is Alicia Berenson, a famous photographer who, one night, shoots her husband five times in the face in their posh London home. What we don’t know—what no one knows—is why. Since the shooting, Alicia hasn’t spoken a single word. But as she sits silently in a psychiatric hospital, one therapist is determined to break through, even if it leads to his own demise.
2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The book that spawned a million “girl”-involved thrillers. Flynn’s smash-hit is about Amy Dunne, a woman who disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary and leaves behind her picture-perfect husband Nick. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media, Nick, the town golden boy, begins to look increasingly suspicious. But even though he’s oddly evasive, is he really a killer?
3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Tartt won the Pulitzer for The Goldfinch, but her first novel—about a group of misfits at a New England college who fall under the spell of a charismatic, morally questionable professor—will always have our hearts. The narrator, Richard, is the newest member of the group, and finds himself suddenly burdened by some very dark secrets. Opening with a murder, The Secret History reads like a slow burn, with tension building gradually and an ending that will blow your mind.
4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Suspense, mystery and romance—what else would you expect from a novel that takes place in an English estate run by a creepily stubborn housekeeper? It’s like a spooky Downton Abbey.
5. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
When Myriam decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for a nanny for their son and daughter. They feel lucky to find Louise, a quiet, polite and devoted woman. But as the couple and the nanny become more dependent on one another, jealousy, resentment and suspicions shatter the illusion of perfection. Slimani’s chilling novel explores power, class, race, motherhood and more.
6. Death in the Air by Kate Winkler Dawson
In the winter of 1952, London was struck by two killers: One, the Great Smog that killed thousands, and the other, John Reginald Christie, who murdered at least six women. Drawing on extensive interviews and archival research, Dawson recounts the intersection of these two brutal forces and their lasting impact on modern history.
7. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Passing a stretch of cozy suburban homes allows her to watch the same couple having breakfast on their deck every morning. She calls them Jess and Jason, and assumes their lives are perfect. That is, until she sees something shocking happen at the couple’s house. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Has she done more harm than good?
8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Crime fiction has been popular in Scandinavia for years, but this is the book that got the rest of the world hooked. A searing family saga, a decades-old locked-room mystery (of sorts), a complicated financial web and an incredible revenge fantasy all rolled into one—there truly is something for everyone. (Plus, the film adaptation is so darkly great.)
9. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
If your favorite thing about The Girl on the Train is the train, you’re in luck. This classic is the original railway murder mystery, telling the story of passengers on the same train who somehow agree to commit each other’s murders. Read it, then invite your book club over to watch the Hitchcock film.
10. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
In the aftermath of the 1959 murder of the Clutter family, Capote and Harper Lee traveled to Holcomb, Kansas, to research and write about the crime. Capote’s finished product is a chilling account of a real-life nightmare.
11. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
An agoraphobic woman witnesses something she shouldn’t while spying on the family across the street in this creepily enthralling novel that you can easily devour in a day or two. (It’s also the basis for a new Netflix thriller starring Amy Adams.)
12. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Good evening, Clarice. Before it was a pee-your-pants scary movie with an all-star cast of Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs was an equally terrifying novel. First published in 1988, it’s the sequel to Harris's 1981 novel Red Dragon. Both novels feature the cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, though the latter sees him pitted against FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling.
13. Justice: Crimes, Trials and Punishments by Dominick Dunne
Dunne’s novels and columns in Vanity Fair examined the relationship between extreme wealth and the justice system. In Justice, he searches for truth across a wide swath of cases, from socialite and maybe-murderer Claus von Bülow’s multiple trials to the media frenzy surrounding the O.J. Simpson case.
14. The Trespasser by Tana French
Antoinette Conway is a newbie detective looking for an interesting case. What she gets is an open-and-shut lovers' quarrel. That is, until her colleagues start acting strangely, and someone shadowy is lurking outside her house…
15. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
What is it about trains and mystery novels? In Christie’s most famous work, just after midnight, the Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, a millionaire lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, with his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers is the murderer. Isolated by the storm, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer among a dozen of the dead man's enemies before the murderer strikes again.
16. A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena
Get ready for some serious twists and turns. In this 2018 thriller, a woman who is making dinner and waiting for her husband to come home gets a disturbing phone call, then abruptly wakes up in the hospital, with no memory of what happened next. The police suspect she was up to something, her husband doesn't believe it and the rest of the people in her life aren't so sure. Lapena's smart and suspenseful novel will have you believing so many different points of view, you'll never see the ending coming.
17. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
A gothic novella about two young, possessed children. James wrote this spooky story in 1898 and it’s just as horrifying today. It’s sinister and weird and blurs the lines between sanity and insanity a little too well. Plus, once you finish reading, you can binge The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix.
18. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James N. Cain
Cain's first novel was an instant sensation and established him as a master of the mystery and suspense genre. First published in 1934, The Postman Always Rings Twice follows restless drifter Frank Chambers, who, after hitching a ride to the L.A. area, begins working at a rural diner. The diner is operated by the stodgy Nick Smith and his beautiful, much younger wife, Cora. Frank and Cora start to have an affair soon after they meet, setting into motion a series of events including a killing, an unsuccessful murder attempt and more.
19. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
If you stop scrolling every time you see the movie version on TV, it’s time to finally read the book that inspired it. While in Paris, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is awakened by a phone call in the dead of the night. The elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum, his body covered in baffling symbols. As Langdon and a gifted French cryptologist sort through the bizarre riddles, they’re thrown onto a trail of clues hidden in the works of Leonardo da Vinci and a breathtaking historical secret.