My List of 13 Must-Read Mystery Writers

I've been feeling drawn to mysteries this month. I can't explain it, but as an avid reader, I feel it would be a crime not to dig a little deeper (See what I did there?). The result of my research is this little list - MY List of 13 Must-Read Mystery Writers. Read on to see if yours made the cut.

1. Carlos Ruiz Zafón

A friend that I made earlier this year through Pretty Literate gave Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind her hearty recommendation for Fall reading. The cover art and intriguing title were enough for me to add it to my to-be-read pile. Then she upped the ante by sending me a hard copy and the two of us set off sleuthing our way through this non-traditional mystery that begins in a place named The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This was one book (which she has read and reread numerous times - and for good reason!) that I had no idea where we were going until we got there. And the journey? It was full of adventure, intrigue, & mystery. Even Stephen King is quoted as saying it is "one gorgeous read." Quite a recommendation from the King of Creep, don't you think?

Bonus: My friend told me when I finished that it was the first of four in a series!

2. Arthur Conan Doyle

This author should be a no-brainer for anyone wanting to read a mystery for no other reason than he is the creator of the socially awkward genius Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was a must-read author in our home and if memory serves, no child escaped reading him before they graduated high school. My go-to suggestion for getting acquainted with Doyle's detective is The Hound of the Baskervilles. Read it on cold, windy fall nights. Trust me.

Bonus: His mysteries are not lengthy tomes, so they are quick reads, many of which are available in beautifully bound collections.

3. Agatha Christie

Let's face it - Agatha Christie is known as the Queen of Mystery for a reason. Not only did she create the unforgettable detective Hercule Poirot, but she created a second, equally adept, famous female detective, Miss Jane Marple. In all, Agatha Christie wrote a whopping 66 detective novels and with that many, it can be hard to choose where to begin. My top two suggestions would be And Then There Were None (which is her most adapted mystery) and Murder on the Orient Express.

Bonus: We transformed Murder on the Orient Express into an almost immersive experience and are offering it as our last book box of 2021 in a limited quantity.

4. Dorothy Sayers

Love Agatha Christie? I do, too, which is why Dorothy Sayers made my must-read mystery writers list. Her book Whose Body? introduces the beloved Lord Peter Wimsey, whose hobby happens to be solving mysteries. And this one? It seems pretty gruesome for someone writing around the same time as Agatha Christie.

Bonus: There are 15 novels in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, so if you fall for him in Whose Body? there are plenty more from whence it came. 

5. Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming was British journalist whose first novel was published in 1953. The title: Casino Royale. Maybe you've heard of it? That's right, Ian Fleming was the man that created the original man of mystery - the swoon-worthy 007. Twelve books and two short stories later, James Bond has become a household name. I recommend starting with Fleming's first, Casino Royale

Bonus: There's a plethora of movies to watch after you read the books!

6. G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton created a fictional priest/amateur detective named Father Brown, a character loosely based on a priest he knew in real life who, through the hearing of confessions, developed an unusual understanding of the evils of mankind. Chesterton's original 53 short stories are quick, easy reads. Chesterton made my list of 13 must-read mystery writers because his Father Tim series reminds me of Grantchester on PBS. And I am a fan of Grantchester.

Bonus: Chesterton's Father Tim short stories/mysteries are now compiled into a five volume series.

7. Louise Penny

I was introduced to Louise Penny within the last year by my oldest sister and by one of my oldest friends. I have since heard many others sing the praises of Canadian author Louise Penny & the Chief Inspector Gamache series, which is set in Quebec in the tiny town of Three Pines. Start with Still Life, which is the first in the series, and enjoy unravelling the mystery right alongside Gamache.

Bonus: The fictional town of Three Pines looms as large a character as each of the inhabitants of the town. (Kind of like Stars Hollow on Gilmore Girls)

8. Truman Capote

My previous Truman Capote experience did not prepare me for In Cold Blood, Capote's nonfiction novel detailing the murders of a small town American family in the 1950s. Considered the first true crime novel, In Cold Blood is a masterpiece, scoring Capote a spot on my list of must-read mystery writers.

Bonus: There is a British man on YouTube that reads the entire novel with the loveliest of accents, making listening to In Cold Blood on a road trip an especially memorable mystery.

9. Robert Traver

Robert Traver is a pseudonym, for starters. The author (John Donaldson Voelker) served as both a prosecuting attorney & later as a Justice of Michigan's Supreme Court. He is the prime example of someone who wrote about what he knew and his mystery Anatomy of a Murder is heralded as the most popular courtroom drama in American fiction. It became a #1 bestseller when it was published in 1958. (Unlike In Cold Blood, Anatomy of a Murder is a fictionalize true crime novel.)

Bonus: There's a movie version to watch after you read the novel starring the one and only James Stewart! 

10. Wilkie Collins

Though I have never heard of him til I began compiling this list, I included Wilkie Collins on my list of 13 must-read mystery writers because I read that The Moonstone is considered the first detective mystery ever published (circa 1868) and I thought, That is a must-read mystery! The story is told through the perspective of several different characters and is on the lengthier side at 600+ pages. Consider yourself forewarned if you prefer an average length adventure.

Bonus: Wilkie Collins was long-time friends with Charles Dickens and I find that insanely cool...and worthy of checking out.

11. Ken Follett

Ken Follett (a new-to-me mystery writer) is the author of international bestseller Eye of the Needle, a spy novel set during WWII in England & published in 1978. It has mystery & suspense with a side of love, according the reviews I've read online. Eye of the Needle is touted as the best introduction to the mysteries of Ken Follett.

Bonus: Reading Eye of the Needle is considered educational by several reviewers, so you get pseudo-school credit from Pretty Literate for reading it. :)

12. Caleb Carr

I confess, I had never heard of Caleb Carr or The Alienist until a certain someone mentioned his novel not long ago on Pretty Literate's Facebook page. I checked him out and apparently he's a big deal, having spent a whopping 6 months on the New York Times Bestseller List when his novel was first published in 1994!

Murder. ✔️

Psychological profiling. ✔️

Gilded Age of New York. ✔️

BONUS: Goodreads considers it a modern classic of historical suspense, but more than that, it gets a personal recommendation from my big sister.

13. Paula Hawkins

This last one? I have seen the cover of her first mystery everywhere online (the one that broke worldwide publishing sales records when it was released) and the title alone begs me to read it. It would seem that everyone is insane about Paula Hawkins and The Girl on the Train, a mystery that people all over the inter-webs promise will keep me guessing til the very end. And that's really all we want in a mystery, isn't it? To figure it out as the story slowly unfolds, to walk alongside the protagonist as if we were living inside the novel with them? Yeah, I thought so.

Bonus: She has published another mystery thriller titled Into the Water, so if you end up finding a new favorite author, she wrote a follow up you can read next.

Who would you include on your list? Let me know in the comments.

6 comments

  • Because of your Spooky Halloween suggestions I picked In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and now it shows up on this list too!
    I’ll save my comments til the zoom meeting but it did not disappoint!

    Shelli
  • I just picked up a Fleming book-being a fan of the movies-though I got Moonraker. I’m also intrigued to try the Zafin title now! Thanks for the list.

    Ramarie
  • I have to add Anthony Hurowitz. He’s very influenced by Agatha Christie, as evidenced in The Magpie Murders, and he’s written Sherlock Holmes. I’ve not read the Holmes novels yet, but I did read The Word is Murder, which is a modern day riff on Holmes, with himself as the Watson character. I can’t wait to read the others.

    Angela Bliss
  • I am so interested in trying Zafon after reading your recommendation! I am a huge fan of Georgette Heyer, and many other fans have also suggested the Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series and compared the “sparkling wit” between the two. Heyer also wrote “detectives” and these do keep one guessing to the very end as well as featuring stellar secondary characters. Her detective novels take place during the 1920-1930ish time frame. Thanks for the recommendations- I am adding several to my TBR list!

    Lynda
  • Zafon also has a series of young adult books that I believe have been published in English now (he was from Spain). Unfortunately, he passed away a couple of years ago.

    Angela

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