5 Best Mystery Novels Of All Time
Some Of The Best Mystery And Crime Novels Ever
I love reading, have been a true bookaholic ever since I was a kid, and this passion never left me. My most favorite book types to read have always been mystery novels. During one of our chats among friends the other day came up the question: which are some of the best mystery novels of all times? And all 5 friends gathered together started to list our own most favorites based on the ones we've read.
Actually this discussion sparked in me the need for further research, which led me to talk with other friends on Facebook and in other book groups, and finally I managed to compile a list of 5 books that seemed to be the most popular among every listed novel. All murder mysteries and the books didn't have to be new. Some are actually as old as time itself.
Just to create this page I went with my camera and took pictures of some of the books I have at home. Last I counted I had over 2000 scattered on various bookshelves, in nooks and crannies, on the floor, in drawers and other weird places. I only took a few for illustration, but I think with the novels I have currently in my personal collection, I could start a small local library!
Coming back to the topic of murder mysteries, I hope you will enjoy the list, and if you have some other favorites than what I have reviewed below, feel free to list them in the Guestbook section below - it is open for everyone to comment, not only to members of this site.
Image copyright: Marciag. Please do not use these photos without permission
Table Of Contents
A few of the many books I have at home that I can't part with
Best Hardboiled Mystery Novels Ever Written
I love this genre - it was my first type of crime books I've read as a child, and these stayed with me ever since.
The hardboiled mystery novels are those that feature a tough private investigator (PI or private eye) who is hired to solve a crime. These guys are tough because they have to be. They come across nasty criminals and their strong sense of perception, fast reflexes and fighting (or shooting) knowledge will save them more than once. These stories are very realistic in nature and there is not much romance (and 0 supernatural) going on in here.
In most cases a PI novel is written in the first person, and usually the case starts with a damsel in distress visiting the office of the PI to ask for help.
The modern hardboiled novels also include detectives, not only PIs (in some cases the detectives have become private eyes because they can work better on their own), and often times they are rather rebelious, sometimes heavy drinkers, and above all, very, very tough. You know, in the style of the typical American crime story.
Having said that, I've noticed that many elements of other subgrenres seep into these novels, and there is at least a light cross-mix, so it will be difficult to find a hardboiled detective novel that is 'pure' as the definition goes.
The Maltese Falcon
I think the Maltese Falcon is the first and most famous private eye mystery novel that really shaped the genre to what it is now.
Sam Spade is the main hero in this novel, who is by all current standards the typical 'tough guy' as portrayed in a mystery novel. I loved it (and the movie as well).He is tougher than nails, and takes no prisoners.
There are several novels written by Dashiell Hammet featuring Sam Spade, but I think it is the book that truly stands out not only from the rest of his books, but from many other hardboiled PI novels written long after him.
The Elvis Cole Mysteries by Robert Crais Starting With The Monkey's Raincoat
The Elvis Cole novels by Robert Crais are also some of the best of the best in the modern hardboiled crime fiction. I've also reviewed it separately (link shown below), and I loved them. The writing style is totally engaging, and once I've started reading the books, I couldn't stop till I read the rest just to see what happens next.
Elvis is a smart-mouthed (and smart character - my kind of guy!) PI who is also a bit eccentric. He is talkative like no others (which is actually at odds with the typical characters in this genre), but he has his friend Pike (who has devoted to him an entire series as well) to keep him balanced and calm. At some point I was not sure which I liked more, Elvis or Pike. Both are let's say...attractive as heck.
One other thing that I love about this series which doesn't really exist in previous books of his type is how funny the novels are. I found myself chuckling and even laughing out loud at times and shaking my head in wonder. Truly a gem, worth keeping on the permanent bookshelf.
Click here for a full list of the Robert Crais books in order.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Another old favorite of mine. Raymond Chandler is another father of the hardboiled detective mystery genre with his Philip Marlowe character, a tough PI who is hired by a dying millionaire to find who is blackmailing him.
I love reading about tough guys. And this guy is a take no prisoners kind of tough character, so it's no wonder I loved this great read. Btw he features in other novels as well by Raymond Chandler, but I think The Big Sleep is the most popular one ever, at least in my mind it is.
It's actually the first detective mystery novel I've read back when I was 9 or 10 and I can never forget it.
The Harry Bosch Novels by Michael Connelly Starting With The Black Echo
When it comes to contemporary authors, one of the best of the best is Michael Connelly with his Harry Bosch novels.
Harry Bosch is an LAPD homicide detective, as tough as it goes, a loner, and one who even though is still in the 'system' so to speak, totally hates political games and what come it.
I've read all the 18 books in the series, and I loved every single one of them. Michael Connelly has a way of weaving the storyline and suspense together that not many others can.
I've listed all the Harry Bosch books in order in another article (shown below), so if you're thinking of starting with this series, I urge you to read them in order, so it all makes sense. You'd be surprised just how many cross-references you'll find in the books, and if you read them out of order, you might find a few things confusing.
Here are all the Harry Bosch novels in order.
Some might disagree with my last choice here, but I've added Sue Grafton because well, I wanted to show that women also can be tough as nail hardboiled PIs.
Kinsey Millhone, an ex cop, now a private investigator is very realistic in her actions and she knows her stuff pretty well.
There are quite a lot of novels in the series featuring Kinsey Millhone, and each of them starts with a letter of the alphabet. Granted, the first one in the series is not my very favorite (R is for Ricochet is), but it's good to read the books in order to get a real feel for the main character.
Also the action is not so 'hardboiled' as in some other novels of the type, but you can't also call it 'soft boiled' because it's definitely not a cozy novel.
Regardless of the subgenre, I think Sue Grafton earned her name to be put along the best in the hardboiled mystery authors.
What Exactly Are Mystery Novels?
Before we go on listing the top 10 of my (probably biased) list, let's first define what a mystery novel is.
In a nutshell, it is a fiction genre that in fact quite loose in definition, and this is why probably my list will not be on everyone's top 10. The novels usually involve some kind of puzzle (in most cases to find who is the killer before the author reveals him or her at the end of the books). But the puzzles can also be in the style of Dan Brown, where we get to solve ancient and mystical ones. But really the 'whodunit' defines it best. There is always a crime involved, either through murder, or kidnapping.
The mystery novels have a few specific subgenres, such as the hardboiled detective fiction, which is a classic mystery novel style (think Agatha Christie novels). Then we have the police procedural where a detective or group of police officers solver various crimes. Then we also have romantic mystery novels, paranormal mysteries, CSS style forensic mysteries, and so on.
This is what makes finding the best mystery novels to hard because of the many subgenres and cross genres available, and this is why I will split the list in a few more popular genres and categories.
Best Cozy Mystery Novels of All Time
I love cozies because they're the perfect beach read. Basically punny titles cozy mysteries are a fun genre to read, light, where nothing gory happens in them. The main character who usually ends up solving the crime is either a grandma, or a spice shop owner, or a librarian, or a group of quilters - most of the times these are women who in usual circumstances should be as far away from crimes as humanly possible. And they're fun as well. Sometimes I'm laughing in tears when reading one of these novels, even hubby comes over to read the page I'm currently on just to see what get all my chuckles going hard.
So yes, these cozies have some humor - some more than others, and as I said above, the murders are not grizzly or violent - they victims are either poisoned, or the crimes are staged in one way or another. And these paperbacks are very safe for kids to read, as there is hardly any (or none at all) profanity spoken by the characters.You can even call these types of books 'mysteries in good taste'.
Oh and most of them have something extra, a small gift if you want in the form of a cake recipe, a drink recipe, a design of sorts, a bath salt mix recipe, or something equally fun and totally unrelated to murders. I LOVE this genre!
Having said that, let's see which are some of the best cozy mysteries of all times, shall we?
Aunt Dimity Mysteries by Nancy Atherton
The Aunt Dimity series is another one that is really close to my heart. I'd almost want to put this series as #1, but it does have a bit of paranormal in it (not much, mind you) and I know that not everyone is a fan of paranormal elements in a book.
The premise is really fun - Lori Shepperd is an American woman who has heard of Aunt Dimity from her mom, but she always thought she's just some imaginary character. Until she inherits the estate (the cottage) of said Aunt in England.
This is where the story really starts. She moves to England and starts a new life there with her husband.
So far everything is very down to earn and boring almost, until we learn the fun part: there is a journal which Aunt Dimity uses from her grave to write to Lori. But if you're reluctant to read this series because of the supernatural elements, that's really the extent of it.
Pretty much everything else is about Lori solving cases after cases, and her relationship with the other village natives.
It is truly an adorable cozy mystery that lots of people enjoy because it's written in a very fun way that also engages.
A Tea Shop Mystery Series by Laura Childs Starting With Death by Darjeeling
This is another beginning of a series that I loved. It's a bit older (the first book was written in 2001), but it does stand the test of time methinks.
This book again has all the characteristics of a typical cozy mystery. It all happens in a tea shop, and the poor victim does from ingested tea. Oh and there is a cute recipe in there as well - actually every book in the series has it.
An adorable series with a witty main character called Theodosia Browning who owns the said tea shop, with tea that you simply have to make when reading it (especially if you are a tea drinker), and with the book being a rather quick read, which can be read in a few hours at the beach. What's not to like about it really?
Gourmet Pet Food Mystery Series by Liz Mugavero Starting With Kneading to Die
Ok and now for something new - and I mean really new. The book was published very recently, this spring, and I got the ebook version of it as soon as it was available. Kneading to Die is the first in the Gourmet Pet Food Mystery series and already it's one that has some of the best reviews for cozy suspense novels ever.
Stan Connor (and yes, it's a 'she', her real name being Kristan) settled down to a Connecticut small town after leaving behind her stressful PR job, and she starts a kind of organic pet food in her home, attracting all the neighborhood mutts and pets to her doorsteps for a 'treat'.
Sadly very soon she becomes the main suspect in the murder of the local vet - and as she's new and all that, well let's just say that her job to find the real killer and clear her name proves to be quite a tough challenge.
I've only read this one book, but truly is one of the most engaging cozies I've read recently. All my friends who also read it (we're all a member of the local book club so we discuss books regularly) loved it to bits as well.
The Agatha Raisin Mystery Series by M. C. Beaton Starting With The Quiche of Death
This is the first book in the popular Agatha Raisin mysteries series. There are currently 23 books to read, so if you liked the first, you'll be set for the whole summer!
So what is Agatha's main 'job' or hobby? Well baking cakes, of course. Or maybe not, because her lack of knowledge on cake baking gets a victim killed. And Agatha has to solve the crime only to ease her conscience.
It is a very fun and witty crime novel, one that I couldn't put down, and yes, I've read all the series (and in order too!).
It is a very light mystery novel that can be read when you want something rather mindless just to take your own mind off problems without having to focus way too much on what you're reading.
And definitely this is the book to start with if you like reading in the night before turning to sleep but don't want to end up having nightmares based on what you've read. It's indeed, a very safe read. And a very fun one at that too!
The Stephanie Plum Series by Janet Evanovich Starting With One For The Money
My third favorite cozy mystery series is the one involving Stephanie Plum. You might know her from the movie with Katherine Heigl, movie released in 2013. Honestly if you've watched the movie and said it's 'crap', forget about it, because indeed the books are way better - and much more fun too!
I'm actually now re-reading the 12th book in the series because this was my most favorite and I just wanted something light to read again and chuckle.
Basically Stephanie got kicked out of Macys and now is jobless. Until she blackmails Vinnie, her cousin, to give her work as a bounty hunter in his office to catch criminals and make some money. Vinnie reluctantly agrees.
And here is where the fun starts. I was truly laughing out loud in every single book. Stephanie is extremely lucky and she always gets her guys. And just because, she has the hots for two guys, another bounty hunter and a coop, both as hot as they come.
But I don't want to spoil it. If you haven't read this series, I think you'll be soon in a world of fun and with summer coming soon, it makes for a darn good beach read too!
Holding in my hands Twelve Sharp, as I'm about to re-read it. It was so good!
And Now For The Best Mysteries Of All Time - Regardless of the sub-genre
I could go on and split the mystery genre further in a few other section and categories, but then this page would be so long, that it's beyond its scope, really.
This is why I've really looked hard into what my top favorites are from all the thousands of novels I've read over the years. And interestingly enough, for me the more modern, contemporary authors really did it. Don't get me wrong, Raymond Chandler and the other classics are truly great - really the best ever, however when it comes to my personal tastes, I do love a good mystery that has evolved from the earlier times. So here are my top 5. What is your top 5? Let me know in the Guestbook section below.
The Temperance Brennan Series by Kathy Reichs Starting With Deja Dead
One of my favorite series is the one involving Tempe Brennan. It is part of another mystery sub-genre, called forensic mysteries. I just love this type of books (think CSI in terms of TV series).
Btw if you think this is familiar somewhat but you're not sure why, it might be because you watched the Bones TV series - the TV show is made based on the Kathy Reichs novels, although they are not extremely similar at all. So if you've watched the TV series, you can easily start with the books in order because not much is in common between the two.
Below I have given a full review of the entire series (and the one involving Tempe Brennan's niece, Tory Brennan, so I will not review this book here separately again.
The Kay Scarpetta Series by Patricia Cornwell Starting With Postmortem
The Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell are great too - although truth be said, the first 3 or 4 are great, and the rest not so much. My favorite is the first book (shown here) which is truly an amazing book - again a forensic investigation type that has rather grizzly and gory details with some profanities included in the dialogue, so if you're squirmish, maybe it's not for you.
This book is rather old, back from 1990, but it's really top notch and worth reading. It is one that really grips you and doesn't let you go until you find out who did it. It can be truly scary, but boy so good!
There is a lot of scientifical explanation (CSI style) included, so if you like this in a book, again, you'll be thrilled to read it.
I highly recommend reading the first few in the series, but if you are like me, you'll probably get bored around book 5-6, which I did as well.
The Jack Reacher Series Starting With Killing Floor
Next is another great series - with one of my most favorite characters ever - the famous Jack Reacher (which has been recently filmed with Tom Cruise - if you want to have your say about whether the actor did the character justice, head over to my article shown below and join in the conversation!).
Jack Reacher is something else really. He is ex-army, a loner who is an extremely tough guy loosely resembling a bit of Rambo, a bit of Dirty Harry and a lot of vigilante in him as well.
I've reviewed the entire Jack Reacher series, so I won't do it again, but let me say that every time Lee Child comes up with a new book in this extremely popular series, I'm one of the first to get it! Truly.
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
The Name Of The Rose is another one of my top favorites, albeit in a different sub-genre. It is a historical mystery novel set in the 14th Century about a monk (brother William) who with the help of his assistant, Adso, tries to solve a crime.
This is a book that actually transcends the genre and it become something much more than that. People who usually don't like to read murder mysteries have loved this novel.
I'm not sure if you've seen it, but there is a great movie featuring Sean Connery based on this movie, and in fact I loved both. The acting was great, and the storyline also (which is usually rare when a movie is made based on a book).
I truly love it and I think this book will soon become one the classics in the murder crime genre.
The Entire Sherlock Holmes Series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Finally it's impossible to ignore Sherlock Holmes. He is probably the most famous detective ever, who has been featured in more movies than I can count. Has been dissected and talked about on more blogs, websites and online journals than you have time to read. Sherlock Holmes is special and there's a good reason for it.
So why is Sherlock Holmes so popular right now? I mean it's been almost 160 years since the first novels were published from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
I think one reason is that Sherlock Holmes uses his intuition a lot. While modern novels use all those gadgets and computers and whatnot, Sherlock Holmes uses his brain and his deductive reasoning is unlike not many others.
He is also the typical rebel, with a very independent nature who has no problems stepping outside of the rules if the need arises to solve the crimes. He almost seems to have superhuman traits that so many people secretly would love to have. He's just special and I don't think there is so far any other hero quite like him in books.
Do You Agree With This List Of The Best Crime Novels Of All Times?
Feel free to discuss if you agree or disagree and with which ones
Do You Have A Large Collection Of Mystery Novels At Home?
Do You Have A Large Collection Of Mystery Novels At Home?
A Few More Notable Mysteries That Didn't Make The Cut For The Top 5
There are literally thousands of mysteries written over the years, and my list is rather short (I didn't want to stretch it needlessly). I could list over 100 ones that are some of my favorites ever, but again that would be quite a long list. So here are a few more that I consider top novels or series to read, along with other favorites voted by readers of this page.
* All of the Agatha Christie novels
* The entire Alex Cross series by James Patterson
* The Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
* The J.D. Robb series featuring Eve Dallas
* Most of what David Baldacci has written
* The Lincoln Rhyme novels by Jeffrey Deaver
* All the Tom Clancy books (whether written by him or his successors)
* The Burglar Who series by Lawrence Block
* The Anne Perry historical mystery series
* The Cat Who series
* The Jo Nesbo books
* The Brad Thor books