Whether it's decorating the tree, making gingerbread houses, or watching Christmas movies, everyone has their own favorite holiday tradition. One of the most beloved and most popular ones is reading a seasonal story, and if you're the kind of person who likes their Christmas cheer with a side of cold blooded murder, then you'll probably love one of these holiday mysteries and thrillers, all of which make perfect additions to your winter TBR pile.
When people think of holiday books, they generally think of the classics — How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Night Before Christmas, and A Christmas Carol — but I have always looked forward to my annual holiday murder mystery read. A habit that got started after my mom gave me a copy of Mary Higgins Clark's first annual Holiday Series mystery, Deck the Halls, when I was 10 years old (my love of murder and suspense developed pretty early), the strange yet popular tradition has stuck with me ever since. And I'm not the only one — every year, dozens of holiday-themed mysteries and thrillers are published just in time to read by the light of the Christmas tree. A time of year that is overflowing with joy and wonder, there's just something about the holiday season that makes mysteries even more puzzling and thrillers all the more surprising.
Not into the ho-ho-ho and jolly good cheer this year? Ditch your Rudolph story and instead go with one of these 11 holiday mystery and thrillers instead. From cozy mysteries to edge-of-your-seat thrillers, they're perfect for readers who prefer secrets and lies over Santa and reindeer.
1. Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
In this classic Christmas whodunit, Agatha Christie's famed detective Poirot sets out to solve a murder most foul: a wealthy man gathers his family to discuss his changing will, and turns up dead in the presence of all of his guests. To make matters even more complicated, mysterious uncut diamonds that were in the house have gone missing, too. There's only one man who can solve the cozy case in time for Christmas, and that's Poirot.
2. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James
Another festive read from one of the greatest mystery writers, P.D. James's The Mistletoe Murder rounds up four previously uncollected stories from, including one holiday-themed whodunit. A fun collection of short mysteries from a master storytelling, this is the perfect holiday collection for readers who would rather solve crime than wrap gifts on Christmas eve.
3. Silent Night by Mary Higgins Clark
One of several holiday mysteries penned by the Queen of Suspense, Mary Higgins Clark's Silent Night takes the famous Christmas song lyric to a whole other level. While in New York for a lifesaving operation, Tom and his wife Catherine face an even bigger tragedy than Tom's leukemia: their son is kidnapped on Christmas Eve, and a crazed murderer is on the loose to boot. A thrilling ride through the city streets on one of the busiest nights of the year, Silent Night is the perfect suspense to keep you up all Christmas Eve night.
4. Merry Christmas, Alex Cross by James Paterson
In this holiday installment of James Patterson's bestselling Alex Cross series, the famed detective finds himself caught up in a hostage situation that puts an entire family's lives on the line. A edge-of-your-seat action-mystery story, Merry Christmas, Alex Cross proves even fictional detectives never get a day off from solving crime.
5. Dying for Christmas by Tammy Cohen
In this chilling tale about a young woman abducted right before Christmas, Jessica Gould finds herself the victim of an unhinged kidnapper who holds her captive, forcing her to dress like his missing wife, eat fancy holiday meals, and open one gift a day. But instead of normal holiday presents, Lacy finds herself the recipient of twisted gifts from her captor's past, including a box of teeth, troubling family photos, and old toys meant for a child. A horrifying holiday story, getting to the starling conclusion of Dying for Christmas will give you more anxiety than waiting for Santa ever did.
6. A Christmas Message by Anne Perry
If you like your mystery with a side of history, Anne Perry has concocted the perfect holiday read for you. Set at Christmastime in 2900, A Christmas Message tells the story of Victor Narraway, Thomas Pitt's former boss, and his new wife Vespasia, as they travel from Jaffa to Jerusalem on train. When one of their fellow passengers is murdered and his body is found with a note in a foreign language and a message for Narraway to continue his journey, Narraway and Vespasia decide to embark on a quest to find the answers they're looking for. A suspenseful Victorian crime novel full of mysterious twists and turns, A Christmas Message is an inspirational and surreal seasonal experience for fans of mystery around the holidays.
7. The Winter Girl by Matt Marinovich
Though not strictly a holiday story, Matt Marinovich's The Winter Girls is still a thrilling seasonal read. When Elise and her husband Scott arrive in the Hamptons to care for her ailing and abusive father, the couple's unhappiness with their life together is amplified tenfold. That is, until Scott notices something strange at the house next door and recruits his wife to help him solve the mystery, and things start to spiral out of control as the pair is caught up in a web of lies, secrets, infidelity, and violence. A chilling psychological thriller that will make you look at your loved ones different this holiday, The Winter Girl is the perfect mystery for cold weather reading.
8. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
In the fourth installment of the Flavia de Luce series, the 11-year-old sleuth sets out to solve a Christmastime crime. After a dead body appears — strangled with film negatives — at the Luces' English estate where a film crew is busy making a movie, its up to the young detective to expose the murderer before they strike again. With a fierce winter storm raging outside and the list of suspects only getting longer inside, Flavia has to put aside her plans to capture Santa Claus and instead focus her attention, her wits, and her sly skills on catching a killer in her own home.
9. Fields Where They Lay by Timothy Hallinan
In this Junior Bender mystery, the series' star burglar, detective, and criminal underworld fixer is forced to look into an ongoing shoplifting problem at the local Russian gangster-owned mall. It doesn't take long, though, for Junior's investigation to go array when two dead bodies appear within two days. Set against the backdrop of festive window displays and Christmas music on repeat, Fields Where They Lay is a delightfully devious holiday read for mystery lovers.
10. A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
The second installment of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, A Fatal Grace is a seasonal murder mystery with a holiday twist. During a seemingly peaceful and merry Quebec Christmas season, CC de Poitiers, a most hated member of the Three Pines community, is murdered in front of her entire village during the annual curling tournament. When Gamache is called to solve the case, he uncovers the long-buried secrets of the townspeople, and the inspector and residents soon realize their community isn't as idyllic as it seems.
11. Christmas Caramel Murder by Joanne Fluke
Another holiday season, another wildly funny Hannah Swensen mystery. In Christmas Caramel Murder, bakery owner Hannah, who is no stranger to stumbling upon dead bodies, finds her husband's ex-girlfriend's cold corpse buried in the snow, wearing nothing more than naughty lingerie. As Christmas grows closer, Hannah must scramble to clear her own name and find the real merry murderer. A lighthearted, cozy mystery, this latest installment from Joanne Fluke is the perfect pick for mystery readers who prefer their books with a side of holiday cheer. Bonus: the book includes over a dozen cookie recipes, so you can bake while you read.
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