17 Of The Best Mystery Novels To Spend All Day Getting Lost In
Some books sit on your bedside table — or, let’s be honest here, on a stack on your floor — for weeks as you read a little bit each night. The mystery novels on this list are not those books. These are crime novels that will make you cancel plans and ignore your resolution to go to bed at a decent hour. They’re whodunits that you’ll want to read all in one sitting because you can’t bear the thought of going another hour without knowing who killed who and why. Think of each one as a perfectly encapsulated, binge-worthy television show, ready and waiting in your queue. Now, are you ready to get totally lost? Because it's about to happen.
'Dare Me' by Megan Abbott
You can’t go wrong with Abbott and Dare Me is an ideal starting place — it’s like Fight Club set in the cutthroat world of high school cheerleading. Best friends and cheer squad mates Addy and Beth straddle the newly dangerous line between adolescence and adulthood, striving to be “top girl” and all the mess that now entails.
'The Neon Rain' by James Lee Burke
The first in Burke’s long-running series featuring Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux, Rain is as intoxicating and dark as its seamy Southern setting. Lucky for you, there are 19 equally gripping Robicheaux adventures after this one to keep you busy.
'One Kick' by Chelsea Cain
Equally adept at picking locks and picking off a target at 50 yards, Kick Lannigan is nobody’s victim. Kidnapped at age six and rescued five years later, she’s just the kind of kick-ass hero (pun wholly intended) that we all need, especially the kids she helps in One Kick.
'The Moonstone' by Wilkie Collins
Impress your friends by reading what’s considered to be the first detective novel. It’s a deceptively simple story — the massive titular jewel goes missing during a party — that lays impressive groundwork for the genre as a whole, from the locked room mystery to red herrings.
'Rebecca' by Daphne du Maurier
In addition to instilling a deep-seated fear of housekeepers in generations of readers, du Maurier’s Gothic classic reminds us all that a narrator doesn’t need a name to carry a story. Soon you, too, will be muttering, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
'Sharp Objects' by Gillian Flynn
If you think Gone Girl is as dark and twisted as it gets, think again. In Flynn’s debut, a reporter fresh out of a stint in a psych hospital returns to her hometown to cover the murder of two girls. Suffice it to say, this is not a book about puppies and rainbows.
'Land of Shadows' by Rachel Howzell Hall
LAPD Detective Elouise Norton is the kind of heroine we need more of in crime fiction: strong, black, and smart. Saddled with a new partner, Lou grapples with a new case and its unsettling connections to the disappearance of her sister 30 years earlier. This is the start of a fantastic new series.
'The Maltese Falcon' by Dashiell Hammett
Maybe you’ve seen the movie. Now it’s time to read the book. This is the only novel featuring Hammett’s iconic private eye, Sam Spade — he appears in a handful of other short stories — and it’s not overstating things to say that without Falcon, we might not have Raymond Chandler (or Philip Marlowe) or much hardboiled PI crime fiction at all. Could this even be the noir origin of “put a bird on it”?
'The Boy in the Suitcase' by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis
These Danes are grim. In a fantastic, compulsively readable way. This is the first installment in their series featuring Copenhagen Red Cross nurse Nina Borg, who’s not exactly Florence Nightingale. But it’s more fun to read about complex women who find little boys stuffed in suitcases — don’t worry, he’s not dead — than it is to read about saints, right?
'A Drink Before the War' by Dennis Lehane
Before Lehane wrote Mystic River, the film adaptation of which had Sean Penn screaming about his daughter all the way to Oscar glory, he introduced readers to tough Dorchester, Massachusetts, private eyes Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. And — insert thick Boston accent here — they won our goddamn hearts.
'Every Secret Thing' by Laura Lippman
Lippman writes about the things that we aren’t supposed to talk about and she does it so very well. There are few writers who can write a compelling, emotionally gripping story about children who murder another child. Lippman does and tackles perhaps the hardest question of all: What happens next?
The Glasgow Trilogy by Malcolm Mackay
Mackay serves readers a Scottish Tartan Noir fry-up special (is that a thing? It is now!): three fantastic linked crime novels. His Glasgow trilogy — The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, How a Gunman Says Goodbye, and The Sudden Arrival of Violence — explores the ultra-violent life of Glasgow’s underworld, as a young hitman considers whether to stay in the murdering business or get out while he can.
'Where They Found Her' by Kimberly McCreight
Told in alternating perspectives, McCreight’s second novel is a swift series of gut-punches from page one, as an affluent college town tries to come to terms with the discovery of a dead infant in the woods. The three women whose lives are forever altered by the event each bring something different to the story but their underlying pain unites them, even if they don’t know it yet.
'A Place of Execution' by Val McDermid
Two parallel investigations, but how many crimes were actually committed? McDermid weaves the most tangled of webs in this suspenseful stand-alone — she’s best known for her series featuring British forensic psychologist Dr. Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan — about the disappearance of a teenage girl in 1963 and the ripple effects of the subsequent inquiry.
'The Redbreast' by Jo Nesbø
The first English-language installment in Norwegian Nesbø’s dark, brooding series featuring the equally dark and brooding Oslo cop Harry Hole, Redbreast reminds us that Indiana Jones was right when he said, “Nazis, I hate these guys.” Turns out neo-Nazis are just as bad, as Harry discovers firsthand.
'The Fallen Curtain' by Ruth Rendell
Rendell, who passed away on May 2, 2015 at 85, could easily fill up an entire reading list and then some with her series featuring Chief Inspector Wexford and her creepy standalones, written both under her own name and as Barbara Vine. Each short story in Curtain — yes, it’s not technically a novel — is a perfect encapsulation of Rendell’s unique brand of psychological suspense.
'The Killer Inside Me' by Jim Thompson
On the surface, Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford, the narrator of Killer, is just another Texas cop. But looks can be deceiving and Thompson, one of pulp’s greatest and grittiest treasures, knows this better than most. If you’re itching for a clue, look no further than the title.