The best murder mystery books are such a joy to read because they let us readers play detective from the comfort of our homes. Plus, there is such a wide variety of murder mysteries that you can read thousands of these books and find no formulaic answer for who the killer is. Sure, the genre has some key elements such as a murder, a suspect, and a detective figure. But, along with the different types of plots in murder mysteries, the combinations are endless! And there’s something so satisfying about uncovering who the killer is. It’s just plain fun.
As I mentioned, there are endless murder mysteries out there. From the beloved and classic Agatha Christie to the more modern mysteries. There are so many murder mysteries in literature. So which are the best ones? My aim with this list is to provide 25 of the best murder mystery books you can read! Of course this list will by no means be exhaustive. But it sure is a good place to start.
One final disclaimer before we get into it. I divided the list by classic and modern murder mysteries. The modern section covers books that have been published in the past few years — about 2018 onwards. The classic mysteries were published before that, and they are some of the most well-known murder mysteries in literature. But without further ado, let’s get right to it!
Best Murder Mystery Books: The Classics
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
The setting is everything in this murder mystery. What happens when you put a Sherlockian detective, a secretive abbey in the 14th century, and murder? You get a super intriguing historical story full of twists and turns! The Name of the Rose is the story of Brother William of Baskerville who arrives at a wealthy Italian abbey that is suspected of heresy. Not long after he gets there, seven people are found dead. So Brother William takes upon himself to play detective and find out what’s happening at the abbey.
In the Woods by Tana French
Whenever I look for murder mysteries, Tana French’s name pops up. This is by far her most popular book, which is no wonder considering the deeply psychological atmosphere that permeates the book. In the Woods follows a detective named Rob Ryan. When he was young, the police found him covered in blood in the middle of the woods. Several children went missing that day, and only he was found. Now, he and his partner Cassie Maddox are investigating a murder case that is eerily similar to his own — which gives him the chance to not only solve this murder, but to find out what happened to him all those years ago.
Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino
This is a book in which the case takes decades to solve. It’s rare that you get to follow murder mysteries that are also cold cases. In this case it works perfectly towards creating a suspenseful and exciting atmosphere throughout this lengthy book. It’s also one of the more popular Japanese mystery books in translation! Journey Under the Midnight Sun follows Detective Sasagaki. In 1973, he was assigned to the case of a man found murdered in an abandoned building. Soon Sasagaki hits a dead end in his investigation. But he can’t let the case go, and for the next 20 years he will continue to chase answers to the point of obsession.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Night Film is one of the most unique mystery books I’ve ever read. The atmosphere is extremely eerie, which is enhanced by its ergodic format! The photographs, texts, and even extra digital content really enhance the reading experience — making it super unique. The story follows a man named Scott McGrath, who becomes obsessed with the death of Ashley Cordova. Officially, Ashley died by suicide. But Scott thinks that her father — a famed director of cult movies — is involved in her death, and he won’t stop until he unearths the truth.
Murder in G Major by Alexia Gordon
Cozy mysteries have been around for a long time (thanks, Agatha Christie!) and they’ve grown and expanded into the funnest and quirkiest sub-genres. Murder in G Major stands out because not only does it feature a ghost, but it incorporates music too! The story follows a classical African American musician named Gethsemane Brown. She lands a less-than-ideal job in the Irish countryside. One which has her house-sit a lovely cottage. Except the cottage is haunted by the former owner, who was falsely accused of killing his wife. Gethsemane agrees to help him investigate — which sets the dormant killer on her trail.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
There’s no way I talk about classic murder mysteries and not mention one of Agatha Christie’s books — especially this one. And Then There Were None has one of the twistiest and most intriguing plots. It’s a “locked-room” type of murder, so everyone’s a suspect — and the thrill to figure out who did it is unparalleled! The story follows ten strangers who find themselves on a private island. They only have two things in common. First, they are all guests of the eccentric millionaire who owns the place— and second, they all have secrets they’re unwilling to reveal. One by one, the strangers start to die in an eerily similar way to the nursery rhyme “Ten Little Soldiers.”
The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
The Magpie Murders is a clever murder mystery within another murder mystery. It’s such a layered and twisty story that keeps you guessing until the very end! Oh and did I mention it’s a story about books? It follows Susan, a book editor who works with famed crime writer Alan Conway. When she begins reading his latest tale of murder in a manor house, Susan becomes convinced that not everything is as it seems. Plus, the last chapters of the manuscript are missing and it’s up to her to find out what is happening both in the novel and to its writer.
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
One of the things that makes this a very compelling book is that aside from a good ol’ murder mystery, Bluebird, Bluebird talks about the serious issues of systemic racism in the U.S. The story follows a Black Texas Ranger named Darren Matthews. He’s investigating a double homicide — one of the victims is a local white woman and the other is a Black lawyer from Chicago. The police have failed to solve the case, so Darren takes it upon himself to look into it. But in doing so, he’s kicked a hornet’s nest. Only by solving the case can he save his own life too.
The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji
Next, another classic Japanese murder mystery! This one is considered a milestone in the country’s detective fiction — and is even credited with launching the shinhonkaku movement, which roughly translates to a “new orthodox” in the mystery genre. Originally published in 1987, The Decagon House Murders follows a group of university students who have a mystery club. They decide to visit an island where some grisly murders happened a year ago. Suddenly, they start to get picked off one by one. Is it a madman on the loose? Maybe. You’ll have to read it to find out!
The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo
The Honjin Murders features one of Japan’s oldest and most popular detectives — Kosuke Kindaichi! Yokomizo was incredibly prolific with his detective, and their journey begins with a historical murder mystery set in 1937. It all comes together to tell an exciting and unique story full of murder and mayhem. It all begins with a masked man asking sinister questions in the village of Okamura. Soon, on the night of the Ichiyanagi wedding, a body appears. The killer left no trace of his crime — except a bloodied samurai sword. It’s up to Kindaichi to solve this impossible and legendary case. Will he be able to do it?
Lay Your Sleeping Head (Henry Rios #1) by Michael Nava
Lay Your Sleeping Head is the revised version of the classic book The Little Death. It’s the first in a series following queer and Latine lawyer Henry Rios. Usually, murder mysteries involve detectives, law enforcers or amateur sleuths. But seeing things from the perspective of a lawyer is fascinating in and of itself! The story follows Henry as he begins an affair with an heir who tells him an improbable tale of murder and sexual predation. Not long after, the young man is found dead of an apparent overdose. But Henry doesn’t buy it, so he takes the investigation into his own hands — only to uncover a web of secrets that points to murder.
Best Murder Mystery Books: The Modern (2018– )
Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien
There’s a whole sub-genre of cozy mysteries that revolve around food and they’re an absolute delight to read! Despite its lower stakes, the characters are well-developed — and the mystery is very engaging too. Death by Dumpling is the first book in an ongoing series that follows Lana Lee, a woman who finds herself working at her family’s restaurant after a bad breakup and career disaster. In this book, she investigates the murder of Mr. Feng, the owner of the plaza where the restaurant is located. He died of anaphylactic shock after eating dumplings from Lana’s family’s restaurant. Because everyone knew of his allergies, the police suspect foul play. So Lana takes it upon herself to investigate and clear her name.
They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall
They All Fall Down is an exciting and more modern version of And Then There Were None — with strangers stranded on an island as they’re killed off one by one. The ending is shocking — but the less you know the better! The story follows a woman named Miriam Macy, who sails to a private island with six other strangers. They all have their secrets, ones they don’t want to see the light of day. When a storm leaves them stranded, and one by one they are murdered, the seven are forced to solve the mystery or die.
Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia
Historical murder mystery books are so unique and entertaining because on top of the suspense, they build this mesmerizing atmosphere that drags you into the story! Dead Dead Girls is set in Harlem 1926 and it follows a young Black girl named Louise Lloyd. She’s trying to maintain a normal life, ignoring the kidnapping ordeal she went through. She almost succeeds, except that several girls like her are ending up dead. The latest victim turned up in front of the café Louise works in — and after an altercation with a police officer she is given the choice to be made an example or help them solve the case.
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
Who said murder mystery books had to be totally serious? Well, they can also be quite funny — especially cozy mysteries — and this is definitely the case with this book! The Thursday Murder Club follows a group of friends who live in a retirement village and love discussing unsolved crimes. When a developer is found dead, the club puts their sleuthing skills to the test. Can the unorthodox group catch the killer? You’ll have to read it to find out!
Lightseekers by Femi Kayode
This is another murder mystery book that is more than what it seems. There’s the thriller bit, but it also does a wonderful job of talking about sociopolitical issues. Lightseekers follows a psychologist named Dr. Philip Taiwo, who is called on by a politician to help solve a horrible case. Three university students were tortured and murdered in Nigeria, and it’s up to Philip to figure out who killed them and why. Despite being more of an academic, he dives headfirst into a case that is more twisted than he ever imagined.
Mango, Mambo, and Murder by Raquel V. Reyes
The list of things to like about this book is honestly endless. It includes food, features Latine characters, and has an unconventional character that is also a mother. How often do you see that in murder mystery books? Mango, Mambo, and Murder follows food anthropologist Miriam Quinones-Smith. She just moved to Coral Shores Miami for a new job as a TV cooking expert. But one day in a Women’s Club luncheon, one of the attendees drops dead. A second woman dies soon after — and clues point to Miriam’s best friend Alma. So in order to clear her bff’s name, Miriam agrees to help the detective solve the case.
All That Is Secret by Patricia Raybon
The Roaring Twenties is a super compelling historical setting for this murder mystery! Especially since it doesn’t take place in the usual New York. Set in Denver, All That Is Secret follows a college professor named Annalee Spain. Her estranged father just died, and she’s called back home to solve his murder. There she meets two surprising allies who might just be of romantic interest for her. Either way, with their help Annalee unravels the elite’s darkest secrets — despite it putting her in the path of danger.
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala
Arsenic and Adobo is another culinary murder mystery book that will leave you craving Filipine cuisine. I mean, it even has recipes for some of the dishes the MC makes in the back! The story is exciting, sweet — and plain fun to read with the small romantic subplot. It follows Lila Macapagal, who has returned home to help out at her parent’s restaurant after a bad breakup. One day, she’s serving a nasty food critic, and her ex-boyfriend, when he suddenly drops dead. The police obviously blame Lila. Plus, the landlord sees this as the perfect excuse to kick her family out and resell the place. So Lila has no choice but to take on the case and find out who the real killer is.
Far From the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson
As I previously mentioned, murder mysteries can blend genres seamlessly. Such is the case with Far From the Light of Heaven — which is set on a colony spaceship! The story begins when Michelle — the Ragtime’s first mate — discovers that some of her ship’s sleepers are dead. She sends out a call for help, and investigator Rasheed Fin answers it. He’s now tasked with finding out who killed all the sleepers — and he might just uncover a huge conspiracy that will have lasting repercussions for the entire Lagos system.
The Conductors by Nicole Glover
The premise of The Conductors is so unique for a murder mystery book that I had to put it on this list! It’s a crossover between alternate history and fantasy, in which a magic-user solves crimes in post-Civil War Philadelphia. Her name is Hetty Rhodes, and she’s a former conductor of the Underground Railroad. She now solves murders with her husband in the city of Philadelphia, at least the cases which the police won’t touch. One day, one of their friends is found dead in an alley. Hetty and her husband bury the body and set out to find answers. But what they don’t know is that this case will put them face to face with the darkest secrets of the city’s elites — and their own.
The Red Palace by June Hur
June Hur is known for writing these amazing YA historical mysteries set in the Joseon Dynasty of Korea — and this is her latest release! The Red Palace follows 18-year-old Hyeon, who has managed to earn a position as a palace nurse. All she wants is to keep her head down, but it’s not in the cards for her. Someone murders four women in a single night — and the main suspect is Hyeon’s closest friend. So she teams up with a police inspector named Eojin to solve the case, discover the palace’s secrets, and clear her friend’s name.
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson
You know that trope in which a character wakes up with no memories and literal blood on their hands? There’s something so exciting and unsettling about it that it hooks you right into the story — and that’s exactly how Grown begins. This happens to a young woman named Enchanted. She dreams of becoming a singer, and as she meets legendary R&B artist Korey Fields, her dreams might become a reality. But it all comes crashing down when she wakes up the day after her audition covered in blood. Korey Fields is dead, and all signs point to Enchanted. But did she do it?
Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang
Lydia Kang is known for her historical mysteries set in New York — and this is her latest release! Her stories are always fascinating because her medical knowledge always seeps in (she’s a doctor). Plus, this one also has vampires! Opium and Absinthe is set in 1899. Tillie Pembroke’s sister was murdered, and she was found with two puncture wounds in her neck. Tillie is addicted to the truth, so she takes the investigation of her sister’s death into her own hands. But that’s not her only addiction — and with opium coursing through her veins she can’t tell what’s real. What really happened to her sister? You’ll have to read it to find out!
The Maid by Nita Prose
Last but not least, this is a quirky and fun book that dips into the cozy mystery genre! With an exciting case and an endearing main character, it’s one of those books you won’t be able to put down. The Maid follows Molly Gray, who has always struggled at reading social cues. Her grandmother used to help her out, but since her death Molly has been left to navigate the world on her own. So she throws herself into her job as a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel. Things seem fine for Molly — until she finds a dead body in one of the rooms. Soon, Molly becomes the main suspect in the police investigation. With help from her new friends, Molly needs to find the real killer before it’s too late.
Want to read all about mystery books? Take a dive into our mystery archive! It’s full of things like the best cozy mysteries, mystery books that will keep you up at night— or even the best mystery books you’ve never heard of.