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Best Books of 2023

Best Mysteries & Thrillers of 2023

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Anne Mai Yee Jansen

Contributor

Anne Mai Yee Jansen is a literature and ethnic studies professor and a lifelong story addict. She exists on a steady diet of books and hot chocolate, with a heaping side of travel whenever possible. Originally hailing from the sun and sandstone of southern California, she currently resides with her partner, offspring, and feline companion in the sleepy mountains of western North Carolina.

While 2024 is off to a strong start with new mysteries and thrillers, 2023 was a banner year. Whether you’re talking about a fresh take on an old classic, the latest addition to an ongoing series, a new book by a familiar author, or something else entirely, it’s undeniable that last year saw some impressive titles hit the shelves.

It might just be me (although I doubt it), but winter always feels like the best time of the year for picking up a good mystery novel. Maybe it’s something about the long hours of darkness that offers the perfect backdrop for a good thriller. Maybe it’s the cold weather that makes me want to snuggle up with a soft blanket and a steaming mug of tea (as if there’s ever a time when I don’t want a cup of tea). Or maybe it’s just that February is a short month full of short days that leave me craving the quiet company of a good book. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that winter’s a great season for a thrilling mystery or a mysterious thriller.

So, let’s pause to reflect on the bounty of incredible mysteries and thrillers that came out in 2023. After all, there were a fair few that are well worth pausing over.

With all the great titles released into the world last year, it can be hard to figure out where to start. After all, how do you choose just one book to read? I’m here to help you solve that mystery with these thrilling reads to get your blood pumping and your brain working. This list includes everything from fast-paced thrillers to delectable cozy mysteries (with a whole lotta everything else in between).

Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murders by Jesse Q. Sutanto book cover

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto

I really can’t say enough good stuff about Jesse Sutanto’s cozy mystery. Set in San Francisco, it’s a hilarious and heartwarming story chronicling the antics of the titular Vera Wong. When she finds a dead man in her tea shop one morning, her sleuthing leads her on a zany adventure. Will she be able to solve the murder (which the police seem too incompetent to solve)? More importantly, how will her investigation impact her life? This novel will leave you hoping for a sequel as you bask in the cozy mystery trademark warm fuzzy feeling.

Not So Perfect Strangers by L.S. Stratton book cover

Not So Perfect Strangers by L.S. Stratton

This book was a really good one. I knew it was going to be enjoyable because it’s loosely inspired by Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (in which two strangers meet on a train and hatch a “perfect murder” plot to each kill someone for the other person). What I didn’t expect was how complex the characters would be and how thoughtful the social commentary would be. Stratton confronts issues arising from systemic racism, domestic violence, poverty, and misogyny — to name some of the novel’s more central concerns — and manages to do so in an organic manner that is deftly intertwined with the story.

How Can I Help You by Laura Sims book cover

How Can I Help You by Laura Sims

This book is devious. Deliciously so, but devious nonetheless. Bibliophiles will appreciate the setting (a library!) and the fascinating premise. Librarian Margo — not her real name, of course — used to be a nurse, but her predilection for death was, er, incompatible with her profession. Suffice it to say, she had to change her name for a reason, and when new librarian and aspiring novelist Donna catches her letting a library patron die, things take a dark and darkly humorous turn. The two torment each other throughout the novel as Margo continues feeding her habit, and Donna uses her as fodder for her novel-in-progress.

Liar, Dreamer, Thief by Maria Dong book cover

Liar, Dreamer, Thief by Maria Dong

Katrina Kim is struggling. She’s failed out of college and has been refused refuge in her parents’ house. Already struggling with her mental and emotional health, her determination to pick up the pieces of her life is hindered by her chaotic psychological landscape. She begins to fixate on Kurt, a coworker at her new job, and when she sees him jump off a bridge, things quickly spiral even more out of control. As she attempts to figure out what’s going on, the novel takes the reader on a thrilling ride that careens toward its conclusion.

City Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita book cover

City Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita

The premise of this novel was enough to have me hooked: a murder is committed in a town so small that all of its residents live in one building, a detective arrives to investigate, and the only way in and out is cut off by a snowstorm. How on earth anyone could not be intrigued by this setup is beyond me, but even if you aren’t immediately drawn to the novel, the storytelling will reel you in. Yamashita’s writing is engrossing right from the start, and the mystery that unravels is one of the best I read last year.

Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll book cover

Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll

Jessica Knoll’s novel opens with an unwitting witness, Pamela Schumacher, who sees a murderer fleeing the scene of the crime. The novel presents two storylines — Pamela’s and another woman’s. Ruth Wachowsky has also had her life turned upside down and is certain the same man Pamela saw is responsible for murdering her girlfriend just a few years earlier. As the novel progresses, their storylines come together and race toward the novel’s climax. This book is compulsively readable, so be prepared to hunker down for a marathon reading session because you won’t want to put it down!

Bad Summer People by Emma Rosenblum book cover

Bad Summer People by Emma Rosenblum

This is a great murder mystery, and since it’s set at the beach (on Fire Island), it’s a nice distraction from the chilly winter weather. This summer, the regular visitors come to town, bringing their marital issues, trying personalities, and dark desires with them. But this summer, something’s different; this summer, someone dies at the boardwalk, and it’s unclear whether it was an accident or a murder. As the plot thickens, the seemingly charming small town reveals itself to be full of awful characters.

Angel Falls by Angie Kim book cover

Happiness Falls by Angie Kim

Happiness Falls is a profound read. The premise is immediately gripping: Mia’s father has gone missing. More specifically, he was out for a walk with her younger brother Eugene when he went missing, and Eugene has a rare condition that prevents him from being able to speak. Of course, this makes for a great mystery since the one person who witnessed whatever happened is incapable of telling anyone what he saw. As the mystery unravels, the reader learns more about this fascinating family and their deep bonds to one another, all while the novel explores larger philosophical questions around the concept of happiness.

Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia book cover

Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia delivers again in this fascinating horror thriller that delves into the world of 1990s Mexican horror cinema. When best friends Montserrat and Tristán discover a past-his-prime filmmaker lives in Tristán’s building, they find themselves embroiled in a quest to reverse a legendary curse on an unfinished film. Somehow weaving together a solid mystery with cinema lore and Lovecraftian cosmic horror, Silver Nitrate is a fun and fascinating read.

All the Sinners Bleed by S. A. Cosby book cover

All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby

Titus Crown is the new sheriff in town, but the town is a small one rife with racism, religious conservatism, and a serial killer who’s been targeting Black youth. When a school shooting rocks the community, it’s going to take all of Titus’ extensive experience as an FBI agent to mete out justice and balance the racism that seems to come at him from all sides. Not to mention, you know, catching that serial killer before it’s too late.

A Most Agreeable Murder by Julia Seales book cover

A Most Agreeable Murder by Julia Seales

If a novel of manners and a murder mystery had a love child, this book would be the result. It’s already been likened to both Jane Austen’s work and the Sherlock Holmes story world, which should tell you a lot. Beatrice Steele is our unconventional heroine, being more concerned with crime than high society. As it would happen, when she and her family attend the fashionable autumnal ball, two murders occur, and it’s time for Beatrice to put her detective skills to work in order to prevent the killer from striking again.

Murder and Mamon by Mia P. Manansala book cover

Murder and Mamon by Mia P. Manansala

Fair warning: this is the 4th book in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries series. That being said, like many mystery series, it works as a standalone — although you get great depth from the ongoing character development if you’ve read the previous three books. Lila’s wacky aunties have landed themselves in a heap of trouble (not for the first time) as the grand opening of their new laundromat approaches. When their new employee — one of the aunties’ nieces is found dead, the police are stumped. It’s up to Lila and her ragtag crew of friends and family to figure out whodunnit before things can spiral even more out of control. Oh, and keep some quality baked goods on hand while you read; otherwise, Manansala’s trademark inclusion of Filipinx fusion bakery offerings will have you running to the nearest bakery.

Still Looking for a Good Puzzle to Solve?

Check out this comprehensive list of mystery must-reads recommended by mystery writers. If you’re specifically looking for more recent releases, peruse this list of mystery thriller books from the very end of 2023. Alternately, consider exploring mysteries and thrillers based around games or lighthearted mysteries for the less daring readers among us (that’s me, too, y’all).