If I handed you a book and said the crime is revealed at the very beginning, you might not want to read it. It is, after all, the mystery — and solving the mystery — which keeps us holding on to a story. And yet, it has been proven time and time again that knowing the mystery is only part of the fun. Seeing the mystery be revealed and explained seems to be as important in storytelling as knowing the outcome itself.
If you’d like a very clear example of that, take a look at the beloved detective show Colombo. First, we are presented with the crime, and we even get a good glimpse at it: from how, when, and where, to the why. But watching Colombo figuring it all out is more than half the fun. In fact, nothing is as satisfying as seeing Colombo collect the pieces you were given at the beginning of the episode, turn around, place a hand on his forehead and say, “one more thing,” and then lay those pieces for the criminal to deal with, along with the consequences. It’s genius, especially because it makes the viewer a sort of omniscient figure, watching the scenes develop and knowing for sure justice is going to be served once again.
As a reader, I have stumbled upon a few books that work (with more or less detail) similarly to Colombo, and I am time and time again baffled by how well it works, and how it doesn’t in the slightest put me off from wanting to learn more, and keep reading. In truth, I’m more often frustrated by a book that is supposed to trick you, and doesn’t (am I too clever for this?), than a book that actually gives you very important pieces but still leaves something to discover.
In the list below there are eight such books, some of them mysteries and others books with a mystery element: those that start with what is usually the final mystery being revealed, and then take you along for the ride of how it all happened, and why.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This is the type of book in which the explanation of the crime is really what keeps the reader going, especially because the murder is rather intricate to start with, even after its complete revelation.
The story is told by one of six college students who met each other years before at Hampden college. One of them ended up dead, which changed the life of the whole group. Richard, our narrator, reflects on the events that led to the murder, and the consequences of their individual and group actions.
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
If you enjoy books with characters who seem to be separated from each other, but are connected in some way, this is the mystery for you.
Brooklyn, 1969: an old deacon walks into a housing project and shoots the project’s drug dealer. Across the rest of the book, we get a glimpse into the lives of those involved in the incident: the victim, those who witnessed the crime, the officers investigating it, and even the members of the deacon’s church. Bit by bit, the whole truth is known, bringing with it more than just one lesson to be learned.
The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
This is the first book in a trilogy, and it takes place in 1911. The main character, Fabian Vas, is an artist who draws and paints birds. He starts by explaining the murder he committed, the killing of the village’s lighthouse keeper. As the story proceeds, Vas reveals what took him to commit the crime, taking the reader along a story that is much more interesting than the mere crime itself.
The Best Lies by Sarah Lyu
The main character, Remy, seems to be sure of what the future will bring to her. But when her best friend, Elise, shoots Remy’s boyfriend, Jack, her entire world gets turned upside down.
As the police investigate the case, so does Remy, in an effort to put together the pieces she is missing to understand the motivations of her best friend and the secrets she and Jack had kept from her. This is a story about obsessive friendships.
The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao
This book gives a lot of We Have Always Lived In The Castle vibes, except that you are not thrown off by a reveal at the end, since it is granted to you first: two Chinese-Indonesian sisters struggle with the past after one of them has poisoned their entire family.
But do not be fooled by knowing this much about the crime, because there is in this book plenty of room for surprises that throw you off your feet all the way to the end.
Ocean State by Stewart O’Nan
This book starts off with a high school murder and the person who committed it. From then on we get to see the story of how it all came to be, from the perspective of four different women: the murderer, their mother, the victim, and the murderer’s younger sister. It is a story about women, and about love, and the things women do for love.
The Silent Patient by Michael Michaelides
Alicia seems to have a perfect life: a great career, a desirable husband, and a big house in one of the best areas of London. One day, Alicia’s husband returns home from work, and she shoots him in the chest. She doesn’t say a word from then on.
Theo, a criminal psychotherapist, wants to get to the core of the crime, but with Alice refusing to speak, he gets more intrigued and more set on discovering the why of it all — obsessively so.
Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent
It’s amazing how characters who seem to lead a perfect life so often end up involved in gruesome crimes, and this book is another example of that.
Alice and Oliver are married, and they seem to have it all. They even write and illustrate award-winning children’s books together. Then one day, Oliver attacks Alice and puts her in a coma. As the book progresses, we get to see their lives unravel, as well as the motivations that led Oliver to commit such a violent crime.
I hope you also get to enjoy these mysteries, and if you are looking for more posts on mystery books, we certainly have more for you! If you know of similar inverted mysteries that we failed to add to the list, please come talk to us about them on our socials!
For more mystery reads:
Also In This Story Stream
- 8 Mystery/Thriller TikTokers to Follow Right Now
- Why CLUE is the Perfect Mystery
- The Role of Wills and Testaments in Mystery Novels
- How Gothic Romance Led to Contemporary Romantic Suspense Novels
- Start with Mysteries, Thrillers, & True Crime If You’re New to Audiobooks
- A Map to the Best Treasure Hunting Mysteries
- The Best Mystery Books Featuring Dogs
- 10 Mystery/Thriller BookTube Channels You’ve Got to Follow
- 10 Cozy Mysteries for a Gentle Thrill (+ a Bonus!)