Mystery & Suspense

More than 150 years ago, in 1841, Edgar Allan Poe wrote a short story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Today, many consider it the first modern mystery story. A. Conan Doyle wrote his first Sherlock Holmes story in the 1880s. In the 1920s Agatha Christie wrote her first novel; 50 years later she was still turning out bestsellers. The Hardy Boys first appeared in 1927, and Nancy Drew in 1930.

Today, mystery stories come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some are quiet and thoughtful, while others are fast-moving and often violent. While some are stand-alone stories, many authors and readers like to follow the same characters through book after book. The books listed here are only suggestions to help you find the kind of authors, characters and stories that you like best.

YA mystery and suspense

Some of the books on this list are conventional mysteries. Others, although they deal with crime and violence, explore the ways this affects the characters’ lives, rather than focusing on whodunit.

Kevin Brooks: Martyn Pig and Kissing the Rain—bleak British urban fiction

Guy Burt : The Hole—written when the author was 18

Caroline Cooney: The Face on the Milk Carton and sequels. A revelation about her past changes everything in Janie’s life.

Gillian Cross: Phoning a Dead Man

Gail Giles: Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters

Lois Duncan: most of her books have mystery or suspense themes

Christopher Golden: The Body of Evidence series

Jenna Blake is a college student and amateur detective. Fast-paced, often violent.

Margaret Peterson Haddix: Running Out of Time

Anthony Horowitz: the Alex Rider adventures

M E Kerr: The Fell stories

Lael Littke: Lake of Secrets

Graham McNamee: Acceleration

Caroline Plum-Ucci: Well-written suspense novels that often leave some questions unanswered.

Philip Pullman : The Ruby in the Smoke

M E Rabb: The Rose Queen and The Chocolate Lover: Two sisters from New York go into hiding in a small Indiana town in this mystery series.

Willo Davis Roberts

Nancy Springer : Blood Trail

Todd Strasser: The Accident

Shelley Sykes: For Mike

Eleanor Updale: Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? Intrigue in Victorian London

Cynthia Voigt: The Callender Papers

Nancy Werlin: Locked Inside

Timothy Wynne-Jones: The Boy in the Burning House

Paul Zindel: The Undertaker’s Gone Bananas

Other Mystery and Suspense Stories

Cozy is a term often used for mysteries that have little violence. They usually feature amateur detectives, rather than police or other professional crime-solvers. Agatha Christie’s mysteries are classic examples. Some current writers, and their fictional detectives, are:

M C Beaton: Hamish Macbeth, Agatha Raisin

Susan Wittig Albert: China Bayles

Jeanne Dams: Hilda Johansson (historical mysteries set in South Bend)

Lillian Jackson Braun: Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese cats

Mary Higgins Clark

Recently, several authors have been writing mysteries that come complete with recipes.

Tamar Myers: Magdalena Yoder, owner of the PennDutch Inn

Diane Mott Davidson: Goldy Bear Schulz, caterer

Private eye mysteries feature detectives who solve crimes because that’s their job. Lots of people wait eagerly for each new book by Sue Grafton about her private eye Kinsey Milhone (A is for Alibi…). You might also try

Sara Paretsky: V I Warshawski

Janet Evanovich: Stephanie Plum

Raymond Chandler: Philip Marlowe

Historical mysteries are a reminder that people have been solving crimes throughout history, in places where calling the police might not be an option. A few possibilities:

Ellis Peters: Brother Cadfael, a 12th-century monk

Bruce Alexander: Sir John Fielding, a London magistrate in the 1700s

Stephanie Barron: how might Jane Austen have solved mysteries?

Elizabeth Peters: the formidable Amelia Peabody, amateur Egyptologist

Procedural mysteries follow police and other law enforcement professionals as they investigate crimes. They often include many well-researched details. Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta is a current best-selling example. Others are

Ed McBain: the 87th Precinct novels—many books set in an urban police department

Tony Hillerman: Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, Navajo policemen

Nevada Barr: Anna Pigeon, National Park ranger

Action and suspense novels are always good for an adrenaline rush. Although they are not traditional whodunits, they often include twists that only the most alert readers will see coming. Some good starters:

Alistair Maclean—try Circus or The Guns of Navarone

Ken Follett

Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax, a less violent option

Clive Cussler

John Grisham’s best-sellers have established legal thrillers as a major genre. Some mystery writers focus on specific sports, such as Tim Green (football) and Dick Francis (horse racing).

Remember, these are only suggestions to get you started. What do you look for in a novel? Lots of action? Some romance? Do you like to try to figure out whodunit before the author tells you? Do you like learning about details of police investigations and forensic work? There are mysteries out there that have just what you’re looking for!