Based on curated lists from The Guardian, Book Riot and more, suggestions from readers on Goodreads and Library Thing, and picks from literary mystery authors like Mark Haddon, Jenny Milchman, Laurie R. King and Derek B. Miller, here is a roundup of the 112 best literary mysteries and crime novels ever written.
To compile the final rankings, I assigned a weighted score to each novel appearing on a previous list and combined these scores with votes from readers and authors to produce a cumulative score that distinguished 112 novels as standouts from the pack of over 1,500 novels that garnered at least one vote.
(In the event of a tie, books were ranked according to a combination of Amazon and Goodreads reviews. Books in a series were considered a single entity and are listed by the highest-ranked book in the series.)
As a bonus feature, I’ve produced two downloads:
- The favorite literary mysteries and crime novels from nine contemporary mystery and crime authors
- A one-page PDF shopping guide to The Best Literary Mysteries and Crime Novels.
You can access both of these free resources below. And now, on with the list!
These books were cited by individual readers as their favorites within the genre but did not earn enough points on my rating scale to crack the top 112 books. They are listed alphabetically by the author’s last name.
The Archivist by Martha Cooley, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, Out by Natsuo Kirino, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman, The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark, The Hellfire Club by Peter Straub, A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine (1986)Click here to download mystery and crime fiction recommendations from Jenny Milchman, Peter Straub and several other literary mystery authors.
The Best Literary Mysteries and Crime Novels
112. The Book Hunters of Katpadi by Pradeep Sebastian (2017)
111. The Ruined Map by Kōbō Abe (1967)
110. Ill Will by Dan Chaon (2017)
109. The Healer by Antti Tuomainen (2013)
108. Little Deaths by Emma Flint (2017)
107. The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani (2016)
106. Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates (2015)
105. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh (2015)
Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize for best English novel published in the United Kingdom, this novel follows a disturbed young woman splitting time between caring for her alcoholic father and working as a secretary at a boys’ prison until a mesmerizing new friend pulls her into an unimaginable crime.
104. The Book of Evidence by John Banville (1989)
This confession of a cultured and amoral scientist-turned-murderer won Ireland’s Guinness Peat Aviation literary award in 1989 and was shortlisted for the 1989 Man Booker Prize.
103. Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner (1948)
102. Idaho by Emily Ruskovich (2017)
101. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (2014)
100. White Tears by Hari Kunzru (2017)
99. Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran (2011)
98. The Fallen Architect by Charles Belfoure (2018)
97. Dangerous Illusions by Joseph J. Gabriele (2013)
96. The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller (2010)
95. Meet Me in Malmö by Torquil MacLeod (2010)
MacLeod’s introduction to Inspector Anita Sundström follows her investigation of the murder of a glamorous film star amidst a growing list of suspects and antagonism from Anita’s colleagues.Click here to download mystery and crime fiction recommendations from Torquil MacLeod and several other literary mystery authors.
94. Samaritan by Richard Price (2003)
93. Nineteen Seventy-Seven by David Peace (2000)
92. The Caretaker by A.X. Ahmad (2013)
91. 419 by Will Ferguson (2012)
In this winner of the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize for best English novel by a Canadian author, a retired Canadian schoolteacher dies in a car accident after becoming entangled in a fraud scam, and his daughter journeys to Nigeria to bring the scam’s perpetrator to justice.
90. A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller (2012)
89. The Red Road by Denise Mina (2013)
88. The Ghost Runner by Parker Bilal (2014)
87. Second Violin by John Lawton (2007)
86. The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia (1961)
85. Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong (2000)
Xialong’s debut novel about two Shanghai detectives investigating a murder that could embarrass the Communist Party won a 2001 World Mystery Convention Anthony Award and was nominated for a 2001 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, both for Best First Novel.
84. The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene (1943)
83. A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot (1991)
82. White Jazz by James Ellroy (1992)
81. The Price of Silence by Camilla Trinchieri (2007)
Trinchieri mixes a murder trial with memories and emails to slowly expose the secrets behind the killing of a young, pregnant Chinese artist by her ESL teacher at Columbia.Click here to download mystery and crime fiction recommendations from Camilla Trinchieri and several other literary mystery authors.
80. Cover Her Face by P.D. James (1962)
79. Child of God by Cormac McCarthy (1973)
78. Murder at the Savoy by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (1970)
77. Onion Street by Reed Farrel Coleman (2013)
76. The Hidden Keys by André Alexis (2016)
75. His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae by Graeme Macrae Burnet (2015)
Burnet uses fictional historical documents to tell the story of the imagined triple homicide by seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae in a remote Scottish farming village in 1869. His Bloody Project was a finalist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize and the 2016 Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
74. The Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1957)
73. Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon (1993)
72. The Collector by John Fowles (1963)
Fowles’ debut novel is divided into two sections: one told from the perspective of a lonely clerk, the other from the view of the female art student he holds captive in the cellar of his rural farmhouse. The book was adapted into a 1965 Academy Award-nominated film starring Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar.
71. The King of Lies by John Hart (2006)
70. Cockroaches by Jo Nesbø (1998)
69. Decompression by Juli Zeh (2012)
68. Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell (2013)
67. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon (2014)
66. Massacre Pond by Paul Doiron (2013)
65. Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane (1996)
64. Candlemoth by R.J. Ellory (2003)
White death row inmate Daniel recounts the story of his black childhood friend Nathan Verney and their shared past that led through first loves, the Vietnam War, the pair’s flight from the draft, and Nathan’s eventual beheading by Daniel’s hand.Click here to download mystery and crime fiction recommendations from R.J. Ellory and several other literary mystery authors.
63. In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings (2016)
62. Every Brilliant Eye by Loren D. Estleman (1986)
61. Justice Hall by Laurie R. King (2002)
The sixth book in King’s Mary Russell series combines literature’s most famous detective with a serpentine contemporary plot as Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes chase a murderer from an English estate to urban Paris to the American prairie.Click here to download mystery and crime fiction recommendations from Laurie R. King and several other literary mystery authors.
60. Still Life with Murder by P.B. Ryan (2003)
59. The Given Day by Dennis Lehane (2008)
58. In the Morning I’ll be Gone by Adrian McKinty (2014)
Winner of the 2014 Australian Crime Writers Association Ned Kelly Award for Best Novel, the third installment in the Sean Duffy series features Duffy coming out of forced retirement to solve a locked room murder while pursuing an escaped IRA master bomber.
57. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (2012)
Featuring a glow-in-the-dark cover, this 2013 American Library Association Alex Award winner follows a web designer-turned-bookseller as he investigates the mysterious clients and myriad secrets of the titular bookstore.
56. The Blackhouse by Peter May (2009)
The first novel of the Lewis Trilogy follows Edinburgh Detective Inspector Finlay Macleod as he investigates the murder of his childhood bully on his birth-isle of Lewis. It won the 2011 Cezam Prix Littéraire Inter CE for best novel by a European author published in France and the 2013 Deadly Pleasures Barry Award for Best Novel and was adapted as a BBC Radio serial.
55. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014)
In Ng’s debut, the sudden death of a Chinese-American family’s favorite daughter disrupts the family’s fragile bonds and sends them into chaos. It won the 2014 Amazon Book of the Year Award, the 2015 Massachusetts Book Award, a 2015 Alex Award, the 2014-2015 Asian/Pacific Librarians Association Award, and the 2015 Medici Book Club Prize.
54. The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen (2008)
53. Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller (2012)
In this winner of the Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey Dagger Award, retired Marine sniper and watch repairman Sheldon Horowitz moves from New York to live with his granddaughter and her new husband in Norway. There, Sheldon protects a young neighbor boy from a violent outburst and seeks safe haven in his unfamiliar new surroundings.Click here to download mystery and crime fiction recommendations from Derek B. Miller and several other literary mystery authors.
52. Down River by John Hart (2007)
51. Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
When the last honest citizen of Poisonville is murdered, a private detective stays behind to punish the guilty and soon finds himself taking on the entire town. Time magazine included Red Harvest in its list of the 100 Best English-Language Novels published between 1923 and 2005.
50. Iron House by John Hart (2011)
49. The Ghost Writer by John Harwood (2004)
A young Australian boy discovers his great-grandmother’s ghost stories in a secret drawer in his mother’s room and soon finds himself drawn into terrifying family mystery that leads him from Australia to London.Click here to download mystery and crime fiction recommendations from John Harwood and several other literary mystery authors.
48. The Last Child by John Hart (2009)
47. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013)
46. The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
An indifferent French-Algerian man is sentenced to death for killing an Arab man on an Algerian beach in this novel the French newspaper Le Monde ranked as the best book of the twentieth century.
45. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (1998)
In sixteenth-century Istanbul, an acclaimed artist disappears while working on an assignment that threatens the religious law of the Islamic ruling elite. Pamuk would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006, and My Name is Red has been translated into more than sixty languages, with the French, Italian and English translations all winning literary awards.
44. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (2010)
43. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (1990)
Mosley’s famous protagonist Easy Rawlins becomes a private detective and finds himself accused of murder while investigating the disappearance of a young white woman. The novel won the 1991 Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award for Best First Novel and was adapted into a 1995 film starring Denzel Washington as Easy.
42. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene (1938)
41. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (2003)
40. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (2013)
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s first pseudonymous novel about a hard-luck private detective investigating a supermodel’s supposed suicide won the 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for best mystery/thriller.
39. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (2009)
38. The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas (1995)
In this winner of the 2006 Crime Writers’ Association International Dagger Award for best translated crime novel, three historians and a former police commissioner investigate the mysterious appearance of a beech tree and mysterious disappearance of the woman who owned the tree’s garden.
37. Christine Falls by Benjamin Black (2006)
This debut crime novel published under the pseudonym of Man Booker-winning author John Banville follows a 1950s Dublin pathologist who discovers that the secrets behind a young woman’s death could expose the Catholic hierarchy and members of his own family.
36. Lush Life by Richard Price (2008)
35. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (2006)
34. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)
In the introduction to literature’s most famous pair of detectives, Sherlock Homes and Dr. John Watson investigate a murder that has stumped Scotland Yard. A Study in Scarlet was the first work of detective fiction to incorporate a magnifying glass and has been adapted several times for the stage, screen and television.
33. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
A London lawyer investigates the work of Dr. Henry Jekyll, who has concocted a potion to unleash his dark alter ego in the form of Mr. Edward Hyde. This classic tale was one of Stevenson’s best-selling works and has been adapted into over 120 stage and film versions.
32. Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta (2014)
31. Live Flesh by Ruth Rendell (1986)
When Victor Jenner is released from prison after his conviction for shooting a young policeman (but not for the numerous rapes he committed), he struggles to adjust to civilian life until he meets the policeman he shot and the officer’s beautiful girlfriend. Live Flesh won the 1986 Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel.
30. A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George (1988)
A pair of detectives investigate a savage murder that has stunned a peaceful English countryside in this 1989 winner of the Anthony Award for Best First Novel.
29. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (2009)
Twenty-five years after her mother and sisters were murdered in an apparent satanic cult ritual, Libby Day discovers the truth of what happened and finds herself on the run from a killer. Dark Places was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for best thriller and won Dark Scribe Magazine’s Black Quill Award for Dark Genre Novel of the Year.
28. The Devil in Velvet by John Dickson Carr (1951)
27. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (2005)
In this retelling of the historical figure of Vlad Tepes and his fictional equivalent Count Dracula, a young woman’s discovery of hidden ancient letters brings her face-to-face with her parents’ dark pasts. The Historian won the 2006 American Booksellers Association Book Sense Award for Best Adult Fiction and the 2005 Quills Foundation Quill Award for Debut Author of the Year and is slated for a film adaptation.
26. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (2007)
In an alternate world where Israel collapsed in 1948 and Jewish refugees live in the temporary safe haven of Sitka, Alaska, a detective investigates the murder of his chess prodigy neighbor. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union won the 2008 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Award for Best Novel, the 2008 Locus magazine Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, the 2008 World Science Fiction Convention Hugo Award for Best Novel, and the 2007 Sidewise Award for Alternate History for Best Novel, and was shortlisted for the 2007 British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel and the 2008 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel.
25. Possession by A.S. Byatt (1990)
Two young scholars discover the secret love affair between a pair of Victorian poets in this winner of the 1990 Man Booker Prize. Possession was included in Time’s list of the 100 best novels from 1923 to 2005 and in the BBC’s 2003 survey The Big Read.
24. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (1824)
23. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane (2001)
A homicide detective investigates the murder of the daughter of his childhood friend-turned-criminal as a third friend emerges as a suspect in this winner of the 2002 Independent Mystery Booksellers Association Dilys Award and the 2002 Massachusetts Book Award.
22. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002)
21. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (1949)
This story of a modern police officer researching the alleged crimes of King Richard III of England as he recovers from a broken leg in a hospital bed was named the best crime novel of all time by the British Crime Writers’ Association and voted the fourth best mystery novel by the Mystery Writers of America.
20. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003)
A self-described fifteen-year-old “mathematician with some behavioural difficulties” investigates the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog in this winner of the 2003 Whitbread Book Awards for Best Novel and Book of the Year by a British or Irish writer, the 2004 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book by a British Commonwealth author, and the 2003 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.Click here to download mystery and crime fiction recommendations from Mark Haddon and several other literary mystery authors.
19. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (2004)
18. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (1995)
Atkinson’s debut novel offers a first-person account of a twentieth-century working-class English girl mixed with World War I and II flashbacks from the perspectives of her relatives. It won the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year Award and South Africa’s 1996 Boeke Prize.
17. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
In the first novel from this crime fiction legend, a dying millionaire hires private eye Philip Marlowe to deal with his daughter’s blackmailer. The Big Sleep was included in Le Monde’s list of 100 Books of the Century and Time’s 100 Best Novels from 1923 to 2005, and was adapted into feature films in 1946 and 1978.
16. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (1994)
15. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853)
Myriad characters and subplots spiral off the obscure case of a disputed will in this complex portrayal of all levels of London society. Author George Gissing and critics G. K. Chesterton and Harold Bloom considered Bleak House to be Dickens’ best novel. Daniel Bloom ranked it twelfth in his book The Novel 100: A Ranking of the Greatest Novels of All Time, and Stephen King lists it as one of his ten favorite books.
14. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)
13. The Alienist by Caleb Carr (1994)
12. Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg (1992)
11. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
An orphaned maid marries a wealthy widower only to be haunted by the specter of his late wife. Rebecca won the American Booksellers Association’s 1938 National Book Award for best novel. It was listed at number fourteen on the BBC’s The Big Read and ranked as the United Kingdom’s favorite book of the past 225 years in a poll by bookseller W H Smith, beating out classics like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and 1984 by George Orwell.
10. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)
9. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1859)
Walter Hartright emerges as one of the first literary detectives as he becomes entangled in the dark intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his friend Count Fosco in this novel that ranked seventy-seventh on the BBC’s survey The Big Read.
8. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (2006)
7. In the Woods by Tana French (2007)
A Dublin detective and his partner investigate the murder of a twelve-year-old girl in the same woods where the detective escaped a terrifying encounter as a child. In the Woods won the 2008 Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author, the 2008 Barry Award for Best First Novel, the 2008 Mystery Readers International Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel, and the 2008 Anthony Award for Best First Novel.
6. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)
5. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (1935)
4. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)
Another Collins classic that helped launch the detective and mystery genres. An amateur detective and a Scotland Yard sergeant investigate the theft of an enormous diamond originally stolen from an Indian shrine in this book T. S. Eliot called “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe,” and Dorothy L. Sayers praised as “probably the very finest detective story ever written.”
3. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2001)
When an eleven-year-old boy discovers that someone has been destroying every copy of every book written by his new favorite author, he finds himself drawn into one of the darkest secrets of post-World War II Barcelona. Having sold 15 million copies worldwide, The Shadow of the Wind ranks as one of the best-selling books of all time.
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005)
In the first book of Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, a dogged journalist and tattooed computer hacker investigate a decades-old disappearance from one of Sweden’s wealthiest families. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sold more than 30 million copies in the first five years of publication and won the 2006 Glass Key Award for best Nordic crime novel, the 2008 Boeke Prize, the 2009 British Book Award for Best Crime Thriller of the Year, and the 2009 Anthony Award for Best First Novel.
1. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (1980)
Another international bestseller with over fifty million copies sold worldwide, this novel about a Franciscan friar investigating a charge of heresy and a sudden death at a fourteenth-century Italian monastery also won the 1981 Premio Strega Prize for best Italian-language work and the 1982 French Prix Médicis Étranger Award for best book translated into French and ranked fourteenth on Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century list.
For more great literary mysteries and crime novels, download a list of the best literary mysteries according to nine contemporary crime fiction authors and a one-page PDF shopping guide to The Best Literary Mystery and Crime Novels using the form below. And to stay up-to-date, check out the best literary mysteries and crime novels published in the years after this list: