Hello readers! I am a bit obsessed with mysteries. I have always really liked them, and even went through a phase when I was around 9 or 10 when I would barely read anything but mysteries. As such, I like to think that I am sufficiently qualified to give you some mystery recommendations. Since I have been reading them for so long, I might as well break it down by different genres. But first:
How to write a good mystery (according to Emma)
Like I said, I have read a lot of mysteries, which means I have read a lot of BAD mysteries. I’ve come to realize that most of my favorites have certain commonalities. So if you are just getting into reading mysteries and want to know more about what to look for, or you want to know what types of books I like so you can make some recommendations, here are my favorite parts of a well-written mystery story.
Mysteries aren’t any fun if I don’t feel like I’m trying to solve it too. I want to be given information. Something I see a lot in mysteries is a detective character who is a genius and refuses to reveal almost anything of what they know even to the reader. Then we spend the whole book being frustrated that we don’t know anything until the very end. I hate that. I want to feel like I could have put it all together on my own if only I had been smart enough.
This term, taken from Buffy which in turn was taken from Scooby Doo, refers to the central team of characters. I know there are lots of lone detective books out there, but I love a good friendship, so when our main character has a cast of friends with weird but useful talents, I am here for it. Oftentimes, when I say that I like mysteries, people recommend thrillers to me. Thrillers are okay, but I don’t like the feeling of not knowing who you can trust. It puts me on edge in a way that I don’t find fun. I understand why people like it, but I would much rather have a reliable scooby gang to depend on.
This one goes along with the clues. A mystery isn’t about just answering one question, so we shouldn’t just be waiting until the very end for the one big answer to the one big question (usually whodunit). We don’t just want to know who, but when, how, why, who else was involved, how long did it take to plan, etc. I always feel so much more engaged with the story when some of the questions are answered along the way, especially if they give rise to new questions!
My favorite big reveals are the ones that I don’t really see coming until they’re right in front of me, and then I feel like an idiot for not figuring it out. I am in love with the feeling of solving a mystery seconds before the main character, and that’s basically what I am always looking for whenever I read a mystery.
Slow Burn Romance
This is by no means necessary to include in a mystery, but I’ve noticed that pretty much all my favorites include a romantic plotline that burns so slowly and is so rewarding when it finally pays off. This is also true in my favorite crime-solving TV shows.
Okay, onto the recommendations.
Children’s- Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
Listen, I would have thought that I would find Nancy’s aptitude at literally everything she does to be infuriating, but I actually find it completely charming. Nancy is a good friend, a loving daughter, and a super-sleuth who has a wealth of knowledge on a variety of subjects. Not every single book is perfect, but even the less good ones are still fun. Writing this is making me want to go pick up some Nancy Drew.
Classic – Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
To be fair, I haven’t actually read that many classic mysteries, but A Study in Scarlet was something I thoroughly enjoyed before I even started liking classics. The plot is really well constructed, and it’s the first Sherlock Holmes book, so all the characters are introduced really well.
Middle Grade – Sammy Keyes by Wendelin Van Draanen
I pretty much grew up on Sammy Keyes. As soon as I would open one of these books, you pretty much couldn’t tear me away until I was done. I would have to bring several of them with me on short vacations because I would tear through them (and I was a much slower reader back then). These books are fun, funny, and suspenseful. I initially only read as far as book 13 (or maybe 14?), because I thought I had “outgrown” them. Then I realized that was stupid and went back to finish the series a few years ago. They hold up and were really fun even as an adult.
Young Adult – Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
I’ve been a huge Maureen Johnson fan for close to 10 years. She’s written in a variety of different genres, but she is so good at mystery that I can’t wait for more from her! Truly Devious is a series that follows Stevie Bell, future detective (hopefully), who starts the year at a new school, Ellingham Academy, with the intent to solve the decades-old murder that occurred the first year the school was open. Maureen Johnson knows how to use just the right amount of tension, humor, romance, teenage angst, and flashbacks. These books are honestly some of the best things I’ve read in years.
Adult, Historical – Lady Sherlock by Sherry Thomas
If you’ve ever wondered what it would have been like if Sherlock Holmes were a woman, look no further! This is one of my favorite retellings/reimaginings of the Sherlock Holmes stories that has ever existed. I think people are reluctant to pick these up because the author has written a lot of romance novels, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t write a good mystery. I will say that the first one starts off kind of bizarrely, but once you get a good sense of the characters and we settle a bit more firmly into Charlotte Holmes’ perspective, the story really picks up. This is one of those books that I feel like I need to re-read so that I can pay more attention to all the significant details woven in throughout the story. These books have everything I loved about the original Sherlock Holmes, and so much more. Plus, if you like a slow-burn romance, boy does this series have one.
Adult, Contemporary – Veronica Mars
If you thought Veronica Mars was only a TV Show and movie, then you are seriously missing out. The two books in this series take place after the events of the movie, and feel just like watching an episode of Veronica Mars.
American Girl History Mysteries
I would devour these as a kid and I only decided not to put them in my top list because they are out of print. But if you like reading children’s literature, you should check out the children’s mystery section of your local library, because they probably have a few of these still.
Death Comes to Pemberly by P. D. James
This turns into a bit more of a courtroom drama than a mystery, but it’s still a really good time.
Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
I have some nitpicks about the ending of this one, but otherwise, I absolutely adored it. Shannon Hale is one of my favorites ever. This book also has some really funny moments.
Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter
Not strictly a mystery series, but there are some mysteries throughout. These books are a great example of how friendships in books make my heart melt.
What are some of your favorite mysteries? I will also gladly take TV show recommendations that fit with what I like. See you next time, and until then, happy reading!