Mysteries are one of the most popular genres for books, television shows and feature films. In honor of Mystery Month in This Awful Awesome Life, we’re including some of the best classic mysteries and the latest bestsellers to help you celebrate with us.
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allen Poe. This short story by Poe was published in 1841 and is considered the first detective story. C. Auguste Dupin is a fictional character created by Edgar Allan Poe. Dupin made his first appearance in Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." He reappears in "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" in 1842 and “The Purloined Letter" in 1844. However, Dupin is an amateur sleuth and not a professional detective because that term had not yet been created. Read these three short stories and compare them to a modern detective novel.
The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins. The Woman in White is considered one of the finest mystery novels ever written. A mysterious woman in white who is later identified as a mental patient named Ann from an asylum resembles an heiress named Laura who is about to be married. Who is this woman? How does Laura end up at the asylum while Ann’s body is buried as Laura? The Moonstone is considered one of the first detective novels ever written. In The Moonstone, Collins utilizes the talents of two investigators, Franklin Blake, a gifted amateur sleuth and gentleman detective and Sergeant Cuff, the celebrated London policeman called in from Scotland Yard to act as a professional investigator. Collins established many of the ground rules of the modern detective novel. Though it was written after Poe’s detective stories, many consider Collins the creator of detective fiction because The Moonstone is a full length novel and has a professional detective as a main character. Read and decide for yourself.
The Complete Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes character debuted in 1887 in “A Study in Scarlet.” Additional tales appeared until 1927. Conan Doyle wrote four novels and 56 short stories about Sherlock Holmes. I recommend you read them in order. If you’ve watched the movies and television shows you really need to read the original stories to appreciate Holmes and Watson.
Agatha Christie Novels – In all, Christie wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, many of which included one of her fictional detectives, Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. Miss Marple is a nosy spinster with a knack for uncovering a mystery and the elegant Inspector Hercule Poirot is a police detective from Belgium forced to relocate to England after the German invasion of his country during the First World War. According to The Guinness Book of World Records, Christie is one of the most widely read authors in the world. Start with The Mysterious Affair at Styles or Murder on the Orient Express to get acquainted with Poirot then skip over to Miss Marple’s village, St. Mary Mead and enjoy The Murder at the Vicarage which marks Miss Marple’s first appearance in a full length novel. Marple is gossipy and not very nice in her debut, but Christie refines Marple’s character to make her more likable in latter works such as A Murder is Announced or A Caribbean Mystery.
Hard boiled Detectives:
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler features Philip Marlowe, a gritty and cynical private investigator with a nose for trouble and a weakness for beautiful women. Chandler wrote short stories for The Black Mask, a popular pulp magazine featuring detective fiction and completed seven novels before his death. Robert B. Parker completed Chandler’s eighth novel, Poodle Springs and he was allowed to revive the Philip Marlowe character in Perchance to Dream, a sequel to The Big Sleep. Also enjoy Farewell my Lovely, The Lady in the Lake, The Log Goodbye, The Little Sister, The High Window, Playback or one of Chandler’s short story collections, The Simple Art of Murder or Trouble is my Business. Chandler wrote in a time before political correctness or acceptance of diversity. Some parts of his books will be offensive, but please try to focus on his storytelling abilities.
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Hammett’s detective, Sam Spade appears in this book and four short stories. You’ve probably seen Humphrey Bogart in the movie, but it can be fun to look for the subtle and not so subtle differences between the book and the movie.
I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane. Spillane’s character, Mike Hammer must solve the murder of his best friend in his debut as a tough New York City private investigator. Spillane completed 13 novels and several short stories featuring Mike Hammer in addition to his other works. After his death, his friend and literary executor, Max Allan Collins, accepted the task of editing and completing Spillane's unpublished typescripts.
The V.I. Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky. V.I. Warshawski is a private investigator in Chicago specializing in white collar crime investigations. She’s tough, fiercely independent, passionate about her work and not afraid of physical confrontations. Paretsky created Warshawski to be the female version of Philip Marlowe or Mike Hammer. V.I. Warshawski appears in 19 novels and several short stories. Look for these titles to start reading the series: Indemnity Only, Deadlock, or Killing Orders.
The Kinsey Millhone Mystery series by Sue Grafton. Kinsey Millhone was created by Grafton in the image of the hard boiled female private investigator, but she is more compassionate and capable of personal growth than Marlowe, Hammer or Warshawski. The series starts with A is for Alibi and concludes with Y is for Yesterday.
The Spenser series by Robert B. Parker. Spenser is a private detective in Boston. He is the next evolution of detective. Spenser is in a committed relationship and has loyal friends who are racially and ethnically diverse, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, religions and sexual orientations. Parker manages all this diversity without it looking contrived or being forced into the story. Titles include: The Godwulf Manuscript, Promised Land and Pale Kings and Princes. Parker also penned the popular Jesse Stone series, the Sunny Randall series and the Cole and Hitch series, each of these series have continued with his family’s permission after Parker’s sudden death in 2010. Each series has been continued by writers who were friends and trusted associates of Parker.
Recently Released Mysteries:
The Wolf and the Watchman: A Novel by Niklas Natt och Dag (U.S. release date - March 5, 2019). Named the Best Debut Novel of 2017 by the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers. A watchman finds the body of a young woman floating in a bog. Solving her murder will lead him and the village solicitor through the thieves and beggars who make up the underbelly of Stockholm society to the wealthy nobility and a deadly web of lies.
The Good Detective by John McMahon (released March 19, 2019) is his debut novel and the first book in the P.T. Marsh detective series based in Mason Falls, Georgia. Marsh is a rising star in the Mason Falls Police Department until his wife and son are killed in an accident. Marsh makes a series of bad decisions starting with agreeing to help a young wife “confront” her abusive husband. Marsh fears his career and his freedom are in danger when the husband turns up dead the next morning. He was pretty roughed up, but alive when Marsh left, but could his injuries have been fatal? When the body of a murdered Black teen leads back to the deceased husband, Marsh fears he may have accidentally killed the man responsible.
Fair Game by Annette Dashofy - number eight in the Zoe Chambers Mystery Series is scheduled for release on May 14, 2019 and is available for preorder on amazon.com. Zoe thinks a week at the county fair showing her horse and manning the ambulances will help her work through some stressful issues, but her hopes are muddled by the appearance of an old school crush and a troubled teen. Meanwhile back in Vance Township, the object of Zoe’s affection, Police Chief Pete Adams is on the hunt for a murderer. A cryptic phone call sends Pete racing to the fair and he and Zoe make a grisly discovery after the school bus demolition derby which puts them directly in the path of a dangerous felon. Zoe is the perfect mix of the savvy professional and the lovable amateur sleuth.
Robert B. Parker Image: By Manchester (N.H.) Library - https://www.flickr.com/photos/manchesterlibrary/4294103316/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9398276
Avery Brooks and Robert Urich image: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15969625