The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler (1939)
A noir whodunit as guiltily enjoyable as breakfast-in-bed; it’s as hardboiled as the egg and as pulpy as the juice. The actual mystery is so famously labyrinthine that, according to Hollywood apocrypha, when screenplay adapter William Faulkner contacted Chandler to ask who killed one of the characters, Chandler replied that he did not know.
The Black Echo, by Michael Connelly (1992)
In the first installment of a (so far) 16-book series, detective Harry Bosch investigates the apparent overdose death of a Vietnam veteran and discovers a tangled web of interconnected criminals: from bank robbers to diamond smugglers to crooked cops. The surprises just keep coming in this old-school, hard-boiled police procedural.
Drood, by Dan Simmons (2009)
When they aren’t too busy puncturing each other’s egos, a fictionalized Charles Dickens and his frenemy/colleague Wilkie Collins play cat-and-mouse with ghoulish serial murderer Edwin Drood, through and beneath the streets of London. Intricately plotted, psychologically complex, hurtlingly dynamic, Simmons’s meta-mystery fascinates, even when it dallies.
The Fifth Woman, by Henning Mankell (2000)
Swedish detective Kurt Wallander doggedly attempts to locate the thread that will tie together three seemingly unrelated murders, on the trail of a most uncommon serial killer with very surprising motives. The steadily building momentum makes it hard to find a place to stop and put this one down.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson (2008)
The first pairing of intrepid reporter Mikael Blomkvist and tattooed, pierced, and prickly superhacker Lisbeth Salander (one of the genre’s coolest heroines ever) leads them into a labyrinth of dirty little family secrets, as they investigate the 40-year-old disappearance of a tycoon’s niece. The dark, edgy, complex thriller that started it all.
A Great Deliverance, by Elizabeth George (1988)
George has become deservedly famous for her long, rich novels of psychological suspense, most featuring Scotland Yard inspector Thomas Lynley; this tale—of savage murder in the bucolic English countryside—is her finest.
The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins (1868)
Before there was Patricia Cornwell and Michael Connelly, there was Collins, and this tale of a stolen Indian diamond is one of the first — not to mention the finest — detective novels ever written.
Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
Who is the creepiest of all in du Maurier’s beloved Gothic novel about a timid young woman facing dark forces in an whistling old mansion? Is it the secretive husband? Or the chilling housekeeper who obsessively keeps the man’s first wife’s memory alive? The tension builds until the gut-clenching surprise of an ending.
The Skull Beneath the Skin, by P.D. James (1982)
Detective-for-hire Cordelia Gray finds herself stuck in a private castle on a remote island, playing bodyguard to a fading diva actress who has received death threats. The killer lurks somewhere among her fellow house guests, in a Christiesque tale that’s as much engaging comedy of manners as classic whodunit.
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, by John Le Carré (1963)
Le Carre’s classic stands as one of the finest spy novels of all time. (None other than Graham Greene declared it the best.) Stunning in its revelations of government amorality in the name of greater good, his high stakes tale of espionage follows Alec Leamas, a marvelously gritty British agent in early Cold War Berlin.
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (2014)
The wildly popular best-seller – which became a feature film starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike – takes readers down the rabbit hole of Nick and Amy Dunne’s destructive relationship following Amy’s disappearance on the couple’s five-year anniversary. The police are quick to place blame, but it’s hard to know who to trust as the media and the nation begin to take interest in the search for “Amazing Amy.”
The Secret Place, by Tana French (2014)
The latest installment in French’s Dublin Murder Squad, Detective Stephan Moran takes on solving the homicide of a young man named Chris Harper who attended St. Kilda’s School. But within its walls, gossip and secrecy abound as the case explores the various cliques of St. Kilda’s, putting friendships to test.
Killing Floor, by Lee Child (1997)
Killing Floor introduces readers to Jack Reacher, a former military officer turned drifter who upon arriving in Margrave, Georgia is arrested for murder. A local detective makes it his mission to prove Reacher’s innocence and the two embark on a journey to find the truth, leading them down some unexpected and often dangerous paths.
Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith (2011)
The first in an electrifying trilogy follows Leo Demidov’s search for the truth in Stalin-era Soviet Union which in its current state is free of crime – or at least the government doesn’t want to acknowledge it. But after a series of violent murders, Demindov – a valued security officer – takes it upon himself to solve the crimes, putting him at odds with the world around him.
The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton (1969)
When a military satellite crashes down to Earth, it manages to shockingly kill nearly everyone in the town closest to its landing site. The event sparks a group of scientists to launch a full investigation to determine what caused the deaths and prevent even further destruction. The tension-building novel explores life outside our world, allowing for readers’ imaginations to run wild.