Best Mystery Books of All Time

My best mystery books of all time

Everyone has their favourite mystery books.

You know the ones.

The book that the first time you read it you couldn’t put it down, and then afterwards wished you could read it again without knowing the ending.

These are the mystery books that stay with us through the years, the memory returning to us at unexpected moments. The books that stay on the bookshelf, no matter what.

I’ve been reading mystery books since an early age, often rummaging through my grandparents’ bookshelves on rainy days or escaping to the school library during break times to see what I could discover.

So today, I thought I’d share with you my favourite mystery books.

My top mystery books of all time.

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

From the publisher’s book description:

The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective.

William collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey where extraordinary things are happening under the cover of night. A spectacular popular and critical success, The Name of the Rose is not only a narrative of a murder investigation but an astonishing chronicle of the Middle Ages.

Why I like it:

Intelligent and twisty with a solid mystery at the heart of this story, The Name of the Rose was a book that transported me back to the Middle Ages in England and held me there until the last page.

The settings and dialogue are a masterpiece of fiction, and if you’re after a cracking mystery read while learning some history at the same time, I highly recommend this.

Highly recommended.

Jo Nesbø, The Headhunters

From the publisher’s book description:


Clever, wealthy, married to a beautiful woman: Roger Brown has it all. And his sideline as an art thief keeps him busy when his job as a corporate headhunter gets dull.


Then his wife introduces him to Clas Greve. Ambitious and talented, he's the perfect candidate for a top job Roger needs to fill - and the priceless painting he owns makes him the perfect target for a heist.


But soon Roger finds out that there's more to Greve than meets the eye, and it's not long before the hunter becomes the hunted...

Why I like it:

The first time I read this book, I had to read the opening scene twice – it’s that good.

Told from the point of view of someone who has narrowly survived a car crash, we join the story as he is hanging upside down trapped. He believes he is going to die, which is why he decides to and to reveal his secrets to you, the reader.

I was already reading the Daniel Silva, Gabriel Allon books when I stumbled across this stand-alone by Jo Nesbø, which I love because it has a combination of an art heist as one man pursues the theft of a priceless painting, only to have all his plans unravel and the tables turned.

A fast paced nail-biting read, Headhunters doesn't let up until the final page.

Highly recommended.

Michael Crichton, Timeline

From the publisher’s book description:

Sometimes, it seems like you can reach out and touch the past...

An old man wearing a brown robe is found wandering disoriented in the Arizona desert. He is miles from any human habitation and has no memory of how he got to be there, or who he is. The only clue to his identity is the plan of a medieval monastery in his pocket.

In France, Professor Edward Johnston and his students are studying the ruins of a medieval town. Suspicious of the knowledge of the site shown by their mysterious financier, he returns to the US to investigate. But in his absence, the students make a disturbing discovery in the ruins: the long-decayed remains of Johnston's glasses - and a message in modern English.

The implications are staggering. The consequences are earth-shaking. And the distant past isn't so distant any more.

Why I like it:

For me, this is the best book Michael Crichton ever wrote, and I know a lot of “Jurassic Park” fans are going to have my guts for garters for that comment.

In my mind, this novel perfectly blends science, history and a mystery in a tightly bound storyline which never lets up – from the mysterious stranger appearing on a road out of nowhere, through to the protagonists’ journey back in time, everything is written in such a way that it’s believable.

Highly recommended.

Michael Connelly, Angels Flight

From the publisher’s book description:

A lawyer is found murdered on the eve of a landmark trial at the foot of Angels Flight in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.

Harry Bosch finds himself yet again in charge of a case that no one else will touch. This time his job is to nail the killer of hot shot black lawyer Howard Elias.

Elias has been found murdered on the eve of going to court on behalf of Michael Harris, a man the LAPD believes guilty of the rape and murder of a twelve-year-old girl. Elias had let it be known that the aim of his civil case was not only to reveal the real killer but to target and bring down the racist cops who beat up his client during a violent interrogation.

Now it's all down to Bosch - and he's got to take a long, hard look at some of his colleagues in a police department that is rife with suspicion and hatred.

Why I like it:

The sixth book in the bestselling Harry Bosch series, Angels Flight was the first mystery where the political machinations of the LAPD really came to light, affecting every angle of this dogged detective’s investigation.

The character of Harry Bosch has constantly evolved since first appearing in The Black Echo, and I think that’s what continues to keep the series fresh. The stories aren’t simply about the investigation of a murder in each book, it’s how the main character’s life is changed by the investigation and the world around him.

As Bosch himself would say: Everybody counts, or nobody counts.

Highly recommended.

Ken Follett, Hornet Flight

From the publisher’s book description:

Europe in Darkness
1941. The Nazis have Denmark in their vice-like grip, their malign presence corroding everything its inhabitants hold dear. Even the police betray their countrymen and work with the Gestapo to hunt down spies.

A Glimmer of Hope
In this hostile climate the Danish resistance discover a secret that could change the course of the war – proof of an advanced German radar installation that is causing catastrophic losses to Allied planes bringing the fight to Germany.

A Dangerous Mission
The resistance must get the information to the British and will have only one chance, using a near-derelict Hornet Moth bi-plane mouldering away in a church. If they succeed the balance of the war will be tipped in the Allies’ favour but failure will see them killed . . .

Why I like it:

I love all of Ken Follett’s first- and second-world war stories, but there’s something about Hornet Flight that really caught my attention the first time I read it – more so than Eye of the Needle, which is the one most people cite. As with Follett’s more well-known tomes such as Pillars of the Earth, it’s the settings in this story that transport you into the characters’ lives and, as their plight becomes more desperate, you’re pulled right into the story every step of the way.

Highly recommended.

John Grisham, The Pelican Brief

From the publisher’s book description:

Two Supreme Court Justices are dead, their murders unsolved.
But one woman might have found the answer – if she can live to tell it.

Darby Shaw is a brilliant New Orleans legal student with a sharp political mind. For her own amusement, she draws up a legal brief showing how the judges might have been murdered for political reasons and shows it to her professor. He shows it to his friend, an FBI lawyer.

Then the professor dies in a car bombing.

And Darby realises that her brief, which pointed to a vast presidential conspiracy, might be right. Someone is intent on silencing Darby for good - somebody who will stop at nothing to preserve the secrets of the Pelican Brief...

Why I like it:

I find Grisham’s early books a lot more entertaining than later ones, but for me The Pelican Brief is the standout. From the opening chapter, you know it’s going to be a fast read, and it’s one of those books that I can happily devour every few years. The action beats are superb and on point, and the legal terminology doesn’t bog down the pace.

Highly recommended.

Dick Francis, Nerve

From the publisher’s book description:

Rob Finn's winning streak made him one of the most sought-after steeplechase jockeys. So his subsequent collapse in form surprised no one more than himself.

As word spreads that Finn has lost his nerve, he discovers a well-managed campaign to discredit certain jockeys; in his own case, a plan assisted by horse doping.

To find the culprits behind it, Finn will have to put everything on the line . . .

Why I like it:

The first crime fiction book I recall reading was Nerve by the late Dick Francis. His novels are often considered to be “cosy mysteries”, and I think that’s a huge mistake.

Nerve is a psychological thriller as good as any – Francis was writing them before the genre name had even been coined. It has a fast-paced plot, plenty of chilling moments, and a killer who has a unique “hands off” approach to his victims.

It’s a very, very clever piece of writing.

Once the protagonist, a jockey whose rise to fame has been meteoric due to his rivals’ demise, finds himself being targeted, he starts to question everything that has happened around him for the past few months: a colleague who suicides, and rumours surrounding the racing industry that destroy another jockey’s career.

When he finally realises who is behind the cruel scheme, he sets out to wreak his revenge – and prove once and for all that he hasn’t lost his nerve.

Highly recommended.

Stephen Leather, The Solitary Man

From the publisher’s book description:

Chris Hutchison is a man on the run.

Imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, Hutch escapes from a British maximum-security prison and starts a new life in Hong Kong. But a ghost from his past catches up with him and gives him a choice: help a former terrorist break out of a Bangkok prison - or face life behind bars once more.

Meanwhile, the DEA wants to nail the vicious drug warlord responsible for flooding the States with cheap heroin. And decides to use Hutch as a pawn in a deadly game.

Hutch's bid for freedom takes him into the lawless killing fields of the Golden Triangle, where the scene is set for one final act of betrayal . . .

Why I like it:

This is one of Stephen Leather’s standalone novels from the 1990s and in my mind, still one of his best.

From the prison break-out through to the action in Hong Kong, Stephen Leather introduced a great character in the form of Chris Hutchinson.

A man falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Chris goes on the run, hiding in Asia and posing as a dog trainer, only to be blackmailed into undertaking another breakout – this time helping to release a known terrorist from a notorious Hong Kong jail.

This is a well-crafted read with the protagonist having many hidden layers that you discover as the plot unfolds – and the pace is electrifying.

Highly recommended.

Michael Robotham, Life or Death

From the publisher’s book description:

Why would a man escape from prison the day before he's due to be released?

Audie Palmer has spent a decade in prison for an armed robbery in which four people died, including two of the gang. Seven million dollars has never been recovered and everybody believes that Audie knows where the money is.

For ten years he has been beaten, stabbed, throttled, and threatened almost daily by prison guards, inmates and criminal gangs, who all want to answer this same question, but suddenly Audie vanishes, the day before he's due to be released.

Everybody wants to find Audie, but he's not running. Instead, he's trying to save a life . . . and not just his own.

Why I like it:

With echoes of Stephen King’s The Green Mile, Michael Robotham flies the flag for Australian crime fiction with this standalone mystery that was published in 2014 and won the 2015 Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger Award.

Right from the start, you’re drawn into Audie’s world as he tries to survive incarceration, all the time keeping the secret of where the money’s hidden despite threats to his life.

Except this story isn’t just about where the money is hidden. It’s about why – and when I found out, I was even more invested in the outcome alongside him.

Highly recommended.

So, there you have it – my Top mystery books of all time.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my favourite mystery reads and have some ideas to top up your To Be Read pile.

Are there books that you’ve read that stay with you for years after you’ve read them? Do you have books that you read again and again, always discovering something new?

I’d love to hear what your top mystery books of all time are.