A Short History of Mystery and Some Indubitably Great Reads

by Eilidh Spery

I love most books—as an English major and a bookseller, that comes with the territory. I’m drawn to different books for different reasons: some create beautiful images and scenes, some have complex twisting plots, and others grab me with their diverse, distinct characters. But the genre that has always fascinated me most is mysteries, so much so that I focused my senior year of college around studying it.

The genre itself has an interesting history, full of its own surprises and twists. When most people think of mysteries, they think of Arthur Conan Doyle and his detective Sherlock Holmes, an imposing gentleman using his intellect and minimal clues to figure out impossible crimes. But the person to actually invent detective fiction is someone you might never suspect: Edgar Allan Poe, with five short stories, the first of which was “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

From Poe and Conan Doyle’s short stories, the genre took an interesting journey as it divided and expanded in the early 1900s, branching into cozy mysteries and hard-boiled crime. The first subgenre began in Britain and is composed of mysteries which lack violence and anything suggestive, and are typically very proper—Agatha Christie’s novels about her detective Miss Marple fall into this category. The second appeared in America, spearheaded by authors like Raymond Chandler with his novel The Big Sleep, and focuses on true crime, violence, and hardened detectives. Since then many other types of mysteries have appeared and the genre has
continued to branch into new areas and topics.

Thrillers are one of the most recent trends in mystery fiction, encompassing books such as The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins or The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn which present fast-paced stories and psychological suspense. I have an entire shelf of mysteries to be read on my bookshelf right now, and still haven’t come close to sampling all the different subgenres out there. But I’ve read a lot of wonderful mysteries, and every time I start a new one, I’m always amazed by how each novel grabs me and how well their puzzles are crafted. Who did it? Why? How? Here are four of my favorite mysteries. I recommend finding a cozy chair, making a cup of coffee, and seeing if you can puzzle your way to the solution before the last page.

Here are four of my favorite mysteries. I recommend finding a cozy chair, making a cup of coffee, and seeing if you can puzzle your way to the solution before the last page.

1. Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams.

Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams. In this middle-grade read, the first of his Echo Falls Mystery trilogy, Abrahams introduces Ingrid, a plucky thirteen-year-old who accidentally leaves her soccer cleats in the wrong place and becomes involved in a murder investigation. Ingrid is a funny, clever, stubborn character dealing with friends, soccer, and her acting career at the same time that she tries to solve the murder. You’ll want to follow her, literally, down any rabbit hole. It’s worth a read for any reader, no matter your age.

2. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie is my all-time favorite Christie novel, well-crafted, creepy, and impossible to put down. A mysterious stranger invites ten people to an island and once they arrive, they begin dying off one by one. Who’s killing them? Why? It’s a seemingly impossible puzzle with a shocking ending.

3. Celine by Peter Heller

Celine by Peter Heller. Heller, a local Colorado author, creates an incredible protagonist in Celine, a private investigator in her late sixties. She is contacted by a young woman whose father disappeared years ago in Yellowstone and is presumed dead. Celine heads west to investigate the crime and finds that she has to face her own past along the way. Celine’s
elegance, strength, bravery, and detecting skills will inspire you and linger with you long after you’ve finished the novel. But Heller’s descriptions also stand out; this book is so vivid that you’ll sink into its world immediately.

Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky. Paretsky was one of the first women to write a hardboiled female detective, and V.I. Warshawski is unforgettable. Warshawski is a private investigator who takes on a seemingly simple case: track a missing girl. But when she enters the girl’s boyfriend’s apartment and finds him dead, she becomes embroiled in a much bigger case, involving a union gang, insurance secrets, and unhelpful cops. It’s fast-paced, gritty, and introduces a smart hardcore detective.

Please note: Indemnity Only is temporarily out of stock at the moment on our website and on BookShop.org but the audiobook IS available via libro.fm!

For a full list of book mentioned in this blog post, go to our BookShop.org list.

Eilidh is a bookseller, baker, and mystery lover.