Good Mystery Writers: A Reader’s Recommendations

If you enjoy reading mystery novels and happen to be in the market for some suggestions about which mystery to tackle next, read on.

The following information was provided by John Fears, a long-time mystery reader who, along with his wife Joanna, is a frequent user of the library system’s Ponce de Leon Branch, via Ponce staffer Anne Vagts.

Start with Agatha Christie, the queen of mystery writers. She has sold more books than any other mystery writer, ever, and more books period, than almost everybody else in any genre. There is a very good reason why she has been able to do that. My wife got me hooked on mysteries by “feeding” Agatha Christie to me as soon as we married. She started me on the best ones. Like all authors who write more than one book, there are differences in quality among Christie’s books: some are transcendent, some are great, some are merely good, some are average, and some don’t measure up to the standards of her better efforts. Christie doesn’t give you great characterization, except for her main characters, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Christie’s command of English grammar is not that great. When she is “on her game,” which is most of the time, what she does give you is a good view of human nature and pure logic. There are never any surprises – Christie gives you the essential clues to her mysteries somewhere between the first page and the middle of each book. Most of the time, though, she will fool you. Anyway, here are the ones that my wife Joanna thinks are Christie’s best:

Cards on the Table
13 at Dinner
Ten Little Indians
(aka And Then There Were None)
Appointment With Death
Crooked House

The Hollow (aka Murder After Hours)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd1
What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw
The Mirror Crack’d
Sad Cypress
Peril at End House
4:10 From Paddington

Following is an alphabetic list of other mystery authors that Joanna and/or I have enjoyed. If we enjoyed everything we read by an author, only the author’s name is listed. Where I list one or more titles, it may mean that we liked only those, or it may mean that those are all that we have here at home and I can’t recall other titles, or it may mean that that those were the only ones that we liked by that author and thought that others were inferior.

Isaac Asimov, A Whiff of Death2

Robert Barnard
Anthony Berkeley, Trial and Error
Charity Blackstock: Dewey Death, The Woman in the Woods
Nicholas Blake3
John & Emery Bonett: Dead Lion, A Banner For Pegasus
Christiana Brand: Green For Danger,4 Fog of Doubt, Tour de Force, Suddenly, at His Residence
W. J. Burley, especially Charles and Elizabeth, The House of Care, The Schoolmaster5

Alison Cairns, Strained Relations
Dorothy Cannell6
David Carkeet, Double Negative
Sarah Caudwell
Elizabeth Chaplin [pseudonym of Jill McGown]: Hostage to Fortune
Jill Churchill: Grime and Punishment, The Merchant of Menace, etc.7  
Anna Clarke
Douglas Clark, Premedicated Murder
Susan Claudia: Clock and Bell, Mrs. Barthelme’s Madness
Deborah Crombie, Mourn Not Your Dead
Ursula Curtiss

Mary Daheim: This Old Souse, Viagra Falls, Bantam of the Opera, etc.8
L. P. Davies: especially The Shadow Before, What Did I Do Tomorrow, Artificial Man, White Room9
D. M. Devine, My Brother’s Killer
Cohn Dexter, especially The Daughters of Cain

Mignon Eberhart, The Chiffon Scarf10
Margaret Erskine, No. 9 Belmont Square
Max Ehrlich, Last Train to Babylon

Rae Foley11      
Leslie Ford: Murder in Maryland (among others)
C. S. Forester, Payment Deferred

Dorothy Gardiner, The 7th Mourner
Dorothy Gilman, The Tightrope Walker
E. X. Giroux, A Death for Adonis
C. W. Grafton, Beyond A Reasonable Doubt
Caroline Graham: A Place of Safety, Faithful Unto Death, The Killings at Badger’s Drift, Murder at Maddingley Grange

Cyril Hare
H. F. Heard, A Taste for Honey
Joan Hess12  
Georgette Heyer13 
Reginald Hill
S. B. Hough, Fear Fortune, Father

Sebastien Japrisot, Trap for Cinderella

Lane Kauffmann:14 Waldo and The Perfectionist

John le Carre: A Murder of Quality, Call For the Dead
Elizabeth Lemarchand

William March, The Bad Seed15

Ngaio Marsh
Sharyn McCrumb, Sick of Shadows
Patricia McGerr: Fatal in My Fashion, The Seven Deadly Sisters
Jill McGown16

Margaret Millar
Hubert Monteilhet: Return From the Ashes, The Praying Mantises17

Sheila Radley
Ruth Rendell: especially Make Death Love Me, A Judgment in Stone
Mary Roberts Rinehart: especially The Yellow Room, The Swimming Pool, The Breaking Point, The Circular Staircase
James Ronald, Murder in Family

Julian Symons

Josephine Tey

June Thomson
Simon Troy, Swift to Its Close

Michael Underwood, Hand of Fate

Henry Wade: A Dying Fall, The Hanging Captain, Heir Presumptive
Cohn Watson, Coffin Scarcely Used
Anna Mary Wells, A Talent for Murder

Margaret Yorke

Additional recommendations:

  • If you are interested in reincarnation, you would probably enjoy An Old Captivity by Nevil Shute or Frank De Felitta’s Audrey Rose (also a good movie).
  • If you are anti-war, you might enjoy On the Beach by Nevil Shute (and the movie based on it – but read the book first).
  • Another favorite author is B. J. Chute, who wrote Greenwillow, Katie, An Impertinent Fairy Tale, and The Fields Are White. Actually, I think that Beatrice Joy Chute is perhaps the best writer I have ever read. Closely following, or perhaps equally good, Shirley Jackson. My two favorite Shirley Jackson novels are We Have Always Lived In the Castle and The Sundial.


1Most people think that this one is one of her best, but as I figured out early on who the murderer was early on, I am not in complete agreement with Joanna on this one.
2Asimov is known primarily for his science fiction novels, but this title is a mystery, and a good one.
3Joanna likes Blake more than I do.
4Also a very good movie.
5Burley also wrote a series of dectective mysteries featuring Chief Inspector Wycliffe, and most of them are good, and among my favorites.
6Most are funny. Joanna says “cute.” I haven’t read any of them.
7I haven’t read them, but Joanna likes them.
8I haven’t read them, but Joanna likes them.
9Davies writes hard-to-classify books (some are pseudo-mysteries, others are science fiction). Although there are 4 or 5 other titles that are very readable, there are one or two that are not so good. Anyway, Davies is worth checking out. He’s one of my favorites, at least for the half dozen or so that I really like.
10Eberhart wrote 1940’s to 1950’s suspense novels, sometimes very good. Joanna likes a number of Eberhart’s other titles.
11Foley wrote suspense novels, similar to Eberhart’s, but wrote 10-20 years later.
12Hess’s books are funny. Joanna likes only the ones with Claire Malloy as the protagonist; I haven’t read any of them.
13Heyer wrote numerous English Regency period historical fiction books, which I have never read, but she also wrote eight very good mysteries, all very good and often funny, or at least sarcastic; one of my favorites.
14Sometimes spelled Kauffman or Kaufmann. His 1960s and 1970s novels resemble those of John O’Rara but, unlike O’Hara, he was very literate, and a good writer. Kauffman’s style is also similar to John Updike’s, as evidenced by Kaufmann’s Another Helen.
15Also a very good movie.
16McGown’s novels with the same detectives are best read in order because of the changing relationship of the two she created.
17Very good movies were based on both of these novels.


Mysteries Minus the Violence* and Sex


*Other than the mysterious murder itself, of course.

A very popular – and very durable – sub-genre of mystery fiction is “the cozy.”

(If you don’t know what a cozy is, there’s a great operational definition here.)

Computer-owning fans of cozies will be glad to learn about The Cozy Mystery List, devoted exclusively to this type of book. The site’s features include:

  • annotated lists of books organized by author and by theme.
  • notices of newly-published cozies.
  • a list of award-winning cozies.
  • lists of movies and TV shows based on cozy mystery novels.

As it happens, the Ponce Branch’s fiction collection includes a remarkable number of cozies, new and old, that you can borrow, and you can borrow (by placing Holds on them) virtually any cozy title from the even larger collection at the Central Library.

Resource for Avid Readers of Mystery Novels

There are a lot of readers out there who read the occasional mystery novel, and quite a few who read only mysteries. The Internet is chock-full of resources to help mystery fans make sure they’re never at a loss of what to read next. The one we discovered this morning is Murder, Mystery & Mayhem: A Resource for Readers.

The site includes several useful features:

  • a blog that reviews new books and announces new titles.
  • links to other mystery-related blogs.
  • links to booklists (such as the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association’s “100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century” and “The Top Crimes Novels of All Time”).
  • links to winners of eight different awards for mystery novels
    links to mystery authors’ websites.

MMM is so useful that we’ve added it to the other resources in our Booklover’s Toolbox  (see the tab at the top of this blog), so you can easily find it next time you need it. Look for it there under both “Booklists” and “Mystery Novel Resources.”

A postscript to anyone who hasn’t yet visited the Ponce Branch Library: unlike some public libraries, we no longer shelve our mystery novels in a separate section of the building – they’re shelved alphabetically by author’s last name along with most of our other novels. We’ve placed the letter M on the spine of each mystery novel, however, to make them easier to find while browsing.

Found at Book Blogs