You Tell Me: A Good Mystery

My bookclub is looking for a mystery to read in October.  For hopefully obvious reasons, they often ask me for suggestions, but I don’t really have any good ones this time.  I don’t read a lot of mysteries and the ones I have read lately are mostly cozy mysteries, so they aren’t sort of spooky October-y.

What we want:
– A mystery, probably not a cozy
– A paperback, because not everyone wants to shell out for a hardcover if it isn’t available from the library
– Not much more than 350 pages, shorter is okay, a little longer if it is a really quick read.  Everyone in the bookclub likes to read, but not all have much time to do so
– Preferably something fairly literary, so as better to faciliate disccussion

So readers, bloggers, let me know if you have something you have liked.  Heck, publicists, publishers, and authors, here’s your chance to plug your book without it being considered spam.

30 comments to You Tell Me: A Good Mystery

  • I can without reservation recommend two books by award-winning author Chester Aaron: Murder by Metaphor and its companion novel Whispers. Both are available in trade paperback via online and real-world bookstores, and ebook editions will be available shortly at Fictionwise, eReader and Kindle.

    Murder by Metaphor:

    Farleigh O’Brien was a prize-winning, nationally acclaimed poet, the pride of little St. Catherine’s College. His suicide shocked everyone who knew him. They were even more shocked when the police announced he’d been murdered. Who would want to kill such a wonderful artist?

    For Professor Forest Butler, the circumstances of his famous colleague’s death are perfect for a novel. As he delves into O’Brien’s past, he uncovers secrets that cast the celebrity poet in a far different light, providing a list of potential suspects. O’Brien destroyed lives and stole ideas everywhere he went, and the destruction he wrought doesn’t stop even after he’s dead.


    The truth matters to Eve. An award-winning student journalist, she is outraged when the administration of the small Catholic college she attends not only gloss over a serious of violent sexual assaults on campus but do so by making the victims feel guilty.

    Then her roommate and beloved best friend is savagely beaten. As Kirby lies on the edge of death, Eve begins an investigation driven by the need to reveal St. Catherine’s hidden shame but to resolve an older, more personal mystery: What really happened to her sweet, disabled sister Tessa all those years ago?

    Zumaya Publications and its mystery-suspense imprint, Enigma, is happy to offer special discounts to book clubs, and knowing Chester, he’d be happy to join the discussion by phone.

  • I loved In the Woods, by Tana French, which I read on Hallowe’en last year, but my trade paperback has 430 pages, so that might be a little long.

    I also highly recommend The Manual of Detection, by Jedediah Berry, which is an alternate-universe sort of mystery and makes plays on the traditional mystery structure. It’s not in paperback yet, but the hardcover is on super-sale at so it might still be a viable option.

  • The first in the Cork O’Connor series by William Kent Krueger: Iron Lake. There are a lot of Native American elements, it’s not very cozy at all, and he is an awesome writer. The book won the 1999 Anthony Award for Best First Novel and 1999 Barry Award for Best First Novel. Good use of language.

  • I’ll go for more non-traditional suggestions …

    Modern: The Thirteenth Tale – isn’t exactly a mystery but it is very creepy in feel and does have mysterious elements – discussion can focus on memory, family history, keeping secrets, identity, etc.

    Classic: Dracula – I never thought I’d like it but I really did! The writing is a bit flowery but it is quite good once you get used to it. – discussion can focus on modern vs. original vision of vampires, what is “vampire fact”, etc.

    Not sure that’s what you’re looking for, but I’m thinking out of the box.
    .-= Heather J.´s last blog ..BBAW – go vote now please! ***sticky post *** =-.

  • One of the best I’ve read this year is Erin Hart’s debut Haunted Ground.

    orig published in 2003 so should be available at library and in paperback. Hardcover edition was 328 pages.

    I thought it was a very good and interesting mystery set in an Irish village. What I said in my review was that Erin Hart’s debut novel is a fascinating mixture of mystery styles. It is part medical/forensic mystery, part police procedural, part gothic suspense with bits of history, archaeology and Irish folklore all mixed in.

  • I second the Thirteenth Tale – a perfect October read…
    You could always go for some Sherlock Holmes too.
    .-= Lahni´s last blog ..Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood =-.

  • The Thirteenth Tale is great. I’m not sure how long it is, as I listened to it on audio. Tana French’s The Likeness is excellent too!

  • Maybe something from Agatha Christie. Her novels aren’t very long. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is good.

  • I’ll put in another vote for Thirteenth Tale. This is the sort of book that is begging to be read on a stormy night.

    If you want the ultimate mystery (that could provide some interesting discussions on how it would have ended), you could read The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

    Also, The Historian is deliciously spooky. It is longer than your page requirement, but so worth it. (And really, I found it to be a pretty quick read.)

  • A few suggestions would be:

    Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carroll
    a thriller involving a lost Shakespeare play, The History of Cardenio. On a June day in 2004, at London’s rebuilt Globe theater, Rosalind Howard, flamboyantly eccentric Harvard Professor of Shakespeare, gives her friend Katharine Stanley, who’s directing a production of Hamlet at the Globe, a small gold-wrapped box. That evening, a fire damages the Globe, where Roz is found murdered in the same manner as Hamlet’s father. Roz’s mysterious gift, which contains a Victorian mourning brooch decorated with flowers associated with Ophelia, propels Kate on a wild and wide-ranging quest that takes her to Utah; Arizona; Washington, D.C.; and back to London. Every step of the way, as the bodies pile up, Kate narrowly escapes becoming the next murder victim. From Shakespeare conferences to desert mines, from the present to the past, this spirited and action-packed novel delivers constant excitement.

    The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
    Towner Whitney, a dazed young woman descended from a long line of mind readers and fortune tellers, has survived numerous traumas and returned to her hometown of Salem, Mass., to recover. Any tranquility in her life is short-lived when her beloved great-aunt Eva drowns under circumstances suggesting foul play. Towner’s suspicions are taken with a grain of salt given her history of hallucinatory visions and self-harm. The mystery enmeshes local cop John Rafferty, who had left the pressures of big city police work for a quieter life in Salem and now finds himself falling for the enigmatic Towner as he mourns Eva and delves into the history of the eccentric Whitney clan.

    High Rhymes and Misdemeanors: A Poetic Death Mystery by Diana Killian
    While visiting her favorite poets’ old haunts in England’s Lake District, Grace Hollister, an American schoolteacher and literary scholar, stumbles upon the body of Peter Fox face down in a stream. Thankfully, the dashing local antiques dealer is not dead — but after saving his life Grace soon finds herself pursued by two menacing thugs who are after the gewgaws Peter is hiding. Problem is, Peter doesn’t have any gewgaws. He doesn’t even know what gewgaws are. But he and Grace soon discover they’ve got something to do with Lord Byron¨and someone’s willing to kill for them.

    As Peter’s dark past is gradually revealed, his knowledge of vice coupled with Grace’s love of verse lead them straight into the heart of a caper of the highest order — one that might lead to a spectacular literary discovery and poetic justice for all.


  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, one of her finest and a favorite of mine. :)
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..2009 Man Booker Shortlist =-.

  • Julie

    How about Stephen L. Carter’s “The Emperor of Ocean Park?” The author is an AA Yale law professor who writes very well, especially about AA upper income classes. A friend of mine who went to Yale Law says to ignore the author’s note that says no characters were based on real people–she identified quite a few from the law school within the pages of this excellent mystery.

  • I enjoyed both The Thirteenth Tale (I read this for my book club, actually) and In the Woods. Both would be great choices.

  • ruth

    I enjoy all of Deborah Crombie’s books. Wonderful mysteries and excellent character portrayal.

  • A bit long, but I couldn’t put it down: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

    From Publishers Weekly
    Tartt’s much bruited first novel is a huge (592 pages) rambling story that is sometimes ponderous, sometimes highly entertaining. Part psychological thriller, part chronicle of debauched, wasted youth, it suffers from a basically improbable plot, a fault Tartt often redeems through the bravado of her execution. Narrator Richard Papen comes from a lower-class family and a loveless California home to the “hermetic, overheated atmosphere” of Vermont’s Hampden College. Almost too easily, he is accepted into a clique of five socially sophisticated students who study Classics with an idiosyncratic, morally fraudulent professor. Despite their demanding curriculum (they quote Greek classics to each other at every opportunity) the friends spend most of their time drinking and taking pills. Finally they reveal to Richard that they accidentally killed a man during a bacchanalian frenzy; when one of their number seems ready to spill the secret, the group–now including Richard–must kill him, too. The best parts of the book occur after the second murder, when Tartt describes the effect of the death on a small community, the behavior of the victim’s family and the conspirators’ emotional disintegration. Here her gifts for social satire and character analysis are shown to good advantage and her writing is powerful and evocative. On the other hand, the plot’s many inconsistencies, the self-indulgent, high-flown references to classic literature and the reliance on melodrama make one wish this had been a tauter, more focused novel. In the final analysis, however, readers may enjoy the pull of a mysterious, richly detailed story told by a talented writer.

  • diana mack

    may not be in paperback yet
    the forgotten garden by kate morton
    lovedit loved it loved it!

  • Fun question! I agree with the suggestions of Tana French’s work – both books would be great.

    How about Ruth Rendell? I really liked Judgement in Stone (

    or one of her books as Barbara Vine.
    .-= Tara´s last blog ..East of the Sun =-.

  • PS A Judgement in Stone is not too long, if that’s a consideration.

  • The Thirteenth Tale was really good. I don’t know if you’ve read any of Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia mysteries, but those are really fun and are fairly popular.
    Also, Elizabeth Peters is very addicting. 😉

  • Brian Freeman’s first book, Immoral, is a real page-turner and done well. It’s a whodunnit that takes place in Duluth, MN and sparked a whole series of books starring the main character, detective Jonathan Stride.

    For those interested in a dark psychological thriller, check out The Exception by Christian Jungersen. It takes place in Copenhagen and will have you guessing all the way through it. It’s a very smart read.

    The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, is quite a mystery, too. I dare you to solve it too early. Some of the subject matter is not for the faint of heart, but the book is well written.

    If you want just plain scary, read Bram Stoker’s Dracula or The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (not the same as the one you saw on Broadway).

  • Saw your request on Twitter and then your post here – I also thought of The Thirteenth Tale, but can see that many beat me to it. I liked that book, but I didn’t love it. I agree though that is is both creepy and has literary qualities. But in my opinion maybe it sort of tried to hard (to have those literary qualities). I can recommend it though.

    Just plain creepy is ‘Salems Lot by Stephen King. It is one of his earlier works and I remember reading it on the beach Egypt in high summer (temps well over 100 F) and I was freezing! Its that creepy and I am usually not that creeped out. I’ve recently read about Anne River Siddons’ The House Next Door and how it is supposed to be real scary, but I haven’t read it myself though.

    Louise :o)

  • I know everyone’s recommending The Thirteenth Tale, and I loved that one but I’d say THE GHOST WRITER by John Harwood. It’s an amazing gothic mystery, very spooky and well-written. The ending was really interesting and isn’t even satisfying unless you can discuss it with others.

  • Eva

    I don’t think The Thirteenth Tale or The Ghost Writer are really *mysteries*, even though they’re both good books (I prefered The Ghost Writer).

    I’d recommend The Beekeeper’s Apprentice for a literary book that still fits in the mystery genre. :) Or you can go old school and read one of Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Wimsey books-Strong Poison introduces Harriet Vane, who is a lot of fun!

  • I’ll put in a plug for two of my all-time favourite mystery writers: Dorothy L Sayers and Elizabeth Peters.

    Sayers has a number of shorter mysteries, but the best of them all is Gaudy Night, which is a bit longer but wholly delightful. Her main characters are Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane; the novels are set (and largely written) in the 1920s-30s(ish). Gaudy Night takes place mostly in Oxford.

    Peters writes hilarious and clever mysteries set among archaeologists in Egypt toward the end of the 1800s. The first in the series is Crocodile on the Sandbank and there are about fifteen more that follow. Peters is very witty and this is a much-reread series in my home.
    .-= Christine´s last blog ..Things I Hate About Libraries =-.

  • Just looking over what I read recently…
    I know a lot of folks recommended The Thirteenth Tale, but I don’t consider that a mystery really. Actually, I did not love it either.

    For new books, I did love Linda Castillo’s Sworn To Silence. Good mystery, good story.
    The Dead by Ingrid Black. Irish, available used, in paperback.
    Any Tess Gerritsen book…can start with the first in the series, The Surgeon.

  • I would agree with The Thirteenth Tale and In The Woods. Both are really great.

  • Ooh, I LOVE Eva’s suggestion of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – I love that entire series!
    .-= Heather J.´s last blog ..BBAW – go vote now please! ***sticky post *** =-.

  • I posted three suggestions already and then I came across this one that so good I am getting it and thought of your search. So I had to share it with you.

    Cezanne’s Quarry by Barbara Pope – available in paperback. 352 pages

    A beautiful young woman is found murdered . . . and the clues to her death point to her spurned lover, Paul Cézanne – the famous painter. In this richly atmospheric novel, a mysterious young woman named Solange Vernet arrives in Aix-en-Provence with her lover, a Darwinian scholar named Charles Westbury, and a year later is found strangled in a quarry outside the city. The young and inexperienced magistrate, Bernard Martin, finds his investigation caught in the crossfires of a raging cultural debate.

    Initially assuming that Solange’s murder was a simple crime de passion by either a jealous Cézanne or a betrayed Westbury, Bernard soon finds himself on a mission to unravel the secrets of Solange and Cezanne’s hidden past. Exploring questions of science and religion that persist even to this day, Cezanne’s Quarry is a provocative debut mystery about life, death, love, and art.


  • Thirteenth Tale and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo are both excellent, and should be readily available. The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips is great, and would be fun to discuss. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie would also be fun, but that’s pretty recent and so wouldn’t be out in paperback yet.

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