If your book club reads exclusively mysteries, or if your book club wants to try a year of mysteries, it can be a good idea to mix up the types of books you read. But how to categorize?
Within the larger category of crime are sub-categories: thriller, suspense, and mystery…and within mystery are more than a dozen ways to slice and dice (excuse the pun) the offerings. Here’s one way to think about it.
Classic Noir: The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
There are so many great choices from the golden age of hardboiled detective—Rex Stout, Dashiell Hammett, SOMEONE ELSE—that it’s hard to go wrong with any of them, but for my money it’s Chandler, and this is my favorite of his not-extensive library. Bonus: The Annotated Big Sleep.
Private Detective: Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley
There are many great PIs, including Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, and John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. But the ones you have to read are Mosley’s Easy Rawlins novels. Bonus: Robert Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss.
Traditional: Southern Fried, Cathy Pickens
Traditional is often conflated with cozy, but I’m here to argue that Agatha Christie is traditional; cats and cookies is cozy. (I won’t be recommending any cozies.) Pickens—who teaches at Charlotte Lit—won the prestigious St. Martin’s Press Best Traditional Mystery with her first Avery Andrews novel.
Forensic: Death du Jour or A Conspiracy of Bones, Kathy Reichs
Two choices here out of 20 Temperance Brennan novels for Charlotte’s Reichs: a classic and her latest (out in early 2020). If you like the television series Bones, you’ll love the books.
Literary: Case Histories, Kate Atkinson
There’s something compelling about the enigmatic Jackson Brodie and his mysteries, in which seemingly unconnected events all come together in the end. In less sure hands than Atkinson you might fuss about the neatness of the weave, but instead you’ll marvel. Bonus: anything by Allen Eskens.
Police Procedural: In the Woods, Tana French
It’s cheating to call French’s work police procedural, although there is police work at the center. French could qualify as literary, or character-driven, or atmospheric, or whodunnit doesn’t actually matter, or just read this. Bonus: Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels.
Suspense: The Day She Died, Catriona McPherson
It’s difficult to select one McPherson, but this creepy psychological thriller is as good a place as any. Bonus: for some lighter McPherson, try her Lexy Campbell novels Scot Free and Scot Soda.
Futuristic: The Last Policeman, Ben H. Winters
With six months until the end of the world, what’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway? This Edgar winner is the first book in a fantastic trilogy, with Countdown City and World of Trouble. Note that if you’re in for one, you’ll have to read all three. Bonus: Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist.
Female Detective: Styx and Stone, James W. Ziskin
You’ve no doubt heard of Sue Graton’s alphabet series (from A is for Alibi to Y is for Yesterday), and Laura Lippman’s Baltimore-based Tess Monaghan novels, and you can’t go wrong with these. But if you want something different, try Ziskin’s fun Ellie Stone series.
Read the Book Instead: Fletch, by Gregory McDonald
Many people loved the movie version with Chevy Chase as reporter I. M. Fletcher, but only if they hadn’t read the novel—which was fast and funny, and also dark and deceptively deep, and with a twist you wouldn’t see coming. Bonus: read the first three in this order: Fletch, then Confess, Fletch, then Fletch’s Fortune.
Be sure to check out our Tips for Building a Better Book Club.