The best mystery books both scare us and satisfy us in equal measure. After all, seeking reassurance from fear is something we can all relate to.
And just as we were soothed by the lovely outcomes of fairy tales in our youth or the best romance books into adulthood, so we search for more stories as adults that will confirm what we hope to be true: that mysteries will be solved and normality will resume.
It is no surprise, then, that whodunnits, whydunnits, and what-the-heck-dunnits continue to dominate the best selling book charts. Because no matter how macabre a tale might be (and a few on this list truly are), we can be sure that by the time the final page is turned we will have all the answers – and perhaps have learned an important lesson along the way.
The best mystery books to read in 2022
There has never been a more pertinent time to lose yourself in one of the best mystery books, and these titles offer everything from ruthless ballerinas to dark family secrets, missing teenagers to modern retellings of Gothic classics, clone scientists, people trafficking and bodies buried in back gardens. Take your pick and start devouring, because these standout stories deserve your undivided attention.
The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
With record-breaking sales and a Steven Spielberg-led movie in the works, Richard Osman's Thursday Murder Club series has become arguably the most successful new franchise since Harry Potter—and this second novel satisfies even more than the first. Starting the Thursday after the events of the hugely popular debut, it once again follows the outlandish antics of septuagenarian sleuths Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron as they attempt to uncover stolen diamonds and solve a multiple murder mystery. In this unputdownable gem, Osman's created a group of characters that are a joy to spend time with—and his plotting is ingenious.
Read it because: It will make you laugh, keep you enthralled, and because there are lots more Thursday Murder Club books on the way.
A line we love: “That twinkle in his eye was undimmed. The twinkle that gave an entirely undeserved suggestion of wisdom and charm. The twinkle that could make you walk down the aisle with a man almost ten years your junior and regret it within months. The twinkle you soon realize is actually the beam of a lighthouse, warning you off the rocks.”
The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood
Slotting seamlessly into the 'cozy crime' genre that has become so popular over the past 18 months, Death In Paradise writer Robert Thorogood kicks off a new mystery series with this hugely enjoyable caper set in a small English town along the Thames. When elderly eccentric Judith Potts hears her neighbor being shot, she decides to investigate the case. After teaming up with local dog walker Suzie and the vicar's wife Becks, Judith gets to work interviewing suspects. However, it's not long until another body turns up. Will the three women catch whodunnit before the killer catches up with them?
Read it because: It’s pure pleasure and wonderful fun from start to end.
A line we love: “But you make your bed in life, don’t you? Sometimes you just have to lie in it. I endured.”
People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd
Influencer Emmy Jackson has cultivated a vast social media following due to her warts-and-all posts about the realities of parenting. No element of her life is off-limits to @Mamabare—a fact that greatly frustrates her husband, Dan, himself a struggling writer who relies on Emmy's huge endorsement deals to pay their mortgage. But someone is watching Emmy who is very much not a fan, and they will stop at nothing to seek revenge. Told from the points of view of Emmy, Dan and the couple's stalker, this darkly plausible and compulsively readable mystery is a devour-in-one-gulp triumph.
Read it because: The plot is scarily plausible and the action so tense that you’ll be unable to look away until you’ve devoured the entire novel.
A line we love: “Sorry, the Sisterhood, but when it comes to online life, mothers just don’t respond well to other mothers’ success – if comparison is the thief of joy, Instagram is the cat burglar of contentment.”
I Follow You by Peter James
Rich, talented, suave, and successful doctor Marcus Valentine has everything he has ever wanted. Well, almost…. When he narrowly misses knocking down local personal trainer Georgie on his way into work one day, Marcus soon develops an obsession with the younger woman and comes up with a scheme to win her over. This is despite his wife and children and her fiancé. As the weeks pass and Georgie seems to slip further from his reach, Marcus realizes he will have to venture into darker places than ever before to get what he wants. A richly layered and genuinely creepy mystery.
Read it because: Peter James knows how to unspool a twisty mystery, and this one has a truly creepy bad guy you will love to hate.
A line we love: “He was shaken but tingling all over. Had she recognized him? He didn’t think so…”
The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell
Tallulah was just 19 when she headed out to the pub with her boyfriend and never came home. Her mum Kim has no idea what happened to her daughter, other than the fact that she was last seen at a house party in the woods. Two years later, crime author Sophie moves into the town and finds a note pinned to a fence that reads 'dig here'. Could this be the first clue in the mystery of what happened to Tallulah? And if so, who's been keeping it a secret? A gripping tale with a twist you won't see coming.
Read it because: Nobody creates believable mysteries in domestic settings quite as cleverly as Lisa Jewell.
A line we love: “Kim sometimes thinks that women practice being mothers on men until they become actual mothers, leaving behind a kind of vacancy.”
Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney
When Amelia convinces her screenwriter husband Adam to accompany her on a weekend away in a remote area of Scotland, he knows that it's a make-or-break trip. Struggling with his career, as well as the face blindness condition that prevents him from recognizing anyone, Adam is not in the best mood. As the night draws in and tensions between the pair mount, it becomes clear that they're not alone out in the wilderness. But who, or what, is lurking in the shadows? Nothing is as it seems in this clever mystery. Prepare to be turning pages long after lights out.
Read it because: You will think you know what’s happening, only for the rug to be yanked out from under you so suddenly that it will make your head spin.
A line we love: “The only good thing about losing everything, is the freedom that comes from having nothing left to lose.”
The Hollows by Mark Edwards
When it comes to stories about extraordinary things happening to ordinary people, nobody comes up with scenarios quite as entertaining as Mark Edwards. In this novel, set in the forests of Maine, divorced journalist Tom has traveled over from the UK to take his teenage daughter Frankie on holiday. When they arrive at their log cabin, however, Tom realizes he's timed the trip with the anniversary of a gruesome double murder that took place at the camp 20 years previously. The mystery then unfurls like a roller-coaster ride, offering plenty of twists and scares along the way. It's completely brilliant.
Read it because: There’s a clue on every page, a scare in every chapter, and a can’t-look-away terrifying conclusion.
A line we love: “She knew he’d enjoyed the archery too, though he kept going on about how she was a natural talent, that maybe she ought to take it up when she got home, that he could see her competing for prizes. Why couldn’t it just be something fun she’d tried? Why did parents always seize things they thought you were good at and try to squeeze all the joy out of them?”
The Couple At No9 by Claire Douglas
An instant bestseller when it was published in early October 2021, this deliciously dark mystery begins with the discovery of two bodies that have been buried under a patio. The property's new owners—Saffron and her partner Tom—are shocked, but not unduly concerned. These murders happened 30 years ago after all. But then the police start sniffing around Saffron's gran, who lived at the house all those years ago and who claims not to remember a thing, bringing the case rather too close to home for Saffron's liking. Can she unearth the awful truth before the killer strikes again?
Read it because: It is intoxicating in its intensity, but well worth losing a day to.
A line we love: “Before she can grasp hold of it, it floats away, like the seeds of a dandelion on the breeze, out of reach.”
Holding by Graham Norton
The New York Times made comparisons between this 2016 debut novel from Irish TV and radio presenter Graham Norton and a Miss Marple story, which gives you a good hint of what to expect. Provincial town sergeant PJ Collins has never had to investigate a real crime before, but all that changes when bones belonging to a local man are uncovered at a farm. Was he killed by one of the two women he was involved with? And what other dark secrets have the inhabitants of Duneen been keeping hidden? Read it now before the much-anticipated ITV drama adaptation arrives.
Read it because: The Irish small-town setting and all its myriad characters are so well crafted, while the mystery is unfurled with masterful restraint.
A line we love: “Some marriages combust, others die, and some just lie down like a wounded animal, defeated.”
That Night by Gillian McAllister
What would you do if you got a call from your sister in the middle of the night, telling you that she'd killed a man? This is the intriguing moral question at the heart of this captivating novel from bestselling author McAllister. Cathy and Joe know that they must help Frannie—it was an accident, after all. And they're in Italy, where the laws are very different, so she could easily end up in prison. Plus, she's their sibling, and that bond means more than anything. Doesn't it? Because once you've helped cover up a killing, there's no going back...
Read it because: All of Gillian McAllister’s books lead you down the path of asking, “What would I do?”, and it is exactly this beating moral heart that elevates them into the must-read category.
A line we love: “Looking backwards leads to sadness, and forwards to anxiety. All we’ve got is now.”
Watch Her Fall by Erin Kelly
From the million-copy bestselling author of He Said She Said comes to this hugely ambitious and utterly mesmerizing thriller set in the ballet world. Ava Karilova has worked hard and sacrificed everything to claw her way into every ballerina’s most-coveted role – Swan Lake’s Odette and Odile. To everyone around her, from her Russian father Mr K to the terrifying director of the London Russian Ballet Company where she’s based, Ava is faultless and more than deserving of her success. But not everyone in Ava’s life wants to see her star rise, and they will stop at nothing to pull her down…
Read it because: There aren’t many psychological thrillers set in the ballet world, and this is an exquisite and highly accomplished example of why there should be more.
A line we love: “What they didn't understand – what nobody understood – was that the higher you flew, the farther you had to fall.”
The Glass House by Eve Chase
When the Harrington family discovers an abandoned baby in the Forest of Dean, they decide to keep her a secret and raise the child as their own. Within days, however, a body turns up in the grounds of their remote manor house, shattering the fragile bonds between them. Years later, Sylvie ventures into the same woods seeking answers about her past – but is she ready for the truth to be revealed? Set between the 1970s and the present day, The Glass House is a riveting and richly atmospheric mystery - and one of the best thrillers - and well-deserving of its status as one of Amazon’s bestselling lockdown titles.
Read it because: The way Eve Chase manages to weave together her enigmatic characters, dark secrets, and alluring settings is nothing short of masterful.
A line we love: “I think if we keep the dark things shut up inside,’ she goes on, ‘they grow big. Like weeds. They smother all the flowers and block the sunlight.”
Tall Bones by Anna Bailey
This spellbinding and darkly beautiful novel is set in the small US town of Whistling Ridge, where murky secrets and resentments fester below a façade of community camaraderie. When 17-year-old Emma leaves her best friend Abi at a party in the woods, the last thing she expects is never to see her again. Someone must know what happened that night and all those close to the missing teen are under suspicion – Abi’s older brother Noah, who she betrayed, her younger sibling Jude, who’s hiding long-buried pain, and her devout parents Dolly and Samuel. Then there’s mysterious outsider Rat, whose arrival in the town has both unsettled and excited its residents. Intricately plotted and exquisitely written, Tall Bones is a stunning debut.
Read it because: It is a haunting depiction of small-town life, edged in a darkness that will linger long after reading.
A line we love: “…in the kind of town where coyotes chew on stray cigarette butts and packs of boys go howling at the moon.”
The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward
With critics and authors, the caliber of Stephen King lining up to heap praise never has the phrase ‘believe the hype’ felt more potent than it has for this extraordinary novel. The Last House On Needless Street will lure you in with pure creepiness and hold you there in breathless wonder as the story unfurls. On the surface, it is about a woman who moves in next door to the man she believes took her six-year-old sister years before, but it is so much more than that. Told through multiple narrators – some of whom may not be reliable – this is a confounding yet compulsively readable story that you will never forget.
Read it because: If you are looking for a book that is wholly original and wonderfully unique, this should be at the very top of your bedside stack.
A line we love: “The first thing I hate is called a Russian doll. It holds a smaller version of itself inside it, and another inside that, and so on. How awful. They are prisoners. I imagine them all screaming in the dark, unable to move or speak. The doll’s face is broad and blankly smiling. It looks so happy to be holding its children captive.”
The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex
Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers disappear from a remote lighthouse far from shore. The door is locked from the inside, the clock has stopped and a ferocious storm has been noted in the log despite skies being clear all week. Nobody can work out what happened or why. Twenty years later, a writer approaches the wives of the three missing men and offers them the chance to tell their side of the story. But are they strong enough to face their deepest fears? One of 2021’s most-anticipated novels, and a fabulous book club book, this chilling and atmospheric story more than delivers on its promise.
Read it because: It is relentlessly eerie, with a fact-based mystery that is truly riveting.
A line we love: “In all my years I've realized there are two kinds of people. The ones who hear a creak in a dark, lonely house, and shut the windows because it must have been the wind. And the ones who hear a creak in a dark, lonely house, light a candle, and go to take a look.”
Read Emma's guide to the best UK lighthouses, compiled during her time researching The Lamplighters.
The Disappearance Of Stephenie Mailer by Joel Dicker
The newest novel from the author of the international bestseller The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair tells the tale of a missing journalist, a cold case, and a quiet seaside town hiding dark secrets. In the summer of 1994, a couple of rookie police officers crack the case of two brutal murders and arrest the killer, earning themselves promotion and the respect of their peers. Fast-forward 20 years and journalist Stephanie Mailer contacts one of the same officers to say she thinks he made a mistake, and that the real murderer may still be at large. Before she can provide any details, however, Stephanie disappears. Clearly, someone does not want the truth coming out, but of course, there is far more to the story than first meets the eye. A smart and twisty page-turner.
Read it because: With its measured pace and steady plot-building, this is a story that is easy to lose yourself in.
A line we love: “A friend is someone you know well and who, despite that, you still love.”
Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson
Brutal and unrelenting, this thriller follows newly-married Abigail Baskin as she’s swept off on honeymoon by her husband, Silicon Valley billionaire Bruce Lamb, to a luxury resort on a remote island belonging to his friend. It should be the fairy-tale romantic vacation Abigail has been longing for ever since her whirlwind love story began, but then she recognizes someone. A man. The very same man who seduced her at the hen party only a few weeks ago. What is he doing there? And, more importantly, how can Abigail make sure her husband does not find out what happened? A suspenseful must.
Read it because: Just as you yell “don’t go in there” to an about-to-be-victim in a horror film, so you’ll find yourself cursing out a warning to this book’s central character Abigail. Maddening, certainly, but enjoyable regardless.
A line we love: “I can't tell you how many times in a day I think about checking my phone. Social media abstinence is great. I feel like I lived more in the last few days than in the last few years. I have been swimming every day, painted a picture this morning.”
The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
Described as a ‘retelling of Jane Eyre with a modern, noir twist’, this New York Times bestseller is one to devour in a single sitting. When down-on-her-luck dog walker Jane meets handsome Eddie Rochester, she is immediately seduced by his wealth and power. A romantic figure, Eddie has lived alone in his vast mansion ever since his wife died, and to Jane, he seems to offer everything she needs – security, excitement, love. But there is something Eddie is hiding about his life, and that of the wife he professed to adore, and it’s not the big reveal you might be expecting...
Read it because: It’s an audacious thriller that will get your adrenaline pumping.
A line we love: “Gossip is tricky, slippery. Pretend to be too interested, and suddenly you look suspicious.”
Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
Aspiring author Florence Darrow is determined to make a name for herself, so she jumps at the chance to become an assistant to the mysterious Maud Dixon – a celebrated novelist whose identity is a closely guarded secret. Before long, the two of them are off on a research trip to Morocco, and Florence finds herself living the creative and wonderfully immersive life she’s long dreamed about. Until one morning, when she wakes up in hospital having narrowly survived a car crash and with no idea who was driving or where her elusive boss has gone. With Maud Dixon out of the picture and presumably not writing, however, could it finally be Florence’s time to shine? A fast-paced and endlessly enjoyable mystery.
Read it because: It is a masterful thriller with an irresistibly shrewd protagonist.
A line we love: “You shouldn’t have to TRY to like things . . . It’s like people who force themselves to finish a book they’re not enjoying. Just close it! Go find another story!”
The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
Looking for one of the best science fiction books wrapped up in a mystery? Look no further. Award-winning scientist Evelyn Caldwell is supposed to be celebrating her recent breakthrough, but instead, she is brooding over the loss of her husband, Nathan. He has left her for a younger, better, newer woman and the two of them are having a baby – but it is not purely this that is disturbing Evelyn. It is the fact that this woman is extremely familiar, that she is altogether too close for comfort, and that by rights, she should not even exist…Gloriously inventive and full of surprises, this psychological thriller/mystery is as much a story about womanhood, family, and expectation as it is a sci-fi edged foray into a disturbingly plausible future.
Read it because: It’s utterly bonkers, in the best, most compulsively readable way.
A line we love: “He was relieved to have told me. He transmuted his guilt into my anger and now I was the one who had to carry it and he had the audacity to be relieved.”
The Coffinmaker’s Garden by Stuart MacBride
A storm is lashing against the shores of a village in the Scottish Highlands, and as the edge of coffin-maker Gordon Smith’s garden begins to crumble into the sea, the truth of what lies buried beneath the earth is revealed. Just how many bodies there are and what this means is up to ex-Detective Inspector Ash Henderson to discover, but will he find the truth – and the right killer – before anyone else ends up dead? Stuart MacBride’s taut pace, whip-smart dialogue, and fiendish plots have long marked his books out as unmissable, and The Coffinmaker’s Garden is another outstanding example of his craft.
Read it because: The gallows humor will make you chuckle, the plotting is perfectly paced, and the dialogue is wonderfully witty.
A line we love: “You want some career advice, Constable Sullivan? Never have a heart attack on O Division’s dime because if you do, the bastards will treat you like a soiled nappy with radioactive poop!”
The Last Thing To Burn by Will Dean
You will not so much read as breathlessly inhale this standalone novel from the author of the Tuva Moodyson mystery series. Set in a remote farmhouse somewhere in the middle of England, it tells the story of a married couple “Jane” and Lenn. He tends to the land and looks after the pigs, while she cooks, cleans, and plots her escape. That is because Jane’s real name is Thanh Dao. She is a victim of trafficking, sold into a life of slavery, fear, and unimaginable cruelty. What happens over the course of this book will haunt you long after you finish reading it. Brilliant - and one of the best books of 2021.
Read it because: Once you start, you will not be able to put it down again until you reach the end. Then you will never be able to forget it.
A line we love: “My skin is ten times thicker than before and I’m hiding inside my own skeleton.”
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Isabelle Broom is the author of eight escapist fiction novels. She won the Romantic Novelist’s Association Best Contemporary Romance Novel award in 2019 and The Great British Write Off short story competition in 2015, with her winning entry, The Wedding Speech, later being adapted into a short film.
As well as heading off on adventures abroad—a pastime she now gets to call ‘research’—Isabelle is lucky enough to write book reviews and travel features on a freelance basis.
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