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9 Banned Mystery Books to Add to Your Shelves

Controversial mystery must-reads.

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  • Photo Credit: Featured photo: Quinten de Graaf / Unsplash

Given that most book bans and challenges are hidden in the guise of protecting the vulnerable, it makes a certain kind of ironic sense that many of these novels would be mystery books—a genre focused on achieving justice for wrong-doing. 

Mystery novels have long captivated readers with their suspenseful narratives and puzzling plots. However, some of the most gripping tales in this genre have faced controversy and outright bans. Today we delve into the shadowy realm of forbidden literature, uncovering the fascinating stories behind these banned mystery books. 

These stories can be incredibly powerful and are often targeted as “dangerous”. Here are nine mystery books that have been banned or challenged. From timeless classics to modern thrillers, we explore the reasons behind their censorship and the enduring allure that keeps these forbidden tales alive.


Child of God

By Cormac McCarthy

Lester Ballard is an outcast. But when he’s falsely accused of rape and released from jail, he roams the hills of East Tennessee looking for justice. What follows is a grotesque and violent journey that explores the depths of human depravity.

Child of God has made it onto the challenged list in multiple states and school districts for inappropriate subject matter. In 2007, a fourteen-year-old student completed a book report on it, leading to a teacher nearly having criminal charges filed against them. No charges were ever filed, but his teaching contract wasn’t renewed. 


Hardly Knew Her

By Laura Lippman

Considered one of the best crime fiction writers of our time, this stunning collection of sharply written short stories takes us on a journey across cities, from Lippman’s beloved Baltimore to Dublin, with an intimacy that shocks as much as it disturbs.

One story in particular has been banned or challenged in this collection for its depiction of drug use. The Crack Cocaine Diet follows a teenage girl who advocates using the drug for weight loss along with glorifying murder and promiscuous sexual behavior.


Snow Falling On Cedars

By David Guterson

After a local fisherman is found drowned in the waters of San Piedro Island in 1954, Kabuo Miyamoto, a young Japanese American is charged with the crime. But there’s more at play than a simple accusation of murder. It raises memories of the not-so-distant past, when during the height of the war, the island watched an entire community sent into exile and did nothing to stop it.

Between 2000 – 2009, Snow Falling on Cedars was banned and challenged so frequently, it made it to the top 100 Banned Books list. The main reasons were the book being cited as inappropriate for students due to sexual content, racist language, bigotry, and violence.


The Da Vinci Code

By Dan Brown

The last thing Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon expects while in Paris is to be called into the Louvre in the middle of the night after one of their curators is murdered. The man is surrounded by symbols that lead to a trail of clues hidden in the works of Leonardo da Vinci. But the more Langdon and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu uncover, the more dangerous their quest for answers becomes. There are people who would do anything to keep this ancient truth secret. Including murder.

It should come as no surprise that a novel exploring alternative religious history would be banned or challenged—even the Vatican called for a boycott. The book continues to come up on challenged lists for religious reasons and is still banned in multiple countries worldwide.


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

By Mark Haddon

Christopher John Francis Boone can tell you every capital in the world. He can recite every prime number up to 7,057. He hates the color yellow and can’t stand to be touched. But understanding why his friends and family react certain ways is much, much harder. Animals are much easier. That’s why when one of the neighborhood dogs dies under suspicious circumstances, Christopher decides to find out what really happened.

The biggest problem parents seem to have with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is the use of profanity throughout the book, particularly “taking God’s name in vain” and using “the c-word”. Other reasons have been portraying autism in a negative light and promoting atheism as a religious belief. 

Gone Girl

Gone Girl

By Gillian Flynn

On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne finds himself alone. But where his wife Amy went raises more questions than answers. The police suspect Nick murdered her. A case that becomes startingly easier after her friends reveal she was afraid of him and Amy indicts him in her own journal. He swears it isn’t true. But the evidence doesn’t look good. And none of it answers the question: what happened to Amy?

The Moms for Liberty fought to have Gone Girl removed from several school districts in at least two states citing explicit sexual content, drugs, violence, and other issues deemed not appropriate for high school students. 


The Thin Man

By Dashiell Hammett

Nick Charles is an ex-detective who attracts nothing but trouble. He wants nothing more than to put his investigative days behind him. But when a woman he once knew ends up dead, Nick can’t help but start asking questions. The most likely suspect is the woman’s lover and boss, except something about the man doesn’t add up. With the help of his wife, Nora, Nick sets out to solve the crime, even if that only leads to more problems.

Hammett’s entire body of work, including the Thin Man series was banned by the State Department for being pro-Communist, subversive, and containing inappropriate sexual content. The Sam Spade radio series, based on Hammett’s book, The Maltese Falcon, was also canceled.


American Psycho

By Bret Easton Ellis

Patrick Bateman is tall, handsome, and successful. The 26-year-old Wall Street broker knows he can use his charm and intellect to be anyone, do anything, and get whatever he wants. He’s also a psychopath. As he sets out to embody the American Dream, he reveals how greed, corruption, and delusional entitlement can turn dreams into a horrifying nightmare.

While it may not be the most banned or challenged book in history—though it’s close—American Psycho is likely one of the most controversial. It was in the top 100 books banned or challenged between 1990 – 1999 thanks to the excessive violence, gore, and sheer brutality depicted throughout the novel. 

Dead Folks

Dead Folks

By Jon A. Jackson

Hired gun Joe Service is leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake. After he is shot in the head—and survives—he escapes the hospital with the help of his nurse. Luckily, detective “Fang” Mulheisen is on the case. Joe’s memory is shaky, but his gun hand is steady, and he’s searching for his ex-lover who has millions in stolen mob dollars. But Mulheisen isn’t the only one looking for Joe or the money. And they all have itchy trigger fingers.

Thanks to graphic discussions of sex and other inappropriate content, a high school in Missoula, Montana challenged the book in 2009. 

Featured photo: Quinten de Graaf / Unsplash