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These Carnival Mystery Books Aren't Clowning Around

When amusement turns deadly.

neon lights at a carnival in the dark
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  • Photo Credit: Devon Rogers / Unsplash

Carnivals and fairs are filled with joy and wonder. They spring up seemingly out of nowhere, offering fun games and delicious foods while bringing the community together.

But what happens when things go wrong?

From cozy mysteries to dark noirs, we have whodunnits to fit all types of sleuths. Here are ten mysteries set in a carnival or a fair. 



By Stephen King

Nothing cures a broken heart like distraction. At least, that’s what Devin Jones hopes.

He took a job at Joyland to try and forget his terrible breakup. But what he finds is more than a distraction. The park has a legacy of violence, starting with a gruesome murder and tied to the fate of a dying child.

And what Devin uncovers will change his life forever. 

Murder at Fantasia Fair

Murder at Fantasia Fair

By Jeannette de Beauvoir

Wedding coordinator never wanted to be part of a murder investigation—again. But when murder strikes Fantasia Fair, that’s exactly what happens.

It’s all hands on deck as Sydney helps the Race Point Inn host the venerable transgender event.

But when one of the women is found with a knife in her back, a knife stolen from the Race Point Inn, Sydney knows she has to find the killer before they strike again. 

Key Lime Pie Murder

Key Lime Pie Murder

By Joanne Fluke

Hannah Swenson, full-time owner of the Cookie Jar, and part-time sleuth is going to judge the baking contest at the Tri-County Fair.

When one of her fellow judges is murdered, Hannah can’t help but try to solve the case. Is it a student the Home Economics teacher once flunked? Or a man from her mysterious past?

With a ton of help, Hannah is determined to find out. 

Fair Game

Fair Game

By Annette Dashofy

Paramedic Zoe Chambers plans on spending a week at the Monongahela County Fair showing her horse and manning the ambulance. But it isn’t quite the distraction she was hoping for.

Meanwhile, back in Vance Township, a missing woman turns up dead, and the clues of her last days are more confusing than revealing. When Zoe gets a mysterious call, she finds herself at the school bus demolition event that ends with a gruesome discovery.

With a grieving father trying to find answers and Zoe hoping to reunite a broken family, the two end up on a collision course with a violent and desperate felon

Lethal Velocity (Previously published as Utopia)

Lethal Velocity (Previously published as Utopia)

By Lincoln Child

Welcome to the world’s most fantastic theme park. Attracting over 65,000 visitors to Nevada each day, Utopia offers a dazzling array of robots and futuristic holograms.

But for a park that is supposed to have flawless technology, the mishaps are adding up. After a rollercoaster malfunction almost kills a boy, they call in Dr. Andrew Warne to get things back on track.

He arrives to discover the system has been taken over by a group of ruthless criminals. And if they don’t figure out what they want, everyone in the park—including his only daughter—is put in deadly danger. 

Ride the Pink Horse

Ride the Pink Horse

By Dorothy B. Hughes

When Willis Douglas was a Senator, he found young Sailor living on the streets of Chicago. Willis took him in, put him through school, and groomed him to become his protégé.

And as the Senator’s dealing grew more corrupt, he knew Sailor would clean up the evidence. But when he faced the possibility of a murder charge, he left for sunny Santa Fe. Only, Sailor isn’t willing to go down for another man’s crime.

He heads to New Mexico, with another on his trail. On the streets of the annual carnival among wild crowds, the three men violently collide. 

Foul Play at the Fair

Foul Play at the Fair

By Shelley Freydont

New York City event planner needs a change of pace. The big city demands are just too much.

When she hears about the job as event coordinator in small Celebration Bay, she thinks it sounds like exactly what she needs. And things at her first event, the Harvest on the Bay Festival, are going exactly on track.

Until a dead entertainer is found. Now, Liz has to navigate her way through more lies, secrets, and motives than a barrel full of apples as she tries to find a killer. 

The Hen of the Baskervilles

The Hen of the Baskervilles

By Donna Andrews

Caerphilly’s state fair has gone bankrupt. That’s why Meg Langslow is helping Mayor Randall Shiffley put on the Un-Fair as a replacement.

But before anyone even has a chance to line up, a pair of Bantam Russian Orloff chickens are stolen and a slew of vandalism starts. To make things worse, Meg’s friend Molly is going through a bad divorce.

And when her estranged husband is found dead, Molly is the main suspect. Determined to save her friend and the Un-Fair, Meg sets out to find the vandals and the killer—all at the same time. 

Blood and Circuses

Blood and Circuses

By Kerry Greenwood

Phryne Fisher needs something to do. So when she’s asked to look into some strange occurrences at Farrell’s Circus and Wild Beast Show, she lets her curiosity get the better of her.

With a new name and none of the luxuries her title and rank typically allow, she accepts a job as a trick horse rider. Beyond dazzling the crowds, Phryne sets out to figure out what the circus has to do with a murder at a boarding house.

And how it all connects to the gang rivalry on Brunswick Street. 

September Mourn

September Mourn

By Jess Lourey

Mira James is covering the Minnesota State Fair for the Battle Lake Recall. And there’s plenty to see.

There’s the beloved 4-H exhibits, the Midway rides, and everything you could imagine eating straight from a stick. It’s all fun and games until Milkfed Mary, Queen of the Dairy, is found murdered.

Even worse, her likeness is carved in butter. Can Mira expose a deadly State Fair secret? Or will the killer strike again? 

Featured image: Devon Rogers / Unsplash