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Unlikely Sleuths: 8 Mysteries with Unconventional Crime Solvers  

Not your typical Sherlock Holmes, but they can crack the case.

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  • Photo Credit: Michelle Ding / Unsplash

When you hear the word “detective,” a certain image may pop into your head. The description might even be close to the following:

A mature man, old enough to have seasoned expertise but young enough to be quick on his feet, well-dressed with an authoritative presence and an air of intrigue. Someone with sharp intellect, keen observation, and a persistent need to find the truth and secure justice for those wronged.

Sound familiar?

Now more than ever before, the sleuths in some of our favorite mystery novels are straying farther from that traditional archetype.

Rather than having years of experience solving crimes, sometimes our protagonists happen to just stumble upon a body and find themselves having to track down a murderer because if they don’t, they might be wrongly accused, or their loved one’s life might be in jeopardy.  

In other cases, protagonists with strong morals might see the failures of law enforcement and take matters into their own hands because they can’t stand by while atrocities are being committed and end up surprisingly becoming inconceivable heroes. 

These eight mysteries show readers that regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, or occupation, when there are clues to uncover, a culprit to catch, and a crime to be solved—the unlikeliest of people will step up and be remarkable detectives.   

Blessed Water: A Sister Holiday Mystery (Sister Holiday Mysteries Book 2)

Blessed Water: A Sister Holiday Mystery (Sister Holiday Mysteries Book 2)

By Margot Douaihy

Sister Holiday does not fit the typical image of a detective, nor does she appear to be a conventional nun. She’s heavily tattooed, has a gold tooth earned in a bar fight from her wild past, smokes cigarettes regularly and has been known to even curse during prayer.  

But Sister Holiday is on a quest for justice and has sworn to uphold the vows of the Sisters of the Sublime Blood while assisting former fire inspector Magnolia Riveaux solve cases through the Redemption Detective Agency.  

When the body of a priest is found floating in the Mississippi River and another goes missing, Sister Holiday must track down the murderer before more people in her community are targeted.

This uniquely riveting follow-up to Scorched Grace won’t disappoint those looking for an engaging mystery and a complex, witty protagonist they won’t soon forget.

A Deadly Inside Scoop (An Ice Cream Parlor Mystery Book 1)

A Deadly Inside Scoop (An Ice Cream Parlor Mystery Book 1)

By Abby Collette

Of course, revamping a business is never easy. But try reopening your family’s ice cream shop during a snowstorm in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, like recent MBA grad Bronwyn Crewse. Then sprinkle a bit of murder on top of that. Needless to say, anyone in that situation would want to split—and sadly, we’re not talking about a banana split.     

Unfortunately for Bronwyn, on the evening of the anticipated reopening of Crewse Creamery, she finds the body of a man in the snow. Even more unfortunately for her, this man happens to have an unpleasant history with her family, which causes investigators to start suspecting her father is to blame.

With assistance from her friend Maisie, whose love for crime shows might bolster her unwarranted confidence as an amateur detective, the two try their best to find who is responsible for the murder while also ensuring her family’s ice cream legacy continues.  

Dog Dish of Doom

Dog Dish of Doom

By E. J. Copperman

In Dog Dish of Doom, talent agent Kay Powell, who was once solely responsible for propelling her client into stardom—in this case Bruno, a four-legged actor who also happens to enjoy playing fetch—now finds herself forced to take on the role of amateur sleuth, along with the help of her meddlesome parents, who are staying with Kay while they search for their next gig as cruise ship performers.  

Trent, one of the overbearing, pain-in-the-neck owners of Kay’s talented dog client Bruno, is found stabbed in the back, lying face down in Bruno’s water bowl.

Quite the nuisance during Bruno’s audition for the coveted role of Sandy in Annie, Trent succeeded in aggravating everyone, including the famous director Les McMaster. But was someone so irritated and offended that they snapped, or might Trent’s murder have something to do with Bruno’s potential?

This hilarious, cozy mystery is perfect for fans of dogs and fun whodunits. 

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions

By Mario Giordano

Having just turned 60, Auntie Poldi decides she will spend the rest of her days drinking bottles of sweet wine and brandy overlooking the ocean in Sicily. Though she is content with slowly and happily drinking herself to death, she is unprepared when a handsome young man who had completed odd jobs around her house turns up dead.  

This eccentric, stubborn widow’s escapades are humorously narrated by her nephew, who dreams of being a writer and hopes that documenting Auntie Poldi’s search for the truth will serve as creative inspiration and as a remedy for his writer’s block during his monthly visits.  

A larger-than-life character who will feel like one of your kooky family members, coupled with the novel’s descriptive imagery that authentically captures the Sicilian experience, will have you wishing you could jump into this cozy mystery and share a glass or two with Auntie Poldi. 

Death by Bubble Tea (L.A. Night Market Book 1)

Death by Bubble Tea (L.A. Night Market Book 1)

By Jennifer J. Chow

Recently fired from her job working at a bookstore, Yale Yee admits that she didn’t meet her father with much excitement when he asked her to act as an L.A. tour guide for her cousin Celine, who would be visiting from Hong Kong and whom Yale hadn’t seen in 20 years.  

She was even less thrilled when her father suggested the two run a food stall together at the Eastwood Village Night Market, not just because Yale is far from identifying as a chef but because she highly doubted she and her cousin had much in common.  

Yale likes reading, doesn’t own a phone and uses public transportation to get around, while Celine works as a social media influencer and is used to indulging in the finer things of life

But surprisingly, once they decide to work together, business starts to pick up, until Yale and Celine become suspects in the death of one of their customers. They wanted to serve killer bubble tea, but this wasn’t quite what they had in mind.  

Family, food and culture intertwine as the two women learn to put aside their differences to solve this mouthwatering mystery. 

The Thursday Murder Club: A Novel (A Thursday Murder Club Mystery Book 1)

The Thursday Murder Club: A Novel (A Thursday Murder Club Mystery Book 1)

By Richard Osman

Who said life must be boring once you hit 70? Not according to the four elderly members of the Thursday Murder Club: Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron.

Even though they live in a relatively peaceful retirement community, the four friends like to keep each other young by meeting every week to discuss unsolved murder cases and decipher how they would solve them.  

But when the group hears the news of a recent murder that took place with ties to their retirement village, they realize they can put their armchair detective skills to good use to crack the case.

This mystery is comical and touching—and it sheds light on what getting older feels like. 

Smaller and Smaller Circles

Smaller and Smaller Circles

By F.H. Batacan

Regarded as the first Filipino crime novel and a winner of the Philippine National Book Award, Smaller and Smaller Circles is set in Payatas, one of the poorest communities in the Philippines, where adults and children are forced to scavenge amid mounds of garbage to find anything of value for their families, whether it be recyclables or leftover food.  

During the summer of 1997, two Jesuit priests, Father Gus Saenz, who also has expertise as a forensic anthropologist, and Father Jerome Lucero, a psychologist, decide they must do what their corrupt law enforcement has neglected and investigate the murders of preteen boys found amid the dump.  

This powerful story sheds light on church corruption and economic disparity while asking readers to acknowledge how poverty allows those with the upper hand to choose who deserves dignity and who does not. 

Mango, Mambo, and Murder by Raquel V. Reyes

Mango, Mambo, and Murder

By Raquel V. Reyes

Food anthropologist Miriam Quiñones-Smith has a lot on her plate. She just moved back to Coral Shores, Miami, from New York with her husband and young son and now must juggle dealing with an overbearing mother-in-law and worrying about her husband’s sudden closeness with an old flame, all while trying to write a book about her love for Caribbean cuisine.  

Alma, Miriam’s best friend, wants to help her network and meet some new friendly faces in her field, so she secures her a short-term job where she can share her passion for Caribbean cooking on a Spanish-language morning TV show. But while at a Women’s Club luncheon, one of the attendees collapses, and a few days later, another suspiciously dies.  

Although the deaths might have something to do with Cuban herbalist Dr. Fuentes, Miriam knows she must investigate to come to a definite conclusion and keep Alma from being wrongly accused.

Despite Detective Pullman’s initial hesitancy, he realizes Miriam can facilitate access to information inside the Spanish-speaking community and within the social scene of Coral Shores so he asks her to join the investigation.  

This tantalizing mystery is filled with mouthwatering descriptions of Caribbean dishes—and even includes a few recipes for readers to try for themselves while serving up satisfying plot twists through a brilliant bilingual narrative.   

Featured image: Michelle Ding / Unsplash