The beauty of a great satirical mystery boils down to its ability to balance playfulness and humor (often dark humor) with the essence of a mystery. These books are often self-aware, or follow characters who reveal their humanity through being—shall we say—a bit less than fully equipped to deal with the mysteries afoot.
It’s also that time of the year: the peak heat and humidity of August, the last hurrah of summer before we’re back into the mad dash that often accompanies fall. So why not jump at the chance to knock out a few more literary experiences before you’re back to the full grind?
We’ve gathered a great list of satirical mysteries for you: prime examples of books that go to eerie places, while still delivering a hefty dose of impish satire.
The Saturday Night Ghost Club
If Craig Davidson writes it, you best take notice. When he isn’t penning masterful horror under the pen name Nick Cutter (The Troop, The Breach), he is writing books that defy expectations with every new release. The Saturday Night Ghost Club is an addictive coming-of-age tale that blends together those nostalgic days of the 1980s with the camaraderie that can only be found by way of a close-knit group of kids battling the unknown.
Fans of Stranger Things will dig the book, but this is also so much more than that; it explores how time and memory shape one's fears, and the memories we share inevitably take on their own shape. This somber and illuminating book offers a unique look back at childhood, while also inspecting how the paranormal often becomes a reflection, and/or parody on our own problems.
Finlay Donovan Is Killing It
There’s a reason why so many authors end up making their protagonists writers—it almost always becomes a parody and self-inspection of the various tropes, neuroses, and worries that come with such a solitary craft.
In Finlay Donovan is Killing It, readers are introduced to the eponymously named Finlay Donovan, a struggling writer among so many other struggling writers. She is late on a book deadline and life’s various responsibilities seem to come calling all at once.
Cosimano goes one step further and ratchets up the stakes—and the humor—with the introduction of a contract killer plot. During a meeting with her agent, Finlay is caught mid-pitch by an eavesdropper who believes her to be a mercenary/contract killer. Finlay decides to take the offer because…well, you’ll just have to read the book for yourself to find out.
Although coming at it from a darker and more devious direction, this book also has a satirical approach to the writing profession. Korelitz’s The Plot introduces us to struggling writer and professor Jacob Finch Bonner, who hasn’t managed to write a follow-up to his critically acclaimed debut. The pressures of a second publication combined with being caught in the doldrums of the academy—along with the competitiveness and tendency to compare oneself to peers—send Bonner spiraling for a time.
Things change when an extremely confident young writer, Evan Parker, joins his workshop. He comes with a hefty ego, claiming that his manuscript is a sure-fire hit—the kind of novel that becomes a bestseller and ends up on Oprah. Evan's bravado has Bonner’s already tenuous grip on reality rupturing. It worsens when he discovers that Parker is right, the pages he reads are well-written and gripping. But just when you think The Plot is all figured out, it takes a 180 and adds another notch to the mystery.
Drew Magary’s The Postmortal is one of those epistolary novels that truly capture the feeling of being an artifact. In this clever and self-aware thriller, Magary manages to dodge the tried and true and explore immortality in a fresh and unique way. The story is centered on “the Cure.” After being administered the Cure, you never have to worry about death. However, just because you can’t die, it doesn’t mean you can’t get sick, get hurt, and feel pain.
Afflictions aplenty, the world of The Postmortal becomes a satire of sorts for our modern day, cast against Magary’s inventive and often alarming imagination full of cults and government programs that would likely cause the real apocalypse. Told through the diary entries of one John Farrell, readers will find a page-turner that is at once hilarious and mystifying.
Murder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to Homicide
With a title like that, how can you go wrong? This addictive mystery by Rupert Holmes has proven to be quite the surprise hit for many a reader; it’ll undoubtedly continue to entertain readers for years to come. Doubling down on that all-too-relatable feeling of wanting to exact violent revenge on those that have wronged you, Holmes introduces readers to the McMasters Conservatory for the Applied Arts, an elite and mysterious school for students learning to be effective killers. Like a more brutal Hogwarts, here the art of murder is the academy’s calling card. Readers ready to dive in will enter such a world where murder is studied and inspected with a playfulness that’s downright dastardly.
R.F. Kuang’s Yellowface is a mystery that pulls no punches in its literary scope. Similar to other books on the list, writing and publishing become the playground for the narrative. Readers are sent right into the annals of MFAs and the creative writing workshop. Here they meet emerging authors June Hayward and Athena Liu, both in the same class with similar hopes and literary ambitions. However, there’s only room for one literary darling, and unfortunately Hayward ends up in the proverbial shadows, while Liu climbs the ranks. Whenl Liu suddenly dies, Hayward is left with a quandary: Does she pass off Liu’s work as her own? Kuang’s Yellowface is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece as poignant as it is satirical fun.
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