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Classic mystery books are some of the very earliest touchstones of the genre. 

Classic mystery novels are typically defined as being published prior to 1990. Focusing mainly on detective narratives, these tales often center around murder, disappearances, theft, or other crimes and circumstances that can be investigated. A broader category containing several of its own subgenres, classic mysteries can span from clever procedurals to delightful cozies.

Of course, classic doesn’t refer merely to an older body of work. Dubbing a novel—or author—a classic typically implies the work was foundational or otherwise essential to the genre. Heavyhitters like Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are frequent pillars of the classic mystery genre, but there are plenty of other novels and short stories with less immediate name recognition that were seminal works.

Here are some great places to start for new and mystery lovers alike.

And don’t forget to peruse the stories below for all the best in classic mystery fiction.

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This 1903 Spy Novel Became the Blueprint for Espionage Fiction

All about the "murderous renegade" who shaped the spy genre.

Catch Edgar Allan Poe's Fictionalized Beginnings in The Pale Blue Eye

A gruesome murder at West Point starts the gothic poet's eerie journey.

All That Glitters: The Golden Age of Detective Fiction

Travel back to an enchanting era of mystery books.

9 Quintessential Short Stories Every Mystery Fan Needs to Read 

These classic short mystery stories will keep you guessing while introducing you to beloved authors.

Explore the World of Reluctant Smuggler Francis Andrews in The Man Within

The novel is Graham Greene's first on a journey to literary acclaim and widespread popularity.

Discover the World of Amateur Sleuth Henry Gamadge in Unexpected Night

The first in a series from Agatha Christie’s favorite American author.