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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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8 Must-Read Classic Crime Books

Check out the best of classic crime fiction!

10 Classic Mystery Novels Everyone Should Read

These tried and true mystery books are sure to become new favorites.

Shifty Eyes: 9 Mysteries Told From Multiple Points-of-View

Having more than one narrator makes these mysteries even tougher to solve.

Mystery Books That Pay Homage to Edgar Allan Poe

The 19th-century author of the macabre exerts enormous influence over the detective fiction we know today.

The Best Nero Wolfe Mysteries by Robert Goldsborough

The award-winning crime writer breathes new life into a beloved character.

The Dutchman and the Chinese Detectives

An eccentric diplomat from the Netherlands exposed the West to Chinese detective fiction—some of the oldest in the world.

The Crime Writer Who Went Down With The Titanic

Jacques Futrelle was lost to tragedy, but his captivating works live on.

Jack the Ripper and the First Lady of British Crime

How a haunting crime inspired an author of classic detective fiction.

The Blind Detective, Max Carrados

A champion of the downtrodden with remarkable sense-driven deductions.

HIDDEN GEMS: The Case Is Closed by Patricia Wentworth

It's a great time to revisit this classic British mystery

The Gentleman Thief Who Resurrected Sherlock Holmes

E.W. Hornung, author and creator of Raffles the Amateur Cracksman, died 100 years ago this year.

Hercule Poirot Turns 100! Here are the Best Hercule Poirot Mysteries

Celebrate 100 years of Agatha Christie's beloved detective with the very best Hercule Poirot mysteries.

9 Perplexing Locked Room Mysteries for the Sleuth at Heart

Do you have what it takes to solve a seemingly impossible crime?