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.
The best books from the horse jockeying king of mystery.
By Kimmy Kelly
All about the "murderous renegade" who shaped the spy genre.
A gruesome murder at West Point starts the gothic poet's eerie journey.
Meet the women who paved the way.
Travel back to an enchanting era of mystery books.
Age is just a number for these intrepid investigators.
And their books defined a new era of fictional detection.
Indulge in the spectacular synergy of creative collaboration.
These books really build up steam.
These luxurious vacations set out into dangerous waters.
These classic short mystery stories will keep you guessing while introducing you to beloved authors.
The novel is Graham Greene's first on a journey to literary acclaim and widespread popularity.
By Ella Burch
The first in a series from Agatha Christie’s favorite American author.
A curated guide to the best books in the most beloved mystery subgenres.
Decode Daly's literary mysteries with amateur sleuth Henry Gamadge.
Without the guiding hand of this Bostonian gothic, the modern detective genre would be very different.