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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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100 Years of Agatha Christie: Celebrating the Larger-Than-Life Mystery Author

The Queen of Crime’s first novel was published a century ago this year.

Rex Stout: Meet the Legendary Mystery Author Who Created Nero Wolfe

His larger-than-life sleuth left an indelible legacy on crime fiction.

A Perry Mason Mystery: How Erle Stanley Gardner Created a Mystery Classic

As HBO's gritty new Perry Mason reboot thrills TV viewers, we're revisiting the author who created the legendary mystery series: Erle Stanley Gardner.

America's Agatha Christie: 10 Whodunits by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The pioneering novelist gave us murderous butlers, a new school of mystery, and an early version of Batman.