Reading List: Whodunnit? A Primer

Murder mystery is the favorite genre of so many readers, with countless sub-genres to tickle your fancy — and powers of deduction. This post is meant as a primer of sorts into the realm of murder mystery novels and authors. Can you figure out whodunnit?

All titles are linked to their Goodreads page for more information.

1. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie


Ten strangers have been invited to a private island off of Devon by an anonymous, eccentric millionaire who is nowhere to be found. It turns out that all the guests have dark secrets that tie them in common, but they are unwilling to reveal. This secrecy has sealed their fate and marked them for death. No one will be left alive by the end of the weekend, and only the dead are beyond suspicion.

2. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

ladies detective

The first in a series, these stories center around Mma Precious Ramotswe, the first female detective in Bostwana. Opening The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency to reflect her accomplishment, Precious specializes in missing husbands, wayward daughters, con men, and imposters. Part of the novel’s plot is based on the murder of Segametsi Mogomotsi in 1994, a ritual killing in Mochudi. Drawing on themes such as national identity and tradition as it meets modern living, Smith also uses the unique fauna of Africa and Botswana as integral parts of the story and living experience.

3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

secret history

A slight change from the title, this isn’t a whodunnit, but a whydunnit. The story is of six closely knit, but academically and socially isolated friends at an elite Vermont college. One member of the group, Richard Papen, reflects on the thoughts and actions that led to murder within their group — how morality slips, and present day can mimic a Greek tragedy.

4. A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
(Inspector Lynley #1)


All is not well in Keldale, and Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley has walked into the community — and the middle of their secrets and scandals. Sent to Keldale along with Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, Lynley has been called in to solve a gruesome murder that has shaken the peaceful countryside — a beheaded man and his ax-wielding daughter who’s first and last words were “I did it. And I’m not sorry.”

5. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
(Robert Langdon #2)


Though this is technically the second in the series, Dan Brown’s novels in the Robert Langdon set easily stand alone — “The DaVinci Code” and “Angels & Demons” being fan favorites (“A&D” is set chronologically earlier) — and “The DaVinci Code” has been the novel reaching the highest popularity and interest. Robert Langdon is awakened by a phone call in the dead of night and called to the Louvre. The curator has been murdered, and Langdon is pulled into a maze of hidden codes and clues in the works of Leonardo DaVinci. Will Langdon beat the code before the Priory of Scion? If not, the knowledge at the end of the rabbit hole could be lost forever.

6. A Study In Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
(Sherlock Holmes #1)


“A Study in Scarlet” is where it all begins: Ellie Norwood, Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, Sherlock, Elementary, etcSherlock Holmes has become a household name, and one that intrigues and annoys. This is Conan Doyle’s first story with the super-sleuth, who is called in to investigate the death of a man in Brixton. Holmes’ only clues are a wedding ring, a gold watch, a pocket edition of Boccaccio’s Decameron, and a bloody word scrawled on the wall. This tale also marks the beginning of the famous partnership between Holmes and his counterpart, Dr. John H. Watson.

7. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King
(Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #1)

mary russell

An aging beekeeper takes an apprentice, but this apprenticeship is anything but normal. The beekeeper is aging Sherlock Holmes, who has found a match for his mind in 15-year-old, more modern Mary Russell. She becomes his pupil, and together they begin solving small mysteries in the community. But when a shady villain enters the scene, can Russel and Holmes’ partnership survive — and can their powers of deduction stop this criminal?

8. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

rose name

This tale is set in 1327, where the Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy. Given a delicate mission, Brother William of Baskerville finds his investigation eclipsed by seven strange deaths and assumes the role of detective. Using Aristotle’s logic, Aquinas’ theology, and Bacon’s empirical insight paired with his own curiosity, Brother William begins to dig, decipher, and deduce.

9. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
(Philip Marlowe #1)

the big sleep

In this 1920s-style hardboiled crime fiction novel, Philip Marlow has been hired by a dying millionaire. Why? Someone is blackmailing one of two troublesome daughters, and Marlowe quickly finds out that this is about more than money.

10. The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe
(C. Auguste Dupin #1)

rue morgue

This short story takes place in Paris, when C. Auguste Dupin is called in to investigate the horrific murder of two women. However, all witnesses heard the suspect speak in a different language, there is a suspicious non-human hair at the crime scene, and the investigation takes an unexpected turn. Poe’s Dupin is credited as the first  true detective in fiction, and serves as inspiration for his contemporaries Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.

Do you have a favorite murder mystery book or author? Share it with us in the comments! And as always, happy reading!

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