The best crime mystery books with unconventional characters

Who am I?

As a crime author and screenwriter, I’m fascinated by the consequences of crime and how it impacts feasible characters. I try to illustrate this obsession by creating realistic stress situations for my characters, then showcasing how it affects their decision-making process. In writing the protagonist for Jack Hanger, I consulted two different psychologists to research the protagonist and to capture the severity of his circumstances in detail. For King of Sorrow, I created an unconventional antagonist, with the aim of showing readers how ambition and greed can corrupt the most rational mind. I believe it is my job to challenge conventions and entertain readers from the opening page.

I wrote...

Jack Hanger

By James Fouche,

Book cover of Jack Hanger

What is my book about?

When a criminal mastermind called Joe Taxi kills his brother, Dave Matters is forced to revisit the gritty Cape Town drug scene. However, he is no longer the ruthless Dave who ran drugs for the Wallace brothers. After a botched drug deal Dave wrestles with bouts of memory loss and an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now, to avenge his brother and uncover a mystery, he must abandon the safety of his mundane life. As the anticipation of a mass city riot mounts, Dave inches closer to a climactic confrontation with an old nemesis, as well as the pains from his past.

The books I picked & why

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The Silence of the Lambs

By Thomas Harris,

Book cover of The Silence of the Lambs

Why this book?

FBI Agent-in-training Clarice Starling is pulled into a manhunt to find a serial killer, known only as Buffalo Bill. Her best chance of finding the killer is to consult Hannibal Lecter, who is a former psychiatrist serving multiple life sentences for a series of murders.

While the main protagonist is superbly brought to life in the form of an ambitious Starling, it is Hannibal Lecter who breaks all convention as Clarice’s ‘partner’ in this tense crime thriller. He is calm, precise, clever, and, at times, unnerving, which makes this a compelling classic.

The Drop

By Dennis Lehane,

Book cover of The Drop

Why this book?

After a lonely barman, Bob, rescues an abused puppy from a trashcan, his mundane world is turned upside down. He befriends an emotionally scarred woman, which puts him at odds with her ex, and unknowingly gets drawn into a con against the Chechen Mafia that uses the bar for money drops.

Lehane is masterful at creating flawed characters that pins readers to the text. As a short novel, The Drop is loaded with punchy dialogue, rapid characterisation, and off-beat humour. However, it’s barman Bob’s stoic presence that makes this such a fascinating read. He fades sublimely into the gloomy Boston crime scene in a profound way, which makes him one of the most unconventional protagonists caught on paper.


By Jo Nesbo, Don Bartlett (translator),

Book cover of Headhunters

Why this book?

As one of Norway’s top recruitment specialists, Roger Brown views himself as a ‘headhunter’ extraordinaire. The fact that he moonlights as an art thief, is simply a way of dealing with his own inadequacies and his reckless spending habits. Unfortunately, his next heist goes horribly wrong. The story unfolds evenly and cleverly, with blunt bursts of murder and mayhem around every corner.

What makes this such a fun read, is the duplicitous nature of the protagonist. The absurdity of his circumstances is directly caused by his inability to refrain from committing other criminal acts. This internal struggle is brilliantly depicted throughout and creates a palpable tension for readers.

Fight Club

By Chuck Palahniuk,

Book cover of Fight Club

Why this book?

An anonymous narrator working as a reclaim specialist for a car company, battles insomnia and severe boredom with everyday life. His mundanity gives rise to the introduction of the anarchic entity of Tyler Durden, an extremist who is the exact opposite of The Narrator in every way. Tyler coerces The Narrator into creating a club where similar-minded men can slog out their insecurities in bare-knuckle fights. Add a damaged damsel to the mix and Tyler quickly starts turning against The Narrator, who finds himself at odds when Tyler transforms Fight Club into an anti-consumerist movement that wants to bomb buildings.

While the narrator uses aliases when attending support groups to cope with his apathy, he remains unnamed throughout the novel, which creates a constant mystery for readers.

The City & the City

By China Miéville,

Book cover of The City & the City

Why this book?

Miéville once more challenges conventional narratives in this crime noir, with Inspector Borlú investigating the death of a young woman in the city of Beszel. However, Borlú quickly discovers that the victim was a resident of Ul Qoma, a parallel city that coexists with Beszel in the way that conjoined twins occupy the same body. They share the same geographical location, but only insofar as borders permit. The only way to cross these invisible borders is through a stringent immigration process.

What follows is a cat-and-mouse chase between two cities, where inhabitants have been taught to ‘unsee’ what is happening on the other side of the street. Borlú’s investigation is caught up in red tape, while a faceless entity is bent on starting a war between the two cities.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in murders, art theft, and investigations?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about murders, art theft, and investigations.

Murders Explore 302 books about murders
Art Theft Explore 18 books about art theft
Investigations Explore 9 books about investigations

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Breaking Creed, These Toxic Things: A Thriller, and The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial if you like this list.