The best books with mysteries—and solutions—you never saw coming

Kristin Cashore Author Of Winterkeep
By Kristin Cashore

Who am I?

As a reader and writer, I work with a pretty broad definition of “mystery.” You’ll find my own novels in the fantasy section of the bookstore, but my books are mysteries too — and romances, and tales of adventure, and intimate character studies, and reflections on our reality, no matter how fantastical the worlds in which they take place. I love melding genres! So when I think of my favorite mysteries, I try not to limit myself to the mystery section of the bookstore. Few things make me happier than discovering partway through a book that a mystery has been building that I didn’t even notice.


I wrote...

Winterkeep

By Kristin Cashore,

Book cover of Winterkeep

What is my book about?

For the past five years, Bitterblue has reigned as Queen of Monsea, heroically rebuilding her nation after her father's horrific rule. After learning about the land of Torla in the east, she sends envoys to the closest nation there: Winterkeep—a place where telepathic foxes bond with humans, and people fly across the sky in wondrous airships. But when the envoys never return, having drowned under suspicious circumstances, Bitterblue sets off for Winterkeep herself, along with her spy Hava and her trusted colleague Giddon. On the way, tragedy strikes again.

Meanwhile, in Winterkeep, Lovisa Cavenda waits and watches. The teenage daughter of two powerful politicians, she is the key to unlocking everything—but only if she's willing to transcend the person she's been all her life.

The books I picked & why

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My Sister, the Serial Killer

By Oyinkan Braithwaite,

Book cover of My Sister, the Serial Killer

Why this book?

The majority of books I read involve characters with a relatable, and sometimes even predictable, arc of growth and change. As much as I love variations on this theme, imagine my delight to stumble across something completely different. Korede is a nurse in Lagos whose sister Ayoola may just be a serial killer. The book opens with a phone call from Ayoola: Could Korede please come help her clear away the body of Ayoola’s suddenly dead boyfriend? Korede’s responses to phone calls like this are a continuously surprising delight. And though the premise of this book is hilarious and absurd, Braithewaite is playing with real, deep truths about humans here. I loved it.


Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything

By Raquel Vasquez Gilliland,

Book cover of Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything

Why this book?

The less I say about the plot of this book, the better your reading experience will be. I avoided reading the flap copy, and I recommend you do too. What I can promise you is this: a book set in Arizona and firmly grounded in the reality of racism and deportation in the USA, mixed together with spirituality, mythology, sci-fi pop culture, a surprising solution to a mystery, and, just possibly, aliens from outer space. Plus, beautiful writing! This is one of those books with super short chapters, each of which is a little gem. I loved it.


Miss Pym Disposes

By Josephine Tey,

Book cover of Miss Pym Disposes

Why this book?

This is my favorite novel by the mystery master Josephine Tey, because it quietly breaks the mold. Miss Pym, bestselling writer of a book about psychology, makes an author visit to an English “college of physical culture,” where young women are training in various athletic arts. As the students of this school charm Miss Pym and occupy her ruminations, she continues to delay her departure. But where is the mystery? It isn’t until the final third of the book that the mystery appears, and it was only on rereading that I realized it had been coming all along. I love this kind of unexpected unfolding. I also adored the resolution.


Stories of Your Life and Others

By Ted Chiang,

Book cover of Stories of Your Life and Others

Why this book?

Most of the “mystery” books I’m recommending here aren’t categorized as such — especially this one, which you’ll find in the sci-fi section of your bookstore. But sci-fi abounds with mysteries; in much of my favorite sci-fi, the characters are undergoing some sort of deeply human yet otherworldly experience that’s essentially a mystery that they (or the reader) must solve. Ted Chiang is a writer highly skilled at touching the mysteries and paradoxes of our existence, then distilling them into beautiful stories that cause my sense of the wondrous to expand. I love the way his stories make me feel. And then I love rereading them and picking apart the techniques — like, for example, the use of tense in Story of Your Life — that make his writing so powerful.


The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau

By Jon Agee,

Book cover of The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau

Why this book?

I’m going to guess that most adults don’t encounter many picture books, except in the context of introducing them to children. I would like to humbly suggest that if your reading habits don’t extend to picture books, you may be missing out. It’s an art form I adore, and one of my favorites is this book about a mysterious painter in Paris whose paintings contain scenes that come alive. I love Agee’s palette and the perspectives he chose for this story — and no matter how many times I read this book, I’m still thrilled by the twist at the end. It’s the sort of mysterious story that delights, while opening your imagination to bigger things.


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