My favorite books with mystery plots that both surprise and delight

Why am I passionate about this?

At an early age, I became a fan of tightly plotted mysteries that play fair with the reader. This led to my career in mystery games and videos and a dozen books of short mysteries. It also led to my TV career.  When the creator of Monk realized he needed some twisty plots, he visited a bookstore, found my books, and tracked me down. Since then, I’ve been plying my trade on the small screen as well, working with some very talented people, like Steve Martin, who needed a mystery guy to come in and add some structure to their ideas.   

I wrote...

Sins of the Family: A Callie McFee Mystery

By Hy Conrad,

Book cover of Sins of the Family: A Callie McFee Mystery

What is my book about?

Callie McFee is an investigative reporter and daughter of one of the most powerful men in Texas. Buddy McFee, an old-school politician, is accustomed to throwing off charm, bending arms, and trading favors. When he starts to develop dementia, Callie is caught between getting to the truth and protecting her father from his own mistakes. In Sins of the Family, one of Buddy’s cases goes wrong and his client commits suicide. This could destroy what’s left of Buddy’s career, unless Callie can prove that it wasn’t suicide at all but murder.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Newcomer

Hy Conrad Why did I love this book?

Don’t let the setting or the gentle nature of the prose deter you. What seems like a collection of modest short stories, set among the small shops of a Tokyo neighborhood, coalesces into an intricate puzzle in which the whole is even more satisfying than the sum of its charming parts. The suspects tell the police detective, a patient and polite newcomer to the area, about their modest lives and insular worlds, not realizing how all these gossipy and petty details will lead to the truth. And who knew there were so many different types of scissors, each with a specific, very traditional use!

This is the second mystery in the Kyoichiro Kaga series and my favorite.

By Keigo Higashino, Giles Murray (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Newcomer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association International Dagger Award

Spectator Best Books of 2019

'An intriguing mashup of police procedural and golden age puzzle mystery' Guardian

International bestseller Keigo Higashino returns with his latest mindbender - Newcomer - as newly transferred Tokyo Police Detective Kyochiro Kaga is assigned to a baffling murder.

Detective Kyochiro Kaga of the Tokyo Police Department has just been transferred to a new precinct in the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo. Newly arrived, but with a great deal of experience, Kaga is promptly assigned to the team investigating the murder of a woman. But the more he…

Book cover of If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him...

Hy Conrad Why did I love this book?

A forensic anthropologist tackles three murders, separated by time but united by their theme, the evil that men do – and by men, I mean the male of the species. The outrageous humor and atmospheric southern setting draw you in, and you don’t realize until too late how your expectations have been overturned.

The eighth book in the Elizabeth MacPherson series.

By Sharyn McCrumb,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him... as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When forensic anthropologist Elizabeth MacPherson becomes the official P.I. for her brother Bill's fledgling Virginia law firm, she quickly takes on two complex cases.  Eleanor Royden, a perfect lawyer's wife for twenty years, has shot her ex-husband and his wife in cold blood. And Donna Jean Morgan is implicated in the death of her Bible-thumping bigamist husband.

Bill's feminist firebrand partner, A. P. Hill, does her damnedest for Eleanor, an abused wife in denial, and Bill gallantly defends Donna Jean. Meanwhile, Elizabeth's forensic expertise, including her special knowledge of poisons, gives her the most challenging case of her career. .…

Book cover of The Kind Worth Killing

Hy Conrad Why did I love this book?

Although a suspense novel rather than a mystery, this one utilizes plenty of tricks to keep you enthralled and guessing. It starts with a “Strangers on a Train” kind of premise, the exchanging of murders by people who just met. Then it takes off, morphing into unexpected incarnations, each one exciting and satisfying.  If you become a fan, and I’m betting you will, be warned. Swanson uses similar plot developments in his other books. This is by far his best one.

By Peter Swanson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Kind Worth Killing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

You should never talk to strangers...Gone Girl meets Strangers on a Train in this year's must-read psychological thriller. "Extremely hard to put down". (Sophie Hannah). "Chilling and hypnotically suspenseful". (Lee Child). 'Hello there.' I looked at the pale, freckled hand on the back of the empty bar seat next to me in the business class lounge of Heathrow airport, then up into the stranger's face. 'Do I know you?' Delayed in London, Ted Severson meets a woman at the airport bar. Over cocktails they tell each other rather more than they should, and a dark plan is hatched - but…

Book cover of Shutter Island

Hy Conrad Why did I love this book?

A combination of mystery and atmospheric thriller. Under the threat of an approaching hurricane, two U.S. Marshals arrive on Shutter Island, a hospital for the criminally insane, hoping to solve a murder. To say, “Nothing is as it seems” is a gross understatement. If you haven’t seen the movie, I suggest reading the book first. Anyone can give you chills on film, but it takes a master to do it on the printed page.

By Dennis Lehane,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Shutter Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The basis for the blockbuster motion picture directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island by New York Times bestselling author Dennis Lehane is a gripping and atmospheric psychological thriller where nothing is quite what it seems. The New York Times calls Shutter Island, “Startlingly original.” The Washington Post raves, “Brilliantly conceived and executed.” A masterwork of suspense and surprise from the author of Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone, Shutter Island carries the reader into a nightmare world of madness, mind control, and CIA Cold War paranoia andis unlike anything you’ve ever read before.

Book cover of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Hy Conrad Why did I love this book?

I know this title is old and overhyped, but I can’t leave out the book that made me want to become a writer. I picked The Murder of Roger Ackroyd off my parents’ bookshelf, thinking of it as just another cozy.  When the shock of an ending came along, I was totally unprepared. My reaction was to instantly re-read it, looking for places where the author might have cheated. She hadn’t. As far as character development goes, it’s on par with the usual Christie efforts. But it's the mystery that made her reputation, leading to Edmund Wilson’s comic essay, “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?”. 

I was only slightly disappointed to learn that the extraordinary twist was not her idea. It had been suggested to her twice, once by her brother-in-law and once by Lord Mountbatten.

By Agatha Christie,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd", finally at a fair price!The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in June 1926 in the United Kingdom. It is the third novel to feature Hercule Poirot as the lead detective.

In 2013, the British Crime Writers' Association voted it the best crime novel ever.

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A Theory of Expanded Love

By Caitlin Hicks,

Book cover of A Theory of Expanded Love

Caitlin Hicks Author Of A Theory of Expanded Love

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My life and work have been profoundly affected by the central circumstance of my existence: I was born into a very large military Catholic family in the United States of America. As a child surrounded by many others in the 60s, I wrote, performed, and directed family plays with my numerous brothers and sisters. Although I fell in love with a Canadian and moved to Canada, my family of origin still exerts considerable personal influence. My central struggle, coming from that place of chaos, order, and conformity, is to have the courage to live an authentic life based on my own experience of connectedness and individuality, to speak and be heard. 

Caitlin's book list on coming-of-age books that explore belonging, identity, family, and beat with an emotional and/or humorous pulse

What is my book about?

Trapped in her enormous, devout Catholic family in 1963, Annie creates a hilarious campaign of lies when the pope dies and their family friend, Cardinal Stefanucci, is unexpectedly on the shortlist to be elected the first American pope.

Driven to elevate her family to the holiest of holy rollers in the parish, Annie is tortured by her own dishonesty. But when “The Hands” visits her in her bed and when her sister finds herself facing a scandal, Annie discovers her parents will do almost anything to uphold their reputation and keep their secrets safe. 

Questioning all she has believed and torn between her own gut instinct and years of Catholic guilt, Annie takes courageous risks to wrest salvation from the tragic sequence of events set in motion by her parents’ betrayal.

A Theory of Expanded Love

By Caitlin Hicks,

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