The best mystery novels where the quest goes sideways

Bradley W. Wright Author Of Engine Nine
By Bradley W. Wright

Who am I?

I’ve been a passionate reader since I was old enough to pick up a book and I have always loved books where the plot twisted and turned and led me down blind alleys. I love books that create a tense, dream-like atmosphere and confound my ability to guess what will happen next. I try to recreate that kind of plot and atmosphere in my own novels. I always try to find ways to allow for multiple interpretations and never tie up a plot so tight that there isn’t some room for speculation. I hope you’ll enjoy the books on this list as much as I do. 


I wrote...

Engine Nine

By Bradley W. Wright,

Book cover of Engine Nine

What is my book about?

A familiar voice, echoing down the years. Justin’s long-lost sister on the phone. But something is off. She’s in danger. She warns him to stay away but he resolves to find her. Undercover, Justin infiltrates the remote commune in Utah where Malena was living only to find she has been transferred to another location. Digging for clues, Justin discovers disturbing evidence: black market ICBM parts and an international smuggling operation. The cult members grow suspicious. Justin is trapped and transported to headquarters in Costa Rica. Drugged and imprisoned, he must find a way to escape, rescue Malena, and foil the cult’s demented doomsday plot.

The books I picked & why

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The Long Goodbye

By Raymond Chandler,

Book cover of The Long Goodbye

Why this book?

The Long Goodbye is a weird book and I like weird books. Although it’s cloaked as genre fiction, it is clearly influenced by the non-linear, experimental fiction of the modernist period. The book is full of carnivalesque characters who seem to loom out of the shadows, spinning Chandler’s hard-boiled detective Marlowe around and sending him off in new directions, characters that echo each other like multiplied images in a funhouse mirror, and bizarre detours where tangled subplots weave into the narrative, then unravel as Marlowe is sent caroming off again. In the end, I’m always left wondering how much of the hallucinogenic happenings were real, how much Marlowe even understood what happened, and who was really pulling the strings all along.   

The Long Goodbye

By Raymond Chandler,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Long Goodbye as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ed Bishop stars as Philip Marlowe in a powerful and atmospheric full-cast dramatisation of Raymond Chandler's classic noir novel. The first time Marlowe sets eyes on Terry Lennox, he is lying drunk in the passenger seat of a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith. The next time, he's on Skid Row. After they share a few Gimlets, Marlowe thinks he seems like a nice guy, but he's had a hard life - his white hair and scarred face testify to that. Or could it be marriage to Sylvia Lennox that has turned him prematurely grey? Although beautiful and rich, she plays the field…


In the Woods

By Tana French,

Book cover of In the Woods

Why this book?

I love Tana French’s books. She’s a master of mystery and suspense but her books are normally fairly straightforward, gather-the-clues-and-figure-out-the-secret procedurals. In the Woods has a different feel. It delves more into psychological territory and relies partially on an unsolved mystery from the past–of which one of the detectives Rob was the sole, amnesiac survivor–that affects how the mystery in the present unfolds. As the tension builds, the reader is never sure whether the past events tie into the present mystery, Rob is cracking up under the pressure of the investigation and the bits of memory that return to him, or some unseen force is steering the protagonists away from the solution. 

In the Woods

By Tana French,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked In the Woods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling debut, with over a million copies sold, that launched Tana French, author of the forthcoming novel The Searcher and "the most important crime novelist to emerge in the past 10 years" (The Washington Post).

"Required reading for anyone who appreciates tough, unflinching intelligence and ingenious plotting." -The New York Times

Now airing as a Starz series.

As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only…


A Wild Sheep Chase

By Haruki Murakami,

Book cover of A Wild Sheep Chase

Why this book?

Murakami is a master of misdirection and foreboding. He’s clearly influenced by the hard-boiled detective fiction of Hammett and Chandler. His books often echo elements of the genre. The protagonist of A Wild Sheep Chase finds himself caught in an impersonal system of crime and corruption and driven down strange pathways on a quest he does not fully understand. Murakami takes the hazy, dream-like atmosphere of Chandler’s work and develops it into a kind of magical realist form that leaves the reader with a solved mystery but still wondering what exactly happened.

A Wild Sheep Chase

By Haruki Murakami,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Wild Sheep Chase as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Features a cast of bizarre characters, including a sheep with a mysterious star on its back, caught up in a Nietzschean quest for power.


Inherent Vice

By Thomas Pynchon,

Book cover of Inherent Vice

Why this book?

Pynchon’s books are often dense and long and hard to get through (but rewarding if you power through). Inherent Vice is one of his lighter reads–accessible enough that Paul Thomas Anderson made it into a movie. It’s a funny, bizarre detective novel set in 1970s Los Angeles. Inherent Vice’s private eye protagonist Doc Sportello is looking for a vanished man in the sundrenched, sun-blasted landscape of southern California. There is no doubt that Pynchon consciously copied much of Chandler’s plot in an homage to the classic work. Like Murakami though, Pynchon works a kind of magic with it that leaves me both satisfied and mystified. 

Inherent Vice

By Thomas Pynchon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Inherent Vice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon-Private eye Doc Sportello surfaces, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era

In this lively yarn, Thomas Pynchon, working in an unaccustomed genre that is at once exciting and accessible, provides a classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren't there.

It's been a while since Doc Sportello has seen his ex- girlfriend. Suddenly she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. It's the tail…


The Goldfinch

By Donna Tartt,

Book cover of The Goldfinch

Why this book?

This book is an astounding work of art. Even though it’s not a mystery novel per se, it has a mystery at its heart so I feel like I can cheat it onto my list. Donna Tartt uses a lot of the elements pioneered by Chandler and Hammett–the criminal underworld, the unreliable friend, the lone figure in a confusing landscape trying to figure it all out and never sure he isn’t being run like a rat in a maze by powers beyond his understanding. At the same time, it’s a coming-of-age story with a quest in the middle of the plot–but a quest that keeps shifting and blurring until the reader ends up questioning whether the supposed objective was ever possible to begin with, or whether the objective was always something else entirely. 

The Goldfinch

By Donna Tartt,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Goldfinch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014 Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the…


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