The best off-kilter mystery novels for off-kilter readers

Why are we passionate about this?

We almost said “quirky” instead of off-kilter in this title. But quirky is becoming synonymous with cozy, which is weird because it doesn’t mean the same thing at all. So, off-kilter it is. Done well, playing with expectations makes for an especially engaging read. We’ve attempted that trick in our own Shady Hollow Mysteries, which uses the form of a traditional murder mystery, but in a world of anthropomorphic animals. So naturally we love when other authors play with the form. These five books all fit the description of “off-kilter,” and we hope you can find fun and joy in reading them.  

We wrote...

Shady Hollow

By Juneau Black,

Book cover of Shady Hollow

What is our book about?

In the first book in the Shady Hollow series, we are introduced to the village of Shady Hollow, a place where woodland creatures live together in harmony—until a curmudgeonly toad turns up dead. Local reporter Vera Vixen has a nose for news, so when she catches wind that the death might be a murder, she resolves to get to the bottom of the case, no matter where it leads. 

As she stirs up still waters, Vera finds more to this town than she ever suspected. It seems someone in the Hollow will do anything to keep her from solving the murder, and it will take all of Vera’s cunning and quickness to crack the case!

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The books we picked & why

Book cover of Poison for Breakfast

Jocelyn Cole and Sharon Nagel Why did I love this book?

Lemony Snicket is no stranger to unfortunate events, but this standalone book contains perhaps the worst of all: the news that he, the author, has consumed poison while eating the first meal of the day. Of course, this being a Snicket story, there’s more going on. This book is a bit mystery, and a bit philosophy (or is it the other way around?). More importantly, it is also a meditation on the wonderfulness of books and reading, a part of life that remains important even if one is quite sure one has been poisoned and now has an indeterminate amount of time to discover the truth of what happened.

By Lemony Snicket,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Poison for Breakfast as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the years since this publishing house was founded, we have worked with an array of wondrous authors who have brought illuminating clarity to our bewildering world. Now, instead, we bring you Lemony Snicket.

Over the course of his long and suspicious career, Mr. Snicket has investigated many things, including villainy, treachery, conspiracy, ennui, and various suspicious fires. In this book, he is investigating his own death.

Poison for Breakfast is a different sort of book than others we have published, and from others you may have read. It is different from other books Mr. Snicket has written. It could…

Book cover of Death is a Lonely Business

Jocelyn Cole and Sharon Nagel Why did I love this book?

Did you know that Ray Bradbury wrote mysteries? He wrote a few toward the end of his career, and they’re set in the deeply weird world of Southern California, which immediately makes them off-kilter. Death is a Lonely Business follows a nameless protagonist—a writer, by the way—who gets drawn into a mysterious series of…Disappearances? Murders? Perhaps just bad luck? Filled with noir-inspired settings but with that ineffable Bradbury twist of the fantastic, this is a book for late nights and nostalgia. Strange and puzzling, and always ready to twist your expectations.

By Ray Bradbury,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Death is a Lonely Business as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ray Bradbury, the undisputed Dean of American storytelling, dips his accomplished pen into the cryptic inkwell of noir and creates a stylish and slightly fantastical tale of mayhem and murder set among the shadows and the murky canals of Venice, California, in the early 1950s.

Toiling away amid the looming palm trees and decaying bungalows, a struggling young writer (who bears a resemblance to the author) spins fantastic stories from his fertile imagination upon his clacking typewriter. Trying not to miss his girlfriend (away studying in Mexico), the nameless writer steadily crafts his literary effort--until strange things begin happening around…

Book cover of An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed

Jocelyn Cole and Sharon Nagel Why did I love this book?

Now here’s a fun flip on so-called “cosy” crime. Remember the twist of Columbo, the way the show started with us viewers seeing the murderer commit the crime and then allowing us to watch Columbo slowly assembled his case against them? This book by Helene Tursten and translated to English by Marlaine Delargy offers a similar vibe. Our protagonist Maud has more than one notch on her proverbial belt, and we get to hear about each killing, along with the justification for them all. All the grit you’d expect from Scandinavian crime, but with the delightful slant of this outwardly fragile old lady being the center of it all. From Sweden to South Africa, Maud makes her mark! Plus there are cookie recipes, with a distinctly Scandi-noir flavor.

By Helene Tursten, Marlaine Delargy (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Don’t let her age fool you. Maud may be nearly ninety, but if you cross her, this elderly lady is more sinister than sweet. 

Just when things have finally cooled down for 88-year-old Maud after the disturbing discovery of a dead body in her apartment in Gothenburg, a couple of detectives return to her doorstep. Though Maud dodges their questions with the skill of an Olympic gymnast a fifth of her age, she wonders if suspicion has fallen on her, little old lady that she is. The truth is, ever since Maud was a girl, death has seemed to follow…

Book cover of The Department of Sensitive Crimes

Jocelyn Cole and Sharon Nagel Why did I love this book?

If you aren’t ready for Scandinavian Noir, perhaps you’d like a dose of Scandinavian Blanc. Alexander McCall Smith excels at mysteries on the lighter side—which isn’t to say this book isn’t very strange, with its own hints of darkness. Detective Ulf Varg and his colleagues solve crimes that are deemed too weird for the regular police: a possible werewolf menacing a spa, a non-lethal knee-stabbing, and a missing (imaginary) person. AMS’s great gift is imbuing small puzzles with weight and humanity. And if the human cast here isn’t off-kilter enough for you, be reassured…there’s also a dog who can lipread in Swedish.

By Alexander McCall Smith,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Department of Sensitive Crimes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the Swedish criminal justice system, certain cases are considered especially strange and difficult, in Malmö, the dedicated detectives who investigate these crimes are members of an elite squad known as the Sensitive Crimes Division.

These are their stories.

The first case: the small matter of a man stabbed in the back of the knee. Who would perpetrate such a crime and why? Next: a young woman's imaginary boyfriend goes missing. But how on earth do you search for someone who doesn't exist? And in the final investigation: eerie secrets that are revealed under a full moon may not seem…

Book cover of The Harlequin Tea Set and Other Stories

Jocelyn Cole and Sharon Nagel Why did I love this book?

Flashback to a classic. Not enough people know about the Mysterious Mr. Quin stories by Agatha Christie. They have all the glamour of Poirot, but they’re not quite whodunits. Or are they? Despite the fact that crime is solved in each, they’re a little weird and magical and even melancholy. Our “detective” Mr. Satterthwaite seems to find himself near death over and over, and each time his acquaintance Mr. Quin (who bears a lot of resemblance to the tragic Harlequin figure of commedia dell’arte) arrives to help him to find his way to the truth. Each story is super short, so they’re good for when you can’t muster attention for a marathon reading session. Worth seeking out!

By Agatha Christie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Harlequin Tea Set and Other Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hercule Poirot is joined by the mysterious problem solver Harley Quin in the pages of The Harlequin Tea Set and Other Stories—a collection of ingenious short masterworks of mystery and suspense that showcase the legendary Agatha Christie at her very best.

A grand treasure for fans of the grande dame of mystery, The Harlequin Tea Set and Other Stories brings together nine rare and brilliant Christie tales of murder and detection that span nearly half a century of her storytelling genius.

In The Mystery of the Spanish Chest, Hercule Poirot unravels the psychological conundrums that motivate a killer. . .…

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Book cover of Dulcinea

Ana Veciana-Suarez Author Of Dulcinea

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I became fascinated with 16th-century and 17th-century Europe after reading Don Quixote many years ago. Since then, every novel or nonfiction book about that era has felt both ancient and contemporary. I’m always struck by how much our environment has changed—transportation, communication, housing, government—but also how little we as people have changed when it comes to ambition, love, grief, and greed. I doubled down my reading on that time period when I researched my novel, Dulcinea. Many people read in the eras of the Renaissance, World War II, or ancient Greece, so I’m hoping to introduce them to the Baroque Age. 

Ana's book list on bringing to life the forgotten Baroque Age

What is my book about?

Dolça Llull Prat, a wealthy Barcelona woman, is only 15 when she falls in love with an impoverished poet-solder. Theirs is a forbidden relationship, one that overcomes many obstacles until the fledgling writer renders her as the lowly Dulcinea in his bestseller.

By doing so, he unwittingly exposes his muse to gossip. But when Dolça receives his deathbed note asking to see her, she races across Spain with the intention of unburdening herself of an old secret.

On the journey, she encounters bandits, the Inquisition, illness, and the choices she's made. At its heart, Dulcinea is about how we betray the people we love, what happens when we succumb to convention, and why we squander the few chances we get to change our lives.

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