The best books that share the secrets of great mystery writing

Peter Lovesey Author Of The Last Detective
By Peter Lovesey

Who am I?

My introduction to mystery writing was a competition for a first crime novel. I was lucky enough to win with Wobble to Death, about a Victorian long-distance race. When I went to collect the prize, I was startled to be asked if I was already at work on the next one. The publishers Macmillan had started a crime list and were looking for a career writer. I knew practically nothing about the genre and had to give myself a crash course. How I needed the support of books like these! After five years, I had the confidence to give up the day job and have made my living from mystery writing for almost fifty years. 

I wrote...

The Last Detective

By Peter Lovesey,

Book cover of The Last Detective

What is my book about?

Originally intended as a one-off book, this won the Anthony Award for best novel at the Bouchercon and generated a series of twenty mystery novels that I am still writing. Diamond of the Bath police is a good man and a smart detective, but he creates havoc around him and drives his team to despair. Fortunately, the women in his life know how to keep this maverick functioning. Here he investigates a body found floating in a lake and his investigation of her last hours leads him into Jane Austen territory and university infighting, with disastrous personal consequences for Diamond.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Why did I love this book?

One of the world’s most successful writers tells it from the heart both as a memoir of his early struggles and a masterclass sharing the secrets of what he calls his toolbox. His advice can be applied to every kind of fiction but many of his examples of effective writing are drawn from the great mystery writers. He is creative, persuasive, honest, and never preachy. Everyone, from the most experienced author to the absolute beginner, will benefit from King’s generous insights. I was excited when I found it. I learned much and have recommended it to others ever since.

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked On Writing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twentieth Anniversary Edition with Contributions from Joe Hill and Owen King


Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the…

Book cover of Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction

Why did I love this book?

No one can deny that Patricia Highsmith knew how to create suspense. Alfred Hitchcock saw that Strangers on a Train was the ideal spine-tingler for a great movie. Other directors have found the Ripley series perfect nail-biting stories to work with. Highsmith takes us through the process of building suspense from the germ of an idea through the plotting, the drafts, and the revisions, using examples from her own work, short stories, and novels. I’m not surprised this book has stayed in print for over fifty years. I still dip into it and get inspired.

By Patricia Highsmith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Named by The Times as the all-time number one crime writer, Patricia Highsmith was an author who broke new ground and defied genre cliches with novels such as The Talented Mr Ripley and Strangers on a Train.
In the classic creative writing guide Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, Highsmith reveals her secrets for producing world-class crime and thrillers, from imaginative tips for generating ideas to useful ways of turning them into stunning stories.

Behind the Mystery

By Laurie Roberts,

Book cover of Behind the Mystery

Why did I love this book?

Here is a rare treat: a chance to see inside the homes and workplaces of seventeen great American authors and hear them questioned about their beginnings as writers and their work habits. It’s both a picture book and a series of dialogues. I have been fortunate enough to know and visit several of them personally - Sue Grafton, Evan Hunter, Sara Paretsky, and Donald Westlake - and it’s a joy to see and hear them again explaining their ways of writing a mystery. You soon realize how many different approaches are possible.   

By Laurie Roberts,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The past president of the Mystery Writers of America shares the results of his nationwide interviews with eighteen of the top mystery writers in the country, including Tony Hillerman, Mickey Spillane, Sara Paretsky, Martin Cruz Smith, Sue Grafton, and others.

Book cover of How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America

Why did I love this book?

Although I’m a Brit, I joined the Mystery Writers of America early in my career and benefited enormously from the friendships I made. This newly published volume is a virtual encyclopedia of the advice their experts are willing to share. With more than seventy contributors, it covers the field and more, including mysteries for children, graphic novels, and true crime. None of it is treated as gospel. I laughed out loud when I found the chapter "Always Outline" by Jeffery Deaver, followed by "Never Outline" by Lee Child. Even the follow-up process of reaching out to readers is explained in "Building Your Community" by Louise Penny. This is a must-visit workshop for anyone serious about the craft.

By Mystery Writers of America,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Write a Mystery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the most successful mystery writers in the business, an invaluable guide to crafting mysteries-from character development and plot to procedurals and thrillers-a must-have for every aspiring mystery writer.

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is known for providing unparalleled resources on the craft, art, and business of storytelling, helping writers of all levels improve their skills for nearly a century. Now, this new handbook helps authors navigate the ever-shifting publishing landscape-from pacing, plotting, the business side of publishing, to the current demand for diversity and inclusivity across all genres, and more.

Featuring essays by a new generation of bestselling experts…

Book cover of Howdunit: A Masterclass in Crime Writing by Members of the Detection Club

Why did I love this book?

Founded in 1930, the Detection Club celebrated its ninetieth birthday with gems of advice from ninety of its members from the Golden Age onwards. Where else could you hear from Agatha Christie on the secrets of plotting, Dorothy L. Sayers on partners in crime and Margery Allingham on dialogue? Or the great spy writers, Ambler, Deighton and le Carre? The list of contributors reads like a history of the genre, right into the twenty-first century with the likes of Lindsey Davis, Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves, and Peter James. The mostly British line-up nicely complements the MWA book. As a long-standing member (from the days when Christie was our president) I have been privileged to hear from many of the greats about their struggles and successes. How pleasing that so many are included here. 

By Martin Edwards (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the H.R.F. Keating Award for best biographical/critical book related to crime fiction, and nominated for the Edgar Allen Poe and Macavity Awards for Best Critical/Biographical book.

Ninety crime writers from the world's oldest and most famous crime writing network give tips and insights into successful crime and thriller fiction.

Howdunit offers a fresh perspective on the craft of crime writing from leading exponents of the genre, past and present. The book offers invaluable advice to people interested in writing crime fiction, but it also provides a fascinating picture of the way that the best crime writers have honed…

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