Everyone loves a good detective novel, but no more than those who enjoy sleuthing and being a detective in their own lives.
The detective genre is wide-ranging, and broad, and is often a subgenre that can be combined with a whole list of other genres such as sci-fi, romance, noir, and more.
Some detective novels are from the point of view of the police, private detectives, and even spies, but they can also be from the point of view of the homemade sleuth themselves.
Perhaps the best detective stories are the ones that bring out our own inner sleuths, the ones that present information and leave it up to the reader to be the sleuth and figure out what’s happening before it is revealed by the story.
In this article we are going to list some of our favorite sleuth novels for you to get into, whether you follow a real detective making their own rationalization of clues, a homemade sleuth, or where it’s left up to you to close the case. Keep reading to find your next investigation.
Best Detective Novels
In the list below find your next investigation to bring out your inner sleuth.
In A Lonely Place (1947) By Dorothy B Hughes
This is a classic noir novel that, while being written in the 40s, presents the classic serial killer narrative in quite an interesting and modern way.
The story is set in post-war LA as the story’s narrator and former pilot, Dix Steele, returns home from the war.
Dix seeks out the night and is excited and raring to embark on his new life in the now-stylized city he once knew, hoping to find the right woman to settle down with.
When he meets up with his estranged friend Brub, who now resides in the LAPD, he ends up hot on the tail of the LA strangler, attempting to help solve the crimes while researching for his apparent crime novel.
The truth of the LA strangler is eventually worked out, not by Brub or Dix, but by the often unfaltering female instinct of the women who surround them.
All the clues of who the strangler really is are there for the reader to work out and the reader themselves is the sleuth in many ways, with the male detectives generally proving to be too slow for the strangler’s movements.
If you enjoy classic American noirs with cigarette smoke, silk dresses, and sleuth galore, then this highly stylized novel will please both your sleuth appetite and desire to feel like a 40s detective on the beat.
- Very well written by Hughes
- A modern and feminist twist
- A compelling and interesting main character
- The detective investigation can feel a little dated for a modern reader
The Woman In The Library (2022) By Sulari Gentill
If you like a classic whodunnit, this is a clever novel that presents a really interesting, unique, and complex investigation for the reader to get their teeth into as a reader-sleuth.
Being such a modern novel, it remains really relevant for a modern audience with the content of what is discussed.
The Boston Public Library Reading Room is perfectly calm as four library go-ers happen to sit around the same table, all engrossed in their own unique tasks.
Suddenly this tranquil space is ripped apart as nearby a woman’s deathly screech can be heard through the halls of the library. It seems a woman has died, and the security guards shut down the building until they work out what has happened.
Suddenly these four strangers are now suspects in the murder, as they get to know each other and their own unique stories that brought them to haphazardly sit at the same table.
Little do they know that their newfound friends are all suspects in this murder, and it’s up to the reader to figure it out before it is revealed.
For a really clever and new take on the whodunnit narrative, this story is worth reading, it has a high degree of tension and is great for bringing out your inner sleuth to figure out what has really gone down in this library.
- Modern characters that are compelling
- Unique setting and plot
- Ideal for those who enjoy working the plot out themselves
- Some will find the framework a little simple
Gone Girl (2014) By Gillian Flynn
If you haven’t seen the film adaptation of this we can’t recommend reading the book enough. This is the kind of book you wish you could erase all memory of simply to pick it up and become entangled in its mysteries once more.
While not outwardly a detective novel, this is an ideal case for the inner sleuth to come out. The plot centers around Nick and Amy Dunne, it discusses their seemingly perfect romance story, how they met, and how their relationship went sour.
But the novel begins with Amy’s disappearance and centers mainly around the search for Amy herself. Nick is the main suspect and the tension of the novel centers around whether he actually killed his wife or not.
When Amy’s own viewpoint is revealed things seem to make even less sense until the story is ultimately turned on its head.
In terms of wanting to figure out the ending of this mystery, it’s a story that really drags in the humble sleuth, but it’s actually quite hard to really figure out how the plot finally unravels.
More than just a crime novel, the story is more akin to a psychological thriller, perfect for a self-acclaimed sleuth to really test their investigative abilities.
- Unreliable narrators make for a good investigation for the reader
- Ideal to challenge the investigation abilities of the reader
- Compelling characters and narrative
- Gets pretty dark if you aren’t into that thing, try something else on the list
The Silent Patient (2021) By Alex Michaelides
This is another dark psychological thriller but presents an interesting mystery to unravel that some readers will find compelling, and of course, brings out that inner sleuth mindset.
If you want a complicated, gritty, case to tackle, this is certainly worth the time. The novel focuses on the relationship between Alicia Berenson and her husband Gabriel.
They seemingly have a great marriage, and happy life, which is unturned on its head one day when Gabriel returns home late one day and is greeted by four bullet wounds from his wife, which is followed by a distinct silence from her.
While we know who the murderer is, Alicia’s refusal to speak about the murder whatsoever, and their seemingly happy life, with little obvious reason for her to murder her husband, creates its own psychological mystery that we must figure out as reader turned sleuth.
Theo Faber is the criminal psychotherapist given Alicia’s case and he, like the reader, must figure out what has occurred from what Alicia feeds him in her interviews.
- Interesting case and unique plot
- Compelling characters
- A quite dark subject matter
The Girl On The Train (2016) By Paula Hawkins
Another sleuth novel where the main character is a common sleuth herself, perhaps even a peeping tom, but multiple points of view in the novel show things even she doesn’t see, creating an investigative geography that the reader can navigate, soon able to tell whether she is a reliable narrator or not.
The plot follows Rachel on her commutes on a not-so-busy route of the London underground.
On her commute, she flashes past the same suburban houses every day, but during one tube stop, she gets the perfect view into one of the houses, watching the same couple having breakfast and catching glimpse of their seemingly perfect lives.
She feels like she knows them, but when she witnesses something very disturbing, potentially cause for alarm, she quickly goes to the police who don’t really believe her, leaving it up to her to figure out what has gone on.
Soon enough, Rachel finds she has stepped too deep into a story she can’t get out of. Is she the bad person here, or is it the potential perpetrator of a crime, or something else entirely? It’s left up to the reader to figure out before the novel’s dramatic conclusion.
- Ticks a few genre boxes for those who want a sleuth story that isn’t an up-and-down detective story
- Feels modern and up to date
- Multiple points of view
- Can be melodramatic at points that certain readers may not enjoy
Death By Dumpling: A Noodle Shop Mystery (2018) By Vivien Chien
If the title of this sleuth novel attracts you then you will likely enjoy this fun and sassy ride that is indeed a little tongue in cheek, should you enjoy that, and presents a good novel for the amateur sleuth who just wants mystery and intrigue rather than all the nasty bits that can come with that.
Lana Lee is not in the best place in her life, after a dramatic work walkout and heavy breakup, she has decided to go back to waiting tables at her family’s noodle bar which isn’t exactly where she thought she would be.
Yet, her worries become secondary to a murder investigation, with her family’s noodle bar at the center of it.
The restaurant’s property manager Mr. Feng, who has a life-threatening shellfish allergy, has suddenly turned up dead after being sent a delivery of shrimp dumplings. Everyone knows of Mr. Feng’s allergy, so how has this happened?
Her family’s restaurant takes most of the finger pointing and it’s up to Lana the amateur sleuth to figure out what has happened to save her family’s reputation before her own number is up.
If you want something a little silly and fun that isn’t particularly dark but is quite a light, fun, read then Vivien Chien’s debut novel might just be for you.
- Fun and entertaining
- Has romantic genre undertones
- Not much dark material
- Some will find it a bit unserious and childish
Magpie Murders (2017) By Anthony Horowitz
For those who want a challenging puzzle, within a puzzle, for a reader turned sleuth to really figure out, look no further than this complex and masterful work by famed writer Anthony Horowitz.
Susan Ryeland is the editor of a manuscript of Alan Conway’s most recent crime novel. It seems like any other manuscript given to her in the past, having worked as his editor for years.
Alan is a famed writer, but his behavior is erratic and problematic, something she has to put up with in order to earn a living.
As she continues to read and edit the novel, which seems to classically follow Alan’s successful blueprints for a detective novel, it seems there is potentially something more sinister going on.
The more she reads, the more there seems to be another story, another mystery, hidden within the words themselves.
This is a classic work of metafiction, a story, within a story, within our story, and as perhaps the final frontier it is up to the reader sleuth to make sense of this puzzle within a puzzle and figure out which mystery is the one to follow, which is one of paranoia, and what this can say about detective books more widely.
Feel like you have gotten bored of the detective/mystery genre? This novel shows that there are still unique and interesting plots out there.
If you want something really wide-ranging in its messages, that perhaps gets to the heart of sleuthing itself, this masterful work is worth a read.
Horowitz has written countless detective stories, with this as his magnum opus, so he writes with a master hand, creating a sleuth narrative to end all sleuthing.
- Very unique story
- Gets to the heart of sleuthing itself
- Asks questions about the genre
- Truly compelling and complex
- If you want an easy read with a simple story, this is not it
As you can see there is a wealth of detective stories for amateur sleuths out there.
Whether you just want to sit back and follow the mystery as it unfolds, or you want a twisting, turning, investigation that you can really sink your teeth into, there is something out there for you to enjoy.
Many of these novels can dip into other genres such as romance, noir, science fiction, or even into literary theory such as postmodernism, so if you want a detective novel you can also shorten your search a lot more by finding those that combine the sleuth genre with other genres you may also enjoy.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does Sleuth Mean?
Sleuth, in a general sense, can simply mean someone who is investigating something. This could be a policeman, spy, or just a busybody in your local neighborhood.
Generally, when we are using the phrase sleuth or amateur sleuth we are referring to a non-professional investigator who has usually taken up an investigation parallel to a professional investigation done by a policing body, or perhaps has just taken matters into their own hand when no investigation is being done.
As readers of detective novels, we ourselves are also reader-turned-sleuths as we undoubtedly try to figure out the reveal of the plot before it comes.
Often authors realize this and can sometimes present information to the reader that the narrating sleuth in the story may not know themselves, providing the reader, not the narrator, with extra clues with which they can investigate, albeit the author may use these as red herrings themselves with knowledge of a sleuth’s desire for solid answers.
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