Mysteries without Murder
May 30, 2015 11:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for great mystery novels and stories, but I'm more into puzzles than crime and I'm looking for something.. unconventional. Solving perplexing conundrums, untangling the illogical or bizarrifying the seemingly mundane-- people who find the hidden meanings and patterns behind ordinary or extraordinary chaos. Forays into the surreal, the meta, or even slightly supernatural are welcome.

The sort of sort of thing I'm looking for but have already read: Dirk Gently; Lemony Snicket's Wrong Questions; some of the Peter Wimsey books; Father Brown; Encyclopedia Brown; Umberto Eco. Some of the Holmes stories hit my mark exactly, such as the Blue Carbuncle or the Dancing Men. If you can find some in this style with ladies that would be especially great!
posted by Erasmouse to Writing & Language (31 answers total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Maybe try Markus Zusak's I Am the Messenger? Definitely unconventional, no murder involved. It's classified as YA, mostly by virtue of having a young adult protagonist.
posted by yasaman at 11:30 AM on May 30, 2015

Best answer: Your question makes me think that perhaps you would like Mr. Pnenumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore. It was not my favorite (I mean, it's not bad, just not my favorite), but it's quite popular and definitely includes an idiosyncratic kind of mystery.
posted by reren at 11:36 AM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh! Quick clarification-- I wrote the title too flippantly.. murder is not an absolute disqualification, I guess I'm looking for something where the murder isn't the point. I mean there's a murder in the Dancing Men but it could be taken out without disrupting the puzzle.
posted by Erasmouse at 11:39 AM on May 30, 2015

Response by poster: I've actually read Mr. Pnenumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, reren! I agree with your assessment but in terms of genre it's exactly what I'm looking for.
posted by Erasmouse at 11:40 AM on May 30, 2015

Best answer: Have you tried Josephine Tey?
posted by gudrun at 11:42 AM on May 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You want Karel Čapek's Tales from Two Pockets. (I love this style too, and your own list of examples is inspiring me to pick up a few books!)
posted by aws17576 at 11:50 AM on May 30, 2015

Best answer: If you want to go old school, here are The Ten Best Locked Room Mysteries.

John Dickson Carr was a master of that brand of mysteries.

You absolutely cannot go wrong with Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe. He solves most crimes from the comfort of his big comfy chair.

I used to write mystery novels, and I love Nero Wolfe so much it makes my heart hurt.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 11:50 AM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If sci-if works for you, and you're willing to feel slightly lost for about half the book, I'd try The Quantum Thief.
posted by supercres at 11:59 AM on May 30, 2015

Best answer: It's YA and it's old, but The Westing Game is one of the best puzzle mysteries ever.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:15 PM on May 30, 2015 [7 favorites]

This might be off the mark, but Where'd You Go Bernadette has the daughter trying to track down her mother who disappeared.

Also, how about the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith?
posted by carrioncomfort at 12:16 PM on May 30, 2015

Best answer: You are going to love To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. I'm excited for you!
posted by General Tonic at 12:18 PM on May 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Agatha Christie's Parker Pyne Investigates is about a retired government actuary who, rather than solving conventional Agatha Christie murder mysteries, puts the following advertisement in the newspaper, waits for people to respond, and then solves their problems in unexpected ways:

Are you happy? If not consult Mr Parker Pyne, 17 Richmond Street.
posted by Polycarp at 12:42 PM on May 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem.

Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Hiruki Murukami.
posted by Kriesa at 1:27 PM on May 30, 2015

Thursday Next may be your cup of tea.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:33 PM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I really loved Paul Auster's Oracle Night. It starts with a writer who has just miraculously survived a near-fatal illness. He is physically better now, but his writing has stalled. One night, on impulse, he goes for a walk to a local stationery store and buys a blue, hand-stitched notebook in an attempt to jumpstart his writing. Very very surreal and meta.

I also liked Auster's New York Trilogy (City of Glass, Ghosts, The Locked Room), but I think Oracle Night is my favourite.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:17 PM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

A fair number of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series involve mysteries surrounding the recovery of objects. Murder and deaths do happen, but they're only occasionally the focus of the novel.

They also pretty much define the "South Florida Eccentrics" genre (see Carl Hiiasen, Randy Wayne White for more modern incarnations of this genre)
posted by toxic at 4:10 PM on May 30, 2015

Best answer: I recently finished John Dickson Carr's The Three Coffins. It does involve murder but is heavily slanted to the puzzle. It is heavy on atmosphere, in my opinion that is one of its strengths. Here is a review I recently wrote of it, a review using only excerpts of the book.

#1. "You do not believe then that a man can get up out of his coffin; that he can move anywhere invisibly; that four walls are nothing to him; and that he is as dangerous as anything out of hell?"

"I do not," Grimaud answered, harshly. "Do you?"

"Yes! I have done it. But more! I have a brother who can do much more than I can and who is very dangerous to you. I don't want your life; he does."

#2. "Three of us were once buried alive. Only one of us escaped."

"And how did you escape?"

To which Fley answered calmly: "I didn't escape, you see. I was one of the two who did not escape."

#3. "Fell, have you gone mad, too? We hear a story about how a man rang a door-bell and walked through a locked door fifteen minutes after the snow had stopped, and yet—"

Dr. Fell opened his eyes. Then a series of chuckles ran up the ridges of his waistcoat.

"I say, son, why are you so flabbergasted? Apparently, he sailed out of here without leaving a footprint. Why should it upset you to learn that he also sailed in?"

#4. "[The painting] looks like a picture of a country that does not exist."

Dr. Fell nodded sombrely. "I am afraid you are right, ma'am. I don't think it does exist. And if three people were buried there, it might be difficult to find them..."

#5. About half-past ten last night, he was found shot to death under circumstances which seem to indicate that a magician was murdered by magic.

#6. "Even granting that a murderer could walk on snow without leaving a footprint, can we at least decide where he came from?"

"*He came from here,*" said a voice.

#7. "...why discuss detective fiction?"

"Because," said the doctor, frankly, "we are in a detective story and we don't fool the reader by pretending we're not."

#8. "...I think present day statistics will prove that the secretary is still the commonest murderer in fiction. Butlers have long gone out of fashion; the invalid in the wheelchair is too suspect; and the placid middle-aged spinster has long given up homicidal mania in order to become a detective. Doctors, too, are better behaved nowadays, unless, of course, they grow eminent and turn into Mad Scientists. Lawyers, while they remain persistently crooked, are only in some cases actively dangerous."

#9. After all the hates and dodgings and plans the world was no longer spinning in front of him; it was only slowly going black. He tried to scream out and he could not, for the blood was welling in his throat."

#10. "Now in the light of that, examine the tangled, muddled, half-choked words with which—when he heard the statement that he was sinking—he tried to explain the whole puzzle to us."

Additional note: This novel is not available as an ebook and is out of print. A used or else library edition is worth hunting down
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:38 PM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might enjoy The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford.
posted by Fiorentina97 at 8:58 PM on May 30, 2015

Maybe the Bryant and May mysteries.
posted by paduasoy at 12:21 AM on May 31, 2015

Larry Niven once tried his hands (pun intended) on some locked room mysteries in space. There are five stories in total collected in "Flatlander".
posted by KMB at 3:22 AM on May 31, 2015

Is police investigation stuff out? I'm just reading Tamora Pierce's The Hunt Records (also known as Beka Cooper), which has a lot of sleuthing.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 3:37 AM on May 31, 2015

His work isnt mystery per-se, but since you mention "the hidden meanings and patterns behind ordinary or extraordinary chaos" and "the surreal, the meta, or even slightly supernatural" you might like Tim Powers.
posted by Illusory contour at 6:09 AM on May 31, 2015

Isaac Asimov's Black Widowers series of short stories, which he wrote because he really just liked the puzzle part. (Zero ladies, though, unfortunately.)
posted by anaelith at 7:13 AM on May 31, 2015

Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell) wrote incredibly involved books in which in some cases you don't know who the murdered or the murderer are until the last chapter. They're all about the people in the situation.

Gladys Mitchell or Margery Allingham both wrote mysteries in which the murder is just an excuse to revel in psychology of the involved, too. Gladys Mitchell dips in to esoteric/possibly supernatural situations more than MA.
posted by winna at 8:53 AM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Edmund Crispin, especially The Moving Toyshop
posted by dizziest at 12:42 PM on May 31, 2015

You might like The Moonstone or The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
posted by désoeuvrée at 4:07 PM on May 31, 2015

The Buck Passes Flynn By Gregory McDonald: random groups of people are waking up to find packets of $1,000,000 on their doorstep. Why?

Actually, I think there McDonald wrote several Fletch and Flynn novels that do not center on murder.
posted by doctor tough love at 6:58 AM on June 1, 2015

You might want to take a look at Charlie Lovett's The Bookman's Tale. [link goes to GoodReads]
posted by stampsgal at 8:21 AM on June 1, 2015

The City & the City by China Mielville. I think it may technically include a murder in there somewhere, but it definitely has the other elements.
posted by typecloud at 9:57 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

YA/MG but full of puzzles and mysteries:
Chasing Vermeer
and The Mysterious Benedict Society
posted by soelo at 1:05 PM on June 1, 2015

Not books - but the Jonathan Creek TV series sounds exactly what you're looking for.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 4:10 AM on June 2, 2015

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