Miss Scarlett in the conservatory with an axe
January 2, 2019 10:52 PM   Subscribe

I need your gripping-est, creepiest, twistiest, most fiendishly puzzling murder mystery novel recommendations please! I have included examples of what I mean below the fold.

You know the type: the kind of murder mystery you race through breathlessly only to be confounded by twists in the tale, where the murderer is the last person you would expect.

Extra points for novels set in Victorian-era England with horses clippety-clopping through the fog; psychological trauma; salacious affairs galore; terrible family secrets. But it doesn't have to be a historical novel.

My gold standard for this kind of novel are Charles Palisser's The Quincunx and The Unburied (god, I love that book), although Dickens' Bleak House and Collins' The Woman in White and The Moonstone are also excellent examples. Sally Beauman's Dark Angel and almost everything Andrew Taylor has written also qualify. I recently read the 7.5 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which I enjoyed as well.

I'm not in the mood for:
- anything sci-fi or paranormal
- books in a series
- anything overtly literary, or self-consciously playing around with genres. I don't mean I want something badly written, I just want something more plotty than literary.

Guys, I know you can knock this one out of the park! Thanks in advance for your recommendations.
posted by unicorn chaser to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 99 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I could not put it down! Try not to read anything about it beforehand; it's better that way.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:37 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]


Iain Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost, maybe.
posted by juv3nal at 12:55 AM on January 3 [8 favorites]


Michael Gilbert’s Smallbone Deceased is a good one. It’s set in post-WWII London, so no points for Victoriana, but there is fog and twistiness and secrets terrible. It grips one.
posted by mumkin at 1:20 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


The Hollow Man (1935; also published under the title The Three Coffins) by John Dickson Carr meets your requirements. It has Gothic atmosphere, family secrets, psychological trauma, and fiendish puzzles:
Two murders were committed, in such fashion that the murderer must not only have been invisible, but lighter than air. According to the evidence, this person killed his first victim and literally disappeared. Again according to the evidence, he killed his second victim in the middle of an empty street, with watchers at either end; yet not a soul saw him, and no footprint appeared in the snow.
posted by cyanistes at 2:32 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Beloved Poison by E.S. Thomson - very atmospheric Victorian hospital, good page-turning mystery, and awesome protagonist.*

*there are sequels but they are all stand alone
posted by sedimentary_deer at 3:00 AM on January 3


Is the Hound of the Baskervilles too twee?
posted by freethefeet at 3:46 AM on January 3


Gone Girl feels like a solid choice, depending on how you define some of your criteria. Definitely plotty, definitely confounding twists.
posted by solotoro at 6:05 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


A Place of Execution by Val McDermid: very twisty, very good. (she writes a couple series, this one is a stand-alone).
posted by maryrussell at 6:53 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


By Reason of Insanity by Shane Stevens.
posted by mygoditsbob at 6:54 AM on January 3


Consider checking out Sherry Thomas' Lady Sherlock books Amazon link. She's got three out now, and they are good, foggy, and seem to be well researched.
posted by ParticularPoncho at 7:31 AM on January 3


Check out Sarah Waters for family drama, time period twistiness. I liked the Paying Guests, set in the 1920s but most of them are great.
posted by five_cents at 9:41 AM on January 3 [5 favorites]


Came to suggest Sarah Waters’ the Little Stranger and Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
posted by forkisbetter at 10:29 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. Setting: Victorian England. Criminal underclass intersects with corrupt overclass.
posted by kaymac at 10:34 AM on January 3 [5 favorites]


I love David Liss's books featuring Benjamin Weaver. They each take me to a specific historical period with interesting developments at that juncture in time, and use that to build a web of intrigue and conspiracy, often with a few murders and a good dose of mystery. There are three, I think:

A Conspiracy of Paper

A Spectacle of Corruption

The Devil's Company

I haven't read this one, but it looks like it is in the same vein:
The Whiskey Rebels

The writing is good, imho, which is important to me, and I feel like I learn something about the period and events of that time. Plus: Intrigue! Conspiracy! Murder! Mystery!
posted by girlpublisher at 11:08 AM on January 3


Harlan Coben writes books like this, where every character ends up being part of some vast conspiracy, to the point that I once joked to myself about halfway through a Coben book that a teenage babysitter we hadn't seen since Chapter One would end up being the actual murderer, and it would all make sense.

Fellow reader, I was right.
posted by Etrigan at 1:21 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Is it too obvious now or is the story too well known? How about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd?
posted by sevenless at 4:31 PM on January 3


To scratch that Quincunx itch, try Michael Cox, The Meaning of Night (2006), a crime thriller set in Victorian England.
posted by verstegan at 7:02 AM on January 4


I've been reading the 7 and 1/2 deaths of evelyn hardcastle.

Think Groundhog Day and mix it with Clue set in an old Victorian mansion for a weekend. Add Quantum Leap.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:03 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]


Thanks guys! As this is one of my favourite genres, I've read a lot of the recommendations posted already - some great shouts including Sarah Waters, Agatha Christie, Iain Pears, Gillian Flynn (Sharp Objects, another excellent example!) and Michael Cox.

I look forward to checking out the other recommendations!
posted by unicorn chaser at 8:24 AM on January 5


River of Darkness by Rennie Airth. Face of a Stranger by Anne Perry.
posted by Enid Lareg at 3:39 PM on January 5


It's been a good while since I read it so it might not fit the bill exactly, but the very first thing that came to mind in response to your question was Gaston Leroux's The Mystery of the Yellow Room.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:01 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


I don't see that anybody has mentioned Rex Stout yet. His works aren't Victorian, but they do cover a good chunk of the early to mid 1900s (mainly 1930s to 1960s. They definitely delve into family secrets, throwing all sorts of twists and turns to the reader along the way, and most times the killer isn't one that is easily spotted.

For what you want, I'd suggest starting with the full-length novels, rather than the novellas. Some Buried Caesar is usually one that's recommended as a good starting place. You might also want to consider Too Many Cooks, The Silent Speaker, In the Best Families, Champagne for One, and some of the other titles that don't include a reference to a number (Three, or Four, or Trio). I really want to recommend Over My Dead Body and The Black Mountain, but those are best left for after you become a bit more familiar with the main characters. You'll be able to appreciate them more the more you have read.

I know you said you don't want books in a series, but any of these (even the last two I mentioned) can be read as standalone books. Sure, it adds a few extra layers of depth if you have knowledge of what some of the characters have done in the past or how they previously interacted with each other, but each title is written in such a way that a new reader can just dive right in.
posted by sardonyx at 2:47 PM on January 6


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