Weird mysteries
June 13, 2021 12:04 PM   Subscribe

I’m interested in reading more mysteries that deviate from the standard structure/genre tropes etc. Can be fantasy or science fiction, literary, whatever. I’m just looking for stuff that’s slightly different.

The Evelyn Hardcastle book was different sure but I don’t know that it was a favorite. I loved Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts. Just starting the House at Riverton and enjoying it so far.
posted by azalea_chant to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
You might enjoy Peter Dickinson's Hindsight which is a murder mystery which is told both forward and backwards in time, as the main character figures out his memories.
posted by Zumbador at 12:10 PM on June 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

You might like Jeff VanderMeer's Hummingbird Salamander, which is a sort of conspiracy-theory mystery thing involving taxidermy, set in the near future as humanity circles the drain.
posted by pipeski at 12:16 PM on June 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Three Bags Full is a mystery wherein a murder is investigated by a flock of sheep. It's weird and delightful. Not fantasy precisely, it's a perfectly mundane setting, the sheep don't talk or anything, but they talk to each other and they do their best to figure out what's going on with their monkeys while being, you know, sheep.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:21 PM on June 13, 2021 [12 favorites]

The Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz is a mystery novel that has another entire mystery novel inside of the story and is a great read.

Unreliable narrators are not that unusual but I really enjoyed Alice Feeney's Sometimes I Lie.

Also I'm not sure if this is really what you're looking for but I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers and the one that really stayed with me and got under my skin and creeped me out to no end was Little Face by Sophie Hannah.

Last, I love love love everything by Ellen Raskin and am convinced that Figgs & Phantoms is the best answer to your question.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 12:32 PM on June 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Anthony Horowitz is good for this. The two Susan Ryeland books (Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders) are books in books; then The Word Is Murder and The Sentence Is Death feature a fictional version of himself as a Watson-like character.

(Note Horowitz wrote the early seasons of Midsomer Murders, so expect like, that level of sensesitivity nuance in writing about women/minorities/LGBT+ people, which is to say not a great deal, up to and including a homophobic main character in The Sentence Is Death which is sort of written off as 'oh he's just not very PC it's fine'. I was still able to enjoy the books, and they do do fun things with the genre, but YMMV.)
posted by damayanti at 12:40 PM on June 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Maybe Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty.
posted by wintersweet at 12:41 PM on June 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Gideon the Ninth and its sequel, definitely.
posted by Gadarene at 1:09 PM on June 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

The City & the City by China Mieville is a murder mystery complicated by the diplomatic tension between two separate cities that exist in parallel space. The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon is a murder mystery complicated by an alternate history.

On a sort of different note, Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt novels are PI stories with a very weird metaphysical core.

On the more literary front, all of Tana French's work, if you haven't gotten to it yet.
posted by eponym at 1:09 PM on June 13, 2021 [13 favorites]

You might like Arturo Perez-Reverte.
posted by praemunire at 1:14 PM on June 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Shades of Grey (not 50 Shades - this one is by Jasper Fforde) might not technically qualify as a mystery - there's no detective - but the main character spends the entire book trying to figure out the mystery behind the reality he's in, and it is definitely different (and fun, in my opinion). The blurb gives a pretty good impression of the tone; I'm not sure if it deviates all that much in structure from its specific genre (discovering that there is no spoon), but the world-building is completely its own thing and things stay mysterious until the end.

If you haven't read Fforde's Thursday Next series I'd think that would also qualify, but I only read one once ago and didn't enjoy it all that much so I'll stick with my original recommendation.

And RobinofFrocksley is right and all of Ellen Raskin's books (in my opinion, The Westing Game and The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) especially) are the best, and completely original.
posted by trig at 1:27 PM on June 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

Jon McGregor's Reservoir 13 (Guardian review) might be up your alley.
posted by RGD at 2:01 PM on June 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Piranesi, by Susannah Clarke! It’s best if you don’t read anything about it before you begin. Also, if you are like me, you will spend the first 15% of the book being like “WTF is going on.” But stick with it—it’s beautifully written and the mystery is solved very satisfyingly IMO.

Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman trilogy is set in a world where Earth is going to be hit by a comet in six months. The protagonist is a policeman who is committed to his job despite impending doom and the first book opens with his investigation of a murder. I thought they were well written and moving.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:42 PM on June 13, 2021 [12 favorites]

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears.
posted by sonofsnark at 3:01 PM on June 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

Also, if you liked Tuesday Mooney, you should try Kate Racculia’s previous mystery, Bellwether Rhapsody. It’s a bit of a gloriously overstuffed hot mess, but I say that with affection—it is a lot of fun!
Fifteen years ago, a murder/suicide in room 712 rocked the grand old Bellweather Hotel and the young bridesmaid who witnessed it. Now hundreds of high school musicians, including quiet bassoonist Rabbit Hatmaker and his brassy diva twin, Alice, have gathered in its cavernous, crumbling halls for the annual Statewide festival; the grown-up bridesmaid has returned to face her demons; and a snowstorm is forecast that will trap everyone on the grounds. Then one of the orchestra’s stars disappears—from room 712. Is it a prank, or has murder struck the Bellweather once again?

The search for answers entwines a hilariously eccentric cast of characters—conductors and caretakers, failures and stars, teenagers on the verge and adults trapped in memories. For everyone has come to the Bellweather with a secret, and everyone is haunted.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:14 PM on June 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

It's squarely within the works of genre mystery, but John Dickson Carr's The Three Coffins veers off in one chapter to have the detective, Dr Gideon Fell, explain the rules of the locked room mystery, much to the bemusement of his companions, who are unaware that Dr Fell is breaking the fourth wall.
posted by SPrintF at 3:14 PM on June 13, 2021

The Aosawa Murders, a Japanese crime novel that was translated last year, is more about the effects of a murder and a how/why done it.

If you want a series that is kind of just a low key hangout with oddball characters, you might want to check out Fred Vargas's Commissaire Adamsberg series. I started in the middle, then went back to the beginning with The Chalk Circle Man, and finding out the more about the characters didn't reduce the occasional wtf.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:19 PM on June 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in short stories you should track down one of Gahan Wilson's collections. Wilson was a playboy cartoonist turned author. The stories are generally surreal/uncanny darkly comedic horror-mysteries, often with a visual element woven into them.
posted by mannequito at 3:34 PM on June 13, 2021

The Western Wind, by Samantha Harvey
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 3:39 PM on June 13, 2021

Phil Rickman‘s Merrily Watkins series beginning with The Wine of Angels is about a female C of E vicar close to the England/Wales border who solves mysteries as an exorcist. There’s an interesting balancing of maybe-supernatural and psychology, where Watkins experiences harrowing events that might be spiritual peril or maybe just psychological effects. There are a lot of them.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:15 PM on June 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'm half the way thru 'The Unburied' by Charles Palliser, and that's one unconventional mystery fer sure! Gloomy Victorian setting, everyone is an unreliable narrator, not even sure exactly what the crime is so far in the story? Elegant prose style.
posted by ovvl at 4:25 PM on June 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Georges Perec's A Void (translation of the original La Disparition)

> A Void's plot follows a group of individuals looking for a missing companion, Anton Vowl. It is in part a parody of noir and horror fiction, with many stylistic tricks, gags, plot twists, and a grim conclusion. On many occasions it implicitly talks about its own lipogrammatic limitation, highlighting its unusual syntax. A Void's protagonists finally work out which symbol is missing, but find it a hazardous topic to discuss, as any who try to bypass this story's constraint risk dying.
posted by are-coral-made at 4:46 PM on June 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I always find myself on AskMeFi recommending "Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead" by Olga Tocarkzuk, and I think it meets your terms.

Ditto "Death in Her Hands" by Ottessa Moshfegh.
posted by kensington314 at 5:01 PM on June 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Lisa Lutz’s books have sort of the same flavor, especially the Spellman Files series.
posted by Kriesa at 5:06 PM on June 13, 2021

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion By Margaret Killjoy is a sort of anarchist ghost story/mystery. It’s kind of amazing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:35 PM on June 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hygiene and the Assassin by Amélie Nothomb.
posted by perhapses at 7:00 PM on June 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward was excellent. I knew I had an unreliable narrator rather quickly; turns out I was only sort-of right, and wrong in all the right ways to make for a fantastic read.
posted by stormyteal at 8:42 PM on June 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Someone else mentioned Jasper Fforde, and I was actually going to mention the one series that wasn't name checked, which is the "Nursery Crimes" series. Thursday Next, at least the first book, is definitely an unusual mystery.

Another one I would mention is KJ Charles "A Charm of Magpies" series. Alternate Victorian England with a very interesting magical structure.
posted by rednikki at 9:17 PM on June 13, 2021

The Small Change series by Jo Walton might interest you. Farthing is a historical murder mystery that initially reads like Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie (murder in a country house, which of these odd characters is the culprit?) but unravels/expands into an examination of fascism, power, and privilege in an alternate history of England. The other two books continue in a similar vein.
posted by sibilatorix at 1:36 AM on June 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

The protagonist of If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch is also its victim, trying to solve his own attempted murder from his hospital bed... whilst suffering from locked-in syndrome, and with gaps in his memories. I found it very clever and satisfying. I see the author has a second book out; I'll be picking that up ASAP.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett is another interesting, clever one: it's told entirely in the form of documents, mostly emails, that have been assembled by the lawyers handling the case. I found it a really enjoyable read.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:53 AM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

After Atlas, is in some ways a pretty conventional noir mystery but with some twists and set in a dystopian future (the detective is essentially enslaved or maybe indentured if we're trying to look on the bright side). It's the second book in a series but you can read them in any order and the first one is not a mystery (I've only read the first two so far).
posted by mskyle at 6:13 AM on June 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

MetaFilter’s own Charles Stross has a near future police procedural where they deal with very odd crimes: Halting State and Rule 34.

Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May series is a peculiar series about peculiar detectives sort-of solving peculiar crimes.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:18 AM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

"The Secret History" by Donna Tartt is a literary mystery and unusual in that, on the first page, you find out who the murder victim is and who did it - our very own protagonists. The rest of the book is about answering why.

It's also a very lovely read, and if you like it, the rest of the "dark academia" genre might also fit your needs.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 9:58 AM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Gun, With Occasional Music, an early novel by Jonathan Lethem. Noir + SF.
posted by JonJacky at 10:01 AM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm not too familiar with the ones you've liked so not sure how weird you're looking for, but for just slightly off the normal mystery trope style - I went through a PIT phase and he's a very skilled and entertaining mystery writer who frames his mysteries through a structural lens that changes the focus slightly from the who-done-it model.
posted by latkes at 8:52 AM on June 15, 2021

"Sundiver" by David Brin is a locked-spaceship mystery featuring a self-treating schizophrenic detective aboard a spaceship flying in the corona of the Sun.

Seconding "Gun, with Occasional Music." It's a high-concept story set in a future where it's illegal to ask questions without a license. Strongly seconding "The Secret History," one of those books I keep buying for other people.

Umberto Eco began "The Name of the Rose," trying to invent a story in which the reader was the killer, but couldn't manage it, so his next choice of killer made for an interesting story, set in a medeival monastery.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:40 PM on June 15, 2021

"git commit murder" by Michael Warren Lucas is fairly conventional as a murder mystery but it's set at a BSD convention and everyone's a hacker.

"Marooned in Realtime" by Vernor Vinge is a science fiction mystery where all of humanity has disappeared except for a few hundred people in stasis and murder weapon is old age.
posted by suetanvil at 7:16 AM on June 21, 2021

I don't read enough mysteries to know how far it deviates from the norm, but weird it's got: The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry.
posted by xenization at 6:04 PM on June 22, 2021

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