Mystery Newbie

I’d really love to read and write in this genre for NaNo but I don’t know where to start. When I browse for something to read, I get overwhelmed by the amount of books and most of them are 39289328-part series! Does anyone have any recommendations for:

  • Standalone mysteries and thrillers
  • Historical mysteries
  • Supernatural mysteries with horror elements
  • Resource books or websites on writing in the genre

Thanks! :smiley:


Standalone mysteries: I love Agatha Christie. I know she’s old, but some of hers are amazing. In no particular order: The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, Curtain, Murder on the Links, her play The Mousetrap, etc.

Historical mysteries: I like Anne Perry . Also, forgot the author, but The Hangman’s Daughter was good.

Supernatural mysteries with horror elements: Not a lot of horror, but a great series (not too long) of cozy supernatural suspense with mystery subplots are the Chintz and China books by Yasmine Galenorn. She (and previously her publisher did as well) calls them cozy mysteries, but really the mystery is the subplot not the main plot. They’re still really good, though.

Resource books: The Howdunit series by Writer’s Digest. I have their Poisons book, the Forensics one, and the Police Procedure. Most of the “how to write mystery” books are . . . well, maybe 5% specific to mystery writing and the other 95% about writing in general, so I haven’t found them very useful.

My general advice: Unless you are doing something really genre-bending, you probably want more than 3 suspects: 1 for the police (that the reader and MC know didn’t do it), 1 for the MC (that the reader knows didn’t do it), and at least 2 others for the reader to have to choose between.

Personal strategy: I generally do NOT know who did it when I write mysteries. I develop and treat all real suspects (not #1 or 2 above) as if they were the real killer, and am surprised myself when I find out/decide who had to be the real killer. Not everyone needs to do this, but I find it an effective way to avoid authorial bias (i.e. my knowing who did it subconsciously affecting how I present them on the page).

Hope this helps!


Thank you for all the recs but especially for these two pieces of information! If I give it a try for NaNo, or between now and then, I’ll keep them in mind. I think the former can play out well in other genres too, for twist endings and mysterious, shady characters!

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I’m going to be less useful by offering an almost opposite piece of advice* - start by figuring out who the murderer / antogonist is, what they want, and why that leads them to murder / threaten what and who ever it is they do.

Then pick a protagonist to act as their foil and figure out how their paths intersect.
This way around helps gives an internal consistency to the plot that makes small details just drop into place quite naturally.

I’d also recommend reading Fray’s “How to write a damn good thriller.”


Everyone works differently! Actually, for a first mystery, that’s probably better advice than mine. Hard enough to keep the plot on track with a first mystery if you don’t know who did it. And actually, I did know my killer for the first mystery I wrote. It’s just the later ones where I try to make all the suspects plausible even to me. I find that I add all kinds of small details, and the one that matters only actually matters after I’ve finished, but that’s only one way of working, not the only way.

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For an historical mystery, I’ve just finished reading the first Veronica Speedwell mystery, ‘A Curious Beginning’, by Deanna Raybourn. It is part of a series but the book stands well by itself. It’s set in the latter part of the Victorian era, a time period I’m not fond of, but the story kept me reading to the point I didn’t care when it was set so that’s a win, I think.
I’m also currently reading, ‘Crime and thriller writing’, by Michelle Spring & Laurie R. King (it’s a Writers’ & Artists’ book) and I’ve found it useful in both the crime/ mystery specifics and also the general writing advice. They also have a very handy bibliography in the back of useful fiction and non-fiction to study / use for research.


I’ve read Mastering the Mystery Novel by Sherry Lewis and Writing the Cozy Mystery by Nancy J Cohen, which I found good and helpful.
For my first cozy, which is currently still draft zero, I know who the killer is upfront - next time I may try @RavenOFiernan’s method of not knowing who the killer is :slight_smile: