11 Mystery Novels for People Who Don’t Read Mystery Novels

Disclosuresome of the titles within 11 Mystery Novels for People Who Don’t Read Mystery Novels were previously sent to me for free in exchange for an honest review. I’m an affiliate for Blackwell’s so this post contains affiliate links to their sites. If you buy a book via my links, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you – thank you! 

I don’t read as many mystery novels as I used to. In fact, I didn’t even realise I used to read so many until I came to write this blog post. I searched through my read mystery novels on The StoryGraph and was shocked to find over 100 books! Then I remembered when I went through a phase of reading every book by James Rollins I could get my hands on as a teenager. Don’t judge me. if I read them now I’d surely find them unbearable but they were addictive, okay?

But I’m not going to recommend James Rollins here. This post is for people who don’t find themselves drawn often to mystery novels. Maybe you’re like Angela from The Office and you hate being titillated. Maybe you find the characters too often flat and stereotypical, used only to move the plot along. Or maybe mystery novels just never come to mind when reaching for your next read.

I’ve compiled a list of mystery novels which I think will appeal to readers who wouldn’t consider themselves fans of the genre. There’s a range of authors from different countries, mystery novels in translation, character-driven mystery novels… Something for everyone, I hope!

1. Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

Consider this me recommending the entire Six Stories series because they are great! North East native Matt Wesolowski knows how to pen an unputdownable novel. Six Stories is set in the Northumbrian countryside (a welcome change from the London bubble!) where the body of a teenager is found 20 years after he went missing. Online journalist Scott King is on a mission to shed new light on this murky case.

Fans of epistolary novels will rejoice at all the police reports, podcast transcripts and interviews. I love this technique because it allows you to see the story from lots of different perspectives without seeming forced or unrealistic. Six Stories is a spine-chilling blend of crime and sinister folk tales, and honestly, I think the series only gets better from here! Hydra and Changeling are just as good, although I haven’t read Beast yet.

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2. Confessions by Kanae Minato, tr. Stephen Snyder

Pro tip: get yourself a buddy to read this book with because you will NEED to discuss the plot twists in real time! It’s super dark and twisted with an underlying theme of motherhood running through it. One way to judge mystery novels is by counting how many times you say ‘oh my god’ out loud while reading. Confessions got three audible oh-my-gods from me, which I think is pretty good for a book under 250 pages! I also usually have no problem putting a book down with 20 pages left if it’s bedtime. Not so with Confessions! I sacrificed a whole half-an-hour of sleep to see how this twisted tale ended.

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3. A Man by Keiichiro Hirano, tr. Eli K.P. William

a hardback copy of A Man sits to the right of a blue cup of coffee, surrounded by a grey tasselled blanket.
A Man by Keiichiro Hirano, tr. Eli K.P. William

Now this is more your ‘high-brow’ mystery novels, if you will. There isn’t actually a murder, but there is a death and an intriguing mystery which unspools from it. A lawyer becomes embroiled in this mystery after the wife of the deceased realises that her husband was not who he claimed to be. He was a different man entirely.

Although only 300 pages, this book feels extremely rich. Hirano explores themes of identity and belonging while solving the mystery of switched identities. He also tackles Japanese nationalism and the plight of Zainichi Koreans. While it’s not delivered at breakneck speed, there are some surprising twists to the story which will keep you gripped!

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4. The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

This book has everything you could want from a historical mystery! Queer relationships, gruesome murder, cutting social commentary on racial prejudice and white saviourism… it’s got it all. And it’s all written in gorgeous prose which will put you under its spell. I was completely immersed in the 19th century atmosphere conjured up by Sara Collins.

In an interview, Collins said that ‘Historically, slave narratives were written with an agenda: to inform white readers about the terrible suffering endured by slaves, and thereby persuade them to the abolitionist cause. It’s the kind of writing that tells you what happened to a person, but not much about who they were.’ This book pushes back against all of that, with Frannie coming alive off the page.

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5. Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

I will preface this by saying that if you’ve read Moshfegh’s work before and didn’t like it, I wouldn’t recommend trying this one. It is pure Moshfegh through and through. Our elderly protagonist Vesta finds a cryptic note in the woods near her home. This note claims a girl named Magda is dead, but Vesta can’t find a body. Vesta becomes obsessed with solving this crime which may or may not have happened.

As with all of Moshfegh’s characters, Vesta has a dark streak. She seems to take pleasure at the thought of other people’s discomfort. As her sense of reality slips, the book becomes even more claustrophobic. Along with the unease around Vesta, there’s an undercurrent of tension cutting through the whole book. That eerie feeling of someone watching, of something lurking just outside your vision, pervades Death in Her Hands. Add that all up and you’ve got one of those subtle mystery novels which doesn’t let you go until the last page.

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6. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones

My hand holding a copy of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk in front of a white blossom tree.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones

This one and Death in Her Hands go hand in hand in my book. Drive Your Plow also features a brilliant older woman as a main character – being inside Janina’s head is something you won’t forget easily! Described as a subversive eco-thriller, this book follows Janina as she tries to aid an investigation when members of the local hunting club keep showing up dead.

There are so many layers to this book. I particularly loved the inclusion of astrology and translation talk. It’s also set in a Polish village in the middle of nowhere, so a great choice if you love mystery novels set in eerie, remote locations!

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7. A Summer of Drowning by John Burnside

Scottish author John Burnside is criminally underrated in my view. However, if you like your mystery novels tied up with a neat bow in the end, maybe skip this one. Personally, I don’t think there’s any fun in an ending without any ambiguity! I like to guess and wonder rather than have the author spoonfeed me the answers.

A Summer of Drowning is set in the Arctic Circle, on the small island of Kvaløya. Liv, now in her twenties, attempts to piece together the mysterious events of her 18th summer on the island, when several people drowned or vanished without explanation. Myth and Norwegian folklore blend with the anxieties and paranoia of modern-day life. Something darkly human and predatory swims beneath the surface, hidden under the guise of myth and legend.

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8. Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

This is more of a hard-boiled crime book than the other mystery novels included in this list, but I couldn’t leave it out. Last year it saved me from a dreaded reading slump. You dive headfirst into the mystery alongside Texas Ranger Darren Matthews, transported to Eastern Texas.

Alongside the brutal double murder, we also get a healthy dose of social commentary. I love it when authors can explore contemporary topics in genre fiction and Attica Locke does just that. As a Black Texas Ranger, Darren faces a lot of prejudice in his job. These are only amplified as he investigates the murder in a town gripped by the presence of the Aryan Brotherhood. There are also family secrets and scandals abound, but Locke handles each strand of the narrative with a steady hand. I’m looking forward to reading Heaven, My Home soon!

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9. When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

 An iPhone lying on an open book shows an audiobook of When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole. There are earphones next to the book, as well as a cup of tea on a brown wooden board, surrounded by a blanket.
When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

If you haven’t added When No One is Watching to your TBR already then what are you doing? This book’s been everywhere and with good reason! In her debut thriller, Cole explores a potential and terrifying explanation for what happens to Black folk when gentrification pushes them out of their neighbourhoods.

It’s smart and anxiety-inducing, with a stellar performance from the narrator for the MC Sydney (Susan Dalian). She nailed the emotional turmoil Sydney undergoes during this book, resulting in an audiobook experience that will literally get your heart racing. I never warmed up to Theo, but Sydney is a brilliant enough character to make up for that.

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10. The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo, tr. Yumiko Yamakazi

If you love cosy mysteries then this Japanese translation needs to be on your radar! Honestly, I’ve never been sure about the term ‘cosy mystery’ when people are literally being murdered, but after reading this, I kind of get it. I read this book almost in one sitting on a rainy Saturday and it DID feel very cosy, trying to guess the clues and puzzle out the mystery. Spoiler alert: I failed.

I don’t want to give the plot away, but I will say there’s a dead patriarch, an extremely confusing will and a bunch of other grisly murders. Perfect! It was originally published in the 1950s, so sometimes there are slightly problematic comments towards women and a man with a facial injury. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how non-50s it read most of the time. (Unlike Agatha Christie, where I’m rolling my eyes every five seconds at some instance of casual racism or slut-shaming.) A definite page-turner of a mystery novel!

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11. Elly by Maike Wetzel, tr. Lyn Marven

This is another translated title I devoured in the space of an afternoon. Since it’s only 144 pages (and reads fast) I would suggest doing the same if you can. I think it benefits from being read in one sitting, as it ups the anxiety factor! (Just what we all need, more anxiety!)

The plot follows one family whose daughter disappeared four years ago without a trace. Now, suddenly, she’s back, and the family is overjoyed. But as Elly readjusts to life back home, her parents and sister begin to get the uneasy feeling that something is off… Wetzel’s sparse style works well in English translation. It starts with an explosive first few chapters, then builds the tension back up until the end. You’ll be flipping the pages until you’re done.

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