It’s taken a lot of mental gymnastics throughout quarantine to get back into the reading groove. At first it was just audiobooks (April, May), then fluffy, short books (June), and longer/more intense SFF books and ARCs (July, August). It’s September, classes have resumed, and I have just enough structure back in my life that I’m feeling good about adding some psychological thrillers and mysteries into the mix.
I really enjoy mystery books; I started to read Nancy Drew when I was 7 and then quickly graduated to Agatha Christie and Tana French in middle school and high school. Surprisingly, I didn’t actually read the ultimate classic, Sherlock Holmes, until college, and I still haven’t finished it. There’s something to be said, being a person of Indian descent, on not having to subject yourself to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s super racist portrayal of South Asian immigrants in the UK. I still admire his contribution to our collective literary canon, and thoroughly enjoy adaptations of his work.
Over the past few years I’ve switched over from more classic whodunit type mysteries to psychological thrillers. To me, the most fun part of a mystery is the puzzle-solving aspect, but what really gets me to love a book is how invested I am in the characters. That’s a big reason Tana French is one of my favorite mystery writers. I love unreliable narrators, and with psychological thrillers you get more into the main characters’ heads than in any other kind of mystery/thriller.
That was a really long intro but now I’ll cut to the chase. In no particular order, the mystery books that kept me guessing were…
1. And Then There were None by Agatha Christie
Are you really a mystery fan if you haven’t read Agatha Christie, particularly this book? It kept me on the edge of my seat, even though you know the formula you can’t help but wonder if the murderer will be caught before they can carry out the plan. And that twist ending? There’s absolutely no way anyone could have called it.
2. The Likeness by Tana French
I can’t call Tana French my favorite mystery author and not put this book on the list! This is a slower-paced book than most mysteries, but you go really deep into the psyche of the detectives and those involved in the crime and it still managed to keep me at the edge of my seat. The tension is just so palpable, especially when there are creepy yet charismatic characters involved. You get to know Cassie as an intelligent and competent detective, you see her go undercover and pretend to be Lexie, the dead girl, and then you start to wonder how much is acting and how much is shared trauma.
3. Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson
This one is a really popular psychological thriller, with mixed reviews. I read it when I was still new to the genre, so I found the plot twists pretty compelling and shocking. It’s always interesting when your main character has impaired memory and needs to rely on external validation to remember who they are and what has happened to them. It makes for a particularly gripping read when you find out some of those memories might not be true after all.
4. Black Eyed Susans by Julia Haeberlin
Another book with an unreliable narrator, this time because Tessa was nearly a murder victim and the trauma has really messed her up. The attempted murderer was supposedly captured and is now on death row, but a new crime is unearthed and someone is taunting Tessa with clues only the killer would know. Is the killer back? Can Tessa recover enough of her memories to help catch the killer? Will she be able to keep her daughter safe? This book is very suspenseful and satisfying.
5. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
I read this book in nearly a single sitting, it was really difficult to put it down! The story follows a psychologist who is determined to get a patient at a mental asylum to speak about the traumatic events that landed her at the institution. There’s the mystery of what actually happened and why Alicia Berenson refuses to speak, and then there’s the angle of why our narrator is so invested in her story…
6. The Secret Place by Tana French
Is it cheating to have multiple books by the same author on this list? The Secret Place is more of a conventional page turner than The Likeness, this is a plot that moves fast and keeps you guessing. This book follows a boarding school murder, so most of the suspects are teenagers. It’s really compelling, because you’re fighting the two voices in your head saying “yeah, teenagers are vicious, they could totally murder one of their classmates over something” and “but they’re teenagers, could they really be so cruel?” And what secret or hatred could be so intense that it’s worth killing over?
7. Tell No One by Harlan Coben
This one isn’t a fast-paced novel but it does keep you guessing! There are a lot of players involved in the past and present, and it can get a little confusing keeping everything straight, but I found this book very compelling and suspenseful. It’s such a tantalizing bit of hope to think that maybe the main character’s wife is still alive, despite him believing her to be dead for many years, and that hope kept me turning the pages. I really liked that this book didn’t pull off a crazy twist at the end that came out of nowhere, all the clues to the mystery were given to you along the way.