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List Mystery

23 Best Fantasy Mystery Books

We like mystery because life is mysterious, and storytelling exists to help us figure out how to live. Mysteries help us figure out how to deal with the unending avalanche of unknowns in our own lives (probably not directly, unless you deal with dead bodies a lot).

Some say that mysteries are popular because people like puzzles. Well, I like a certain kind of mystery, but I’ve never been a puzzle person.

I like Raymond Chandler mysteries, the hard-boiled detective who fights to stay alive while prowling dark alleys and darker minds. Often, I don’t care that much about the final reveal of who the real criminal is. It’s the journey, the tortuous path that I like.

In fantasy especially, the who-dunnit can easily become a what-dunnit.

 

23
White Cat
by Holly Black – 2010
Book 1 of 3 in The Curse Workers series

In this YA story, Cassel comes from a shady, magical family of con artists and grifters. He doesn’t fit in at home or at school, so he’s used to feeling like an outsider. He’s also used to feeling guilty—he killed his best friend, Lila, years ago.

But when Cassel begins to have strange dreams about a white cat, and people around him are losing their memories, he starts to wonder what really happened to Lila. In his search for answers, he discovers a wicked plot for power that seems certain to succeed. But Cassel has other ideas—and a plan to con the conmen.

“Fans of the author will revel in the sophisticated and slightly-more-realistic-than-usual approach. . . fascinating and carefully developed characters, and lush setting descriptions.”
—BCCB (starred review)

22
Grave Sight
by Charlaine Harris – 2005
Book 1 of 4 in the Harper Connelly Series

Harper Connelly has what you might call a strange job: she finds dead people. She can sense the final location of a person who’s passed, and share their very last moment. Harper and her stepbrother Tolliver are experts at getting in, getting paid, and then getting out of town fast, because the people who hire Harper have a funny habit of not really wanting to know what she has to tell them.

At first, the little Ozarks town of Sarne seems like no exception. A teenage girl has gone missing, but the secrets of her death—and the secrets of the town—are deep enough that even Harper’s special ability can’t uncover them. With hostility welling up all around them, she and Tolliver would like nothing better than to be on their way. But then another woman is murdered. And the killer’s not finished yet…

“A spooky but sweet amateur detective mystery full of interesting characters.”
—Locus

21
Rosemary and Rue
by Seanan McGuire – 2009
Book 1 of 10 in the October Daye series

The world of Faerie never disappeared; it merely went into hiding, continuing to exist parallel to our own. Secrecy is the key to Faerie’s survival—but no secret can be kept forever, and when the fae and mortal worlds collide, changelings are born.

Outsiders from birth, these half-human, half-fae children spend their lives fighting for the respect of their immortal relations. Or, in the case of October “Toby” Daye, rejecting it completely. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating into a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, Faerie has other ideas…

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose, one of the secret regents of the San Francisco Bay Area, pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant to the Duke of Shadowed Hills and begin renewing old alliances that may prove her only hope of solving the mystery…before the curse catches up with her.

“Well researched, sharply told, highly atmospheric and as brutal as any pulp detective tale.”
—Publishers Weekly

20
Magic Bites
by Ilona Andrews – 2007
Book 1 of 10 in the Kate Daniels series

Kate Daniels is a down-on-her-luck mercenary who makes her living cleaning up magical problems. But when Kate’s guardian is murdered, her quest for justice draws her into a power struggle between two strong factions within Atlanta’s magic circles. Pressured by both sides to find the killer, Kate realizes she’s way our of her league—but she wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Kate is a great kick-ass heroine.”
—Locus

19
Tea with the Black Dragon
by R. A. MacAvoy – 1983
Book 1 of 2 in the Black Dragon series

Martha Macnamara knows that her daughter, Elizabeth, is in trouble—she just doesn’t know what kind. Mysterious phone calls from San Francisco at odd hours of the night are the only contact they’ve had for years. Now, Elizabeth has sent her mother a plane ticket and reserved a room for her at the city’s most luxurious hotel. Yet, since Martha checked in, she still hasn’t been contacted by her daughter, and is feeling lonely, confused, and a little bit worried.

But Martha meets someone else at the hotel: Mayland Long, a distinguished-looking and wealthy Chinese man who is drawn to Martha’s good character and ability to pinpoint the truth of a matter. They become close quickly, and he promises to help her find Elizabeth. Before he can solve the mystery, though, Martha herself disappears—and Mayland realizes that he’s in love with her.

Now, a man whose true nature and identity is unknown to those around him will embark on a potentially dangerous adventure in a city on the verge of exploding with its own sort of magic as technology spreads through the region that will become known as Silicon Valley.

“A small masterpiece, setting a fantasy story against a contemporary background.”
—Booklist

18
Terrier
by Tamora Pierce – 2006
Book 1 of 3 in the Beka Cooper series

Beka Cooper is a rookie with the law-enforcing Provost’s Guard, and she’s been assigned to the Lower City. It’s a tough beat that’s about to get tougher, as Beka’s limited ability to communicate with the dead clues her in to an underworld conspiracy. Someone close to Beka is using dark magic to profit from the Lower City’s criminal enterprises, and the result is a crime wave the likes of which the Provost’s Guard has never seen before.

“With its rollicking adventures [and] appealing characters . . . Terrier… will keep readers on the edge of their seats.”
—School Library Journal (starred review)

17
The Death of the Necromancer
by Martha Wells – 1998

Nicholas Valiarde is a passionate, embittered nobleman with an enigmatic past. Consumed by thoughts of vengeance, he is consoled only by thoughts of the beautiful, dangerous Madeline. He is also the greatest thief in all of Ile-Rien. Under cover of darkness on the streets of the gaslit city, he assumes the guise of a master criminal, stealing jewels from wealthy nobles to finance his quest for vengeance: the murder of Count Montesq. Montesq orchestrated the wrongful execution of Nicholas’s beloved godfather Edouard on false charges of necromancy, the art of divination through communion with spirits of the dead, a practice long outlawed in the kingdom of Ile-Rien.

But now Nicholas’s murderous mission is being interrupted by a series of eerie, unexplainable, and fatal events. Someone with tremendous magical powers is opposing him, and traces of a necromantic power that hasn’t been used for centuries appear.

“Wells… continues to demonstrate an impressive gift for creating finely detailed fantasy worlds rife with many-layered intrigues and immensely personable characters.”
—Publishers Weekly

16
Finch
by Jeff VanderMeer – 2009
Book 3 of 3 in the Ambergris series

This is the third book in the series. It can be read by itself, but you’ll get more out of it by reading the first two books (City of Saints and Madmen and Shriek: An Afterward) first.

Mysterious underground inhabitants known as the gray caps have reconquered the failed fantasy state Ambergris and put it under martial law. They have disbanded House Hoegbotton and are controlling the human inhabitants with strange addictive drugs, internment camps, and random acts of terror. The rebel resistance is scattered, and the gray caps are using human labor to build two strange towers.

Against this backdrop, John Finch, who lives alone with a cat and a lizard, must solve an impossible double murder for his gray cap masters while trying to make contact with the rebels. Nothing is as it seems as Finch and his disintegrating partner Wyte negotiate their way through a landscape of spies, rebels, and deception.

Trapped by his job and the city, Finch is about to come face to face with a series of mysteries that will change him and Ambergris forever.

“VanderMeer’s third book set in the fungus-laden city of Ambergris is an engrossing recasting of the hard-boiled detective novel… Though the book stands well on its own, fans of the earlier Ambergris novels will appreciate it even more.”
—Publishers Weekly

15
Low Town
by Daniel Polansky – 2011
Book 1 of 3 in the Low Town series

In the forgotten back alleys and flophouses that lie in the shadows of Rigus, the finest city of the Thirteen Lands, you will find Low Town. It is an ugly place, and its cham­pion is an ugly man: disgraced intelligence agent, forgotten war hero, and independent drug dealer. After a fall from grace five years ago, a man known as the Warden leads a life of crime, addicted to cheap violence and expensive drugs. Every day is a constant hustle to find new customers and protect his turf from low-life competition like Tancred the Harelip and Ling Chi, the enigmatic crime lord of the heathens.

The Warden’s life of drugged iniquity is shaken by his dis­covery of a murdered child down a dead-end street, set­ting him on a collision course with the life he left behind. As a former agent with Black House—the secret police—he knows better than anyone that murder in Low Town is an everyday thing, the kind of crime that doesn’t get investi­gated. To protect his home, he will take part in a dangerous game of deception between underworld bosses and the psy­chotic head of Black House, but the truth is far darker than he imagines.

“[A]n assured, roaring, and rollicking hybrid, a cross-genre free-for-all that relishes its tropes while spitting out their bones. And he does it all while spinning one hell of a gripping mystery.”
—The A.V. Club

14
Wicked Gentlemen
by Ginn Hale – 2007

If you think you’re ready for a murder mystery about a fetishist inquisitor and his gay demon-spawn lover, well, buckle up.

Belimai Sykes is many things: a Prodigal, the descendant of ancient demons, a creature of dark temptations and rare powers. He is also a man with a brutal past and a dangerous addiction. He’s also the only man Captain William Harper can turn to when faced with a series of grisly murders. But Mr. Sykes does not work for free, and the price of Belimai’s company will cost Captain Harper far more than his reputation.

From the ornate mansions of noblemen, where vivisection and sorcery are hidden beneath a veneer of gold, to the steaming slums of Hells Below, Captain Harper must fight for justice and for his life.

His enemies are many and his only ally is a devil he knows too well. Such are the dangers of dealing with the wicked.

“This ingenious fantasy romance continues to resonate in my imagination.”
—Lambda Literary Report

13
Midnight Riot
by Ben Aaronovitch – 2011
Book 1 of 8 in the Rivers of London series

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost.

Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny.

Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

“The perfect blend of CSI and Harry Potter.”
—io9

12
Blood Price
by Tanya Huff – 1991
Book 1 of 5 in the Blood series

Vicki Nelson, formerly of Toronto’s homicide unit and now a private detective, witnesses the first of many vicious attacks plaguing the city of Toronto. As death follows unspeakable death, Vicki is forced to renew her tempestuous relationship with her former partner, Mike Celluci, to stop these forces of dark magic, along with another, unexpected ally…

Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII, has learned over the course of his long life how to blend with humans, how to deny the call for blood in his veins. Without him, Vicki and Mike would not survive the ancient force of chaos that has been unleashed upon the world—but in doing so, his identity may be exposed, and his life forfeit.

“Explores the borders of death and beyond with an intensity that is only partially lightened by touches of ironic humor.”
—Library Journal

11
Nightingale's Lament
by Simon R. Green – 2004
Book 3 of 12 in the Nightside series

The name’s John Taylor. I work the garish streets of the Nightside—the hidden heart of London where it’s always three A.M., where inhuman creatures and otherworldly gods walk side by side in the endless darkness of the soul.

I have a talent for finding things. People…property…no problem. But now I’m after something different.

A local diva called the Nightingale has cut herself off from her family and friends, and I’ve been hired to find out the reason. I’m also wondering why her suicide-prone fans think she has a voice to die for. Literally.

To get the truth, I’ll have to lend an ear to the most enticingly beautiful and deadly voice in all of the Nightside—and survive.

“[A] delight—exciting, action packed, truly suspenseful.”
—Booklist

10
Murder and Magic
by Randall Garrett – 1979
Book 1 of 4 in the Lord Darcy Collections series

This alternate history series starring detective Lord Darcy and his sorcerer sidekick, Sean O Lochlainn, takes us into a reality where Richard the Lionheart’s descendants rule the Anglo-French Empire and the laws of magic have developed in place of the laws of physics. Murder and Magic, comprised of the first four stories of the acclaimed Lord Darcy series, finds Lord Darcy solving murders using his wits, a keen eye for observation, and a few choice magic tricks.

“If you are looking for something different in the way of mysteries a few hours with Lord Darcy is a fun way to go.”
—Daily Kos

9
You Slay Me
by Katie MacAlister – 2004
Book 1 of 4 in the Aisling Grey, Guardian series

Aisling Grey is a courier enjoying a free, work-related trip to Paris when she learns she’s a Guardian. That’s a keeper of the Gates of Hell, for those who don’t know. She finds this out from Drake Vireo, who’s scrumptiously sexy—at least in his human form. Now Drake has stolen the package Aisling was sent to deliver, and she must track him down, get the package, and try to resist the passion boiling inside her.

“Graced with MacAlister’s signature sharp wit and fabulously fun characters, this paranormal romance is wickedly sensual and irresistibly amusing.”
—Booklist

8
The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse
by Robert Rankin – 2002
Book 1 of 2 in the Eddie Bear series

Once upon a time, Jack set out to find his fortune in the big city. But the big city is Toy City, formerly known as Toy Town, and it has grown considerably since the good old days and isn’t all that jolly any more. And there is a serial killer loose on the streets. The old, rich nursery rhyme characters are being slaughtered one by one, and the Toy City police are getting nowhere in their investigations. Meanwhile, Private Eye Bill Winkie has gone missing, leaving behind his sidekick Eddie Bear to take care of things.

Eddie may be a battered teddy with an identity crisis, but someone’s got to stop the killer. When he teams up with Jack, the two are ready for the challenge. Not to mention the heavy drinking, bad behavior, car chases, gratuitous sex and violence, toy fetishism, and all-round grossness along the way.

“[A] mad toymaker’s fever dream… Although substantially darker and edgier than the Hitchhiker’s series, this gem will appeal to Douglas Adams fans, as well as lovers of British humor in general.”
—Publishers Weekly

7
The Good, the Bad, and the Undead
by Kim Harrison – 2005
Book 2 of 14 in The Hollows series

To save herself and her vampire roommate, former bounty hunter Rachel Morgan must confront six feet of sheer supernatural seduction—the vampire master—and dark secrets she’s hidden even from herself.

“Action packed … chick-lit with a supernatural twist.”
—The Times

6
Dead Until Dark
by Charlaine Harris – 2001
Book 1 of 14 in the Sookie Stackhouse series

Sookie Stackhouse is just a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Bon Temps, Louisiana. She’s quiet, doesn’t get out much, and tends to mind her own business—except when it comes to her “disability.” Sookie can read minds. And that doesn’t make her too dateable. Then along comes Bill Compton. He’s tall, dark, handsome—and Sookie can’t hear a word he’s thinking. He’s exactly the type of guy she’s been waiting for all her life…

But Bill has a disability of his own: he’s a vampire with a bad reputation. And when a string of murders hits Bon Temps—along with a gang of truly nasty bloodsuckers looking for Bill—Sookie starts to wonder if having a vampire for a boyfriend is such a bright idea.

“Vivid, subtle, and funny in her portrayal of southern life.”
—Entertainment Weekly

5
The Eyre Affair
by Jasper Fforde – 2001
Book 1 of 7 in the Thursday Next series

Great Britain, circa 1985: time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense.

All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection. But when someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature and plucks Jane Eyre from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday is faced with the challenge of her career.

“This novel might be called ‘James Bond Meets Harry Potter in the Twilight Zone.'”
—Publishers Weekly

4
Soulless
by Gail Carriger – 2009
Book 1 of 5 in the Parasol Protectorate series

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire, and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and a werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

“Carriger debuts brilliantly with a blend of Victorian romance, screwball comedy of manners and alternate history. . . . This intoxicatingly witty parody will appeal to a wide cross-section of romance, fantasy and steampunk fans.”
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

3
Storm Front
by Jim Butcher – 2000
Book 1 of 17 in the Dresden Files series

As a professional wizard, Harry Dresden knows firsthand that the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most of them don’t play well with humans. And those that do, enjoy playing with humans far too much. He also knows he’s the best at what he does. Technically, he’s the only at what he does. But even though Harry is the only game in town, business—to put it mildly—stinks.

So when the Chicago P.D. brings him in to consult on a double homicide committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name…

“One of the most enjoyable marriages of the fantasy and mystery genres on the shelves.”
—Cinescape

2
Men at Arms
by Terry Pratchett – 1993
Book 15 of 40 in the Discworld series

I’m a huge fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels and can’t recommend them enough.

The town of Ankh-Morpork is in big trouble, and the City Watch is desperate for a few good men to protect it. But all they’ve got are the dwarves Corporal Carrot and Lance-constable Cuddy; the troll Lance-constable Detritus; Lance-constable Angua, who is believed to be a woman; and, worst of all, Corporal Nobbs, who has been disqualified from the human race for shoving!

These underdogs need all the help they can get, for they’ve been given only 24 hours to clean up the war-torn town.

1
The Imaginary Corpse
by Tyler Hayes – 2019
This is a criminally underrated book.

Most ideas fade away when we’re done with them. Some we love enough to become Real. But what about the ones we love, and walk away from?

Tippy the triceratops was once a little girl’s imaginary friend, a dinosaur detective who could help her make sense of the world. But when her father died, Tippy fell into the Stillreal, the underbelly of the Imagination, where discarded ideas go when they’re too Real to disappear.

Now, he passes time doing detective work for other unwanted ideas–until Tippy runs into The Man in the Coat, a nightmare monster who can do the impossible: kill an idea permanently. Now Tippy must overcome his own trauma and solve the case, before there’s nothing left but imaginary corpses.

“A strong psychological thread weaves through the story as characters confront the trauma of being imaginary and forgotten, adding depth to what at first may seem a silly concept. Readers will revel in this strange, fully realized world.”
–Publishers Weekly

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