19 of the Best Award-Winning Mystery Novels + 1 True Crime

Jamie Canaves

Contributing Editor

Jamie Canavés is the Tailored Book Recommendations coordinator and Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter writer–in case you’re wondering what you do with a Liberal Arts degree. She’s never met a beach she didn’t like, always says yes to dessert, loves ‘80s nostalgia, all forms of entertainment, and can hold a conversation using only gifs. You can definitely talk books with her on Litsy and Goodreads. Depending on social media’s stability maybe also Twitter and Bluesky.

Regardless of how much weight you subscribe to awards — they are, after all, from humans subjectively picking their favorite — award lists can still be a great place to find your next read from. There are so many awards that it’s definitely like standing in the cereal aisle, inside another cereal aisle. It’s hard to know or hear about all of the awards and then there’s the most recent awards and all the previous years and an immediate feeling of “Where do I even start?”

Since I love and read so many crime books (mystery, thriller, suspense, true crime — and everything related!) I decided to take a look at the many annual mystery awards to pick out the ones that are my favorites. So now you have the subjective judgment of the judges, and me! Basically we’ll pretend they’ve been judged twice so double murdery seal of approval for must-read best award winning mystery novels!

I checked out all the info I could find on about 16 different annual awards for mystery novels and picked out the ones that I was like “Yup, yup, great book, all the awards!” Below you’ll find a range of mystery books, and one true crime, with the year and award they were honored with (While I listed one award for each many of them are multiple award winners!). But first you may want to whisper some sweet encouragement to your TBR list because it’s about to get heavy with these 20 great reads.

The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo Book cover

The Honjin Murders (Detective Kosuke Kindaichi #1) by Seishi Yokomizo, Louise Heal Kawai (Translator)

1947 Mystery Writers of Japan Award

If you like reading classics, locked-room murder mysteries, and detective fiction you’ve hit the trifecta with this novel. Set in the village of Okamura in 1937 a bloody sword is found in the snow after a scream on the night of a wedding. You’ll follow amateur detective Kosuke Kindaichi as he investigates while also getting to play detective as all the clues are presented to you, the reader.

cover image for The Master Key

The Master Key by Masako Togawa, Simon Grove (Translator)

1962 Edogawa Rampo Prize

I love that many Japanese mystery books have different structures from English mysteries. In this case we open with two mysteries, move towards lit fic/crime, and then end with the way a mystery novel is wrapped up. It starts with a child being buried and a man dressed in women’s clothing is in an accident. Then we are in a Tokyo apartment building about to be destroyed where the master key going missing is causing distress…

cover of Out by natsuo kirino

Out by Natsuo Kirino, Stephen Snyder (Translator)

1998 Mystery Writers of Japan Award

Four women working the night shift at a boxed-lunch factory become bonded together when one murders her husband and the others help dispose the body. But that’s just the beginning, and really can anything go right after that? Should it?

cover of The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino; image of a woman standing in front of a pier before a large body of water

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, Alexander O. Smith (Translator)

2006 Honkaku Mystery Award

If you’ve never read Keigo Higashino, you should dive into everything that’s been translated. This crime novel starts with the crime and really follows the detective in putting together the how and the why so I’m not going to give you much other than to say it’s the kind of book meticulously put together that unfolds the way a great mystery should. Bonus: there’s a same titled film adaptation starring Wang Kai, Zhang Luyi, and Ruby Lin.

cover image for Queenpin by Megan Abbot

Queenpin by Megan Abbott

2008 Barry Award for Best Paperback Original Mystery/Crime Novel

I read everything Megan Abbott publishes and to this day still hope someone will adapt Queenpin. Think crime noir and then gender swap it so the leading lady falls for a male fatale. It’s a quick read that left a lasting impression.

cover of ghostman by roger hobbs, faint gray font over a city skyline at night

Ghostman by Roger Hobbs

2013 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger 2013

If you like action films and heist books this is a must-read. Ghostman is the name of a man who is hired to find one of the men from a botched heist and retrieve the money bag before the dye packets explode. He is taking this job for one reason: pay off a debt for a past job that went very wrong. So, yes, you get two heists in one — including a 48-hour clock ticking down!

cover image for The Unquiet Dead

The Unquiet Dead (Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak #1) by Ausma Zehanat Khan

2016 Barry Award for Best First Mystery/Crime Novel

I love this series and the detective pairing. Esa Khattak is running a police unit focusing on community policing that takes on complex cases and one of his detectives is Rachel Getty, a cop’s daughter who had her career sunk after she’d filed a sexual harassment claim. Their first case may not even be a case but something feels off: a man out for a walk fell to his death, and it was ruled an accident. If you’re a fan of procedurals with partner pairings marathon this series.

A Rising Man cover image

A Rising Man (Sam Wyndham #1) by Abir Mukherjee

2017 CWA Endeavour Dagger for Best Historical Novel

Here’s a great historical mystery series that evolves our main detective through the series. Wyndham was a Scotland Yard detective who has moved to Calcutta — British ruled in 1919 — to escape what was left of his life. Now he not only has to navigate around his Opium addiction but also the many rules/laws against Indians that he doesn’t understand.

cover image for august snow

August Snow (August Snow #1) by Stephen Mack Jones

2017 Hammett Prize by the International Association of Crime Writers

For fans of action films, ex-cop PIs, and neighborhoods brought to life. August Snow is an ex-marine, ex-cop — who won a gigantic wrongfully-dismissed lawsuit against the police department. He’s moved back to his hometown in Mexicantown, Detroit, where he quickly finds himself embroiled in a mystery when he turns down a case from a woman who later dies.

cover of Murder in G Major by Alexia Gordon

Murder in G Major (Gethsemane Brown Mysteries #1) by Alexia Gordon

2017 Lefty Award (Left Coast Crime Awards) for Best Debut Mystery Novel

If you’re a fan of cozy mysteries and ghosts you’ll want to snuggle up with this series. Gethsemane Brown is an American musician who takes a job in Ireland to turn a group of schoolboys into orchestra musicians. But that’s quickly the least of her problems when she discovers the cliffside cottage she’s staying in contains the ghost of the murdered owner…

cover of Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett

Hollywood Homicide (Detective by Day #1) by Kellye Garrett

2017 Agatha Award for Best First Novel

I love an amateur sleuth that straight out the gate does not suddenly have all the answers. Dayna Anderson is a struggling actress who decides to solve a hit-and-run because she very much needs the offered reward money. But this is a cozy so of course she’s just gonna end up putting herself in danger — while also driving the tip-line operator bonkers with her pointing the finger at everyone.

A graphic of the cover of Bluebird Bluebird

Bluebird, Bluebird (Highway 59 #1) by Attica Locke

2018 Anthony Award for Best Novel

This series starter is a must-read for procedural fans! Darren Mathews is a Black Texas Ranger who is technically on suspension after an attempt to be a good samaritan backfired on him. If you’re not new to mysteries you know that just means he’s going to get himself involved in a new case — and he does! In a small Texas town a Black man and a white woman were murdered and Mathews is going to figure out what happened, hopefully keeping his private and professional life in better standing then he starts…

cover image for The Last Place You Look

The Last Place You Look (Roxane Weary #1) by Kristen Lepionka

2018 Shamus Award for Best First Novel

If you’re a fan of PIs, and solid mysteries with thriller endings this series is for you. Roxane Weary finds herself on the case of a missing girl with a potentially wrongly incarcerated man as she tries to navigate her grief from a recent breakup and her father’s death. I love watching Weary’s evolution from sheer hot mess to putting her life together throughout the series.

cover image for The Lost Man

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

2020 Barry Award for Best Mystery/Crime Novel

This is one of the most atmospheric novels I’ve ever read — it will make you sweat! This has a remote and dangerously hot setting so when Cameron is found dead in the heat near his abandoned car, lots of questions are asked, starting with how did someone who knew the dangers of the heat get taken out by it? His brothers, hours away, but sharing property come to join his mother and wife as tensions begin to rise to match the heat…

cover image for I Hope You're Listening

I Hope You’re Listening by Tom Ryan

2021 Lammy Award (Lambda Literary Awards) for LGBTQ Mystery.

For fans of small town setting, fictional true crime podcast, past and present missing persons mystery, and a thriller ending! Dee and her best friend Sibby went to play in the woods when they were 7 and only Dee returned; Sibby has never been seen or heard from since. Now, Dee is 17 and hosts a popular true crime podcast anonymously but has refused to ever discuss her case. Until now when another girl goes missing from the same block Sibby once lived on…

cover image for Blacktop Wasteland

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

2021 Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel

If there were an award just for car chase scenes that strap you in for the ride, this book would also have that award. It’s perfect for fans of crime novels where the premise is a person who gave up the criminal life having to go back for just one more job and everything of course going spectacularly wrong while you root for him.

cover of Winter Counts

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

2021 Macavity Award for Best First Mystery

An amateur sleuth mystery with great characters and setting. Virgil Wounded Horse lives on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota and is hired by people to basically beat up criminals who fall through a loophole where the local police has to send cases to the FBI and the FBI doesn’t pick up all the cases. Now that he’s taking care of his nephew after his sister passed away he takes a case that he really doesn’t want to take from his ex-girlfriend’s father.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line book cover

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

2021 Edgar Award (Edgar Allan Poe Award) for Best Novel

I love crime novels that morph as you’re reading and this one starts with a feeling of a coming-of-age mystery and ends feeling in the noir territory. Anappara brings to life beautiful characters who keep things upbeat while exploring the darkness of the world as we follow a 9-year-old boy and his two schoolmates as they decide to find out what happened to a missing classmate. Bonus: the audiobook has a full cast narrated by Indira Varma, Himesh Patel, Antonio Aakeel.

cover image for Last Call

Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green

2022 Edgar Award (Edgar Allan Poe Award) for Best Fact Crime

Here’s a true crime book about a serial killer that preyed in the ’80s and ’90s which have remained mostly unknown cases because the victims were gay men in New York. Elon Green does a great job of bringing the victims lives and stories to life along with the LGBTQ+ activists at the time fighting for the community’s rights. Bonus: David Pittu does a great job narrating the audiobook.

Cover image of "Clark and Division" by Naomi Hirahara.

Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara

2022 Mary Higgins Clark Award

For fans of historical mysteries, who especially like to read about history that is never focused on or is intentionally erased. It’s set in 1944 Chicago during the U.S. government’s resettlement program from interment camps in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Rose, the oldest daughter of the Ito family, is released first and dies. Her sister Aki does not believe the assumption of suicide and is certain there is another reason for her sister’s death. Bonus: Allison Hiroto really brings the characters to life narrating the audiobook.

And if you’re curious about the best award-winning horror novels dive into this list.