8 Books to Read After Rian Johnson’s Poker Face

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Elisa Shoenberger


Elisa Shoenberger has been building a library since she was 13. She loves writing about all aspects of books from author interviews, antiquarian books, archives, and everything in between. She also writes regularly for Murder & Mayhem and Library Journal. She's also written articles for Huffington Post, Boston Globe, WIRED, Slate, and many other publications. When she's not writing about reading, she's reading and adventuring to find cool new art. She also plays alto saxophone and occasionally stiltwalks. Find out more on her website or follow her on Twitter @vogontroubadour.

When the news broke that director Rian Johnson had teamed up with Natasha Lyonne to make a new murder mystery series Poker Face, it was fulfilling a need that I didn’t even know I had. And thankfully, they delivered. For those of you who haven’t watched the series, the premise is that Charlie Cale has the uncanny ability to know if someone is lying or not. But she doesn’t know why. She ends up using her ability to solve mysteries as she travels across the U.S. on the run (for reasons).

The series is like a 21st century Columbo. Each episode starts with a murder and then Cale comes in to figure out what happened and who is responsible. Some folks call this format “howcatchem” in contrast to “whodunnit” that most mystery fans are used to. It’s also referred to as an inverted mystery. But unlike Columbo and other mystery series, Cale isn’t a police officer or an official so the challenge for Cale is to figure out how to bring the culprit to justice and not end up dead herself.

So while the first season just concluded (and was already renewed for a second season!) on Peacock, I’ve put together this list of books like Poker Face to tide you over. Some of these books are howcatchems, while others are less mystery based but more about a person wandering through life like Cale with a twist.

8 Books like Poker Face

Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies cover

Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies by Misha Popp

Like Cale, Daisy Ellery has a gift, in this case making pies that kill. Also, she lives in her mobile bakery van and can pick up at the drop of a dime if she needs to. But unlike Cale, she’s not solving the murders, she’s the one causing them. Both characters are fueled by their sense of justice, often outside of the law, against bad people; murders in Cale’s case and abusive, horrible men in Ellery’s case. There is the howcatchem part of the story: will Ellery be found out? Can she figure out how to get out of the mess she finds herself in? The sequel A Good Day to Pie came out in February.

The Columbo Collection cover

The Columbo Collection by William Link

Until researching this article, I had not realized that there were books about Columbo and that he is apparently based off of Porfiry Petrovich, the investigator in Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment. While there are several books, this collection was published in 2010 by one of the creators of the character. Watch murderers underestimate Columbo as he teases out the killer in 12 short stories.

The Devotion of Suspect X cover

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

This work is a bit more serious compared to the other books on this list. Hanaoka has started a new life with her daughter Misako, away from her abusive ex-husband.  She does not know that her neighbor Ishigami has a crush on Hanaoka. But things go from cute to downright deadly when Hanaoka’s ex-husband shows up at her apartment and Hanaoka ends up killing him in self-defense. Aided by Ishigami, they cover up the crime. But is it enough? Will the police figure it out? It’s a version of a howcatchem that shouldn’t be missed.

Six Against the Yard cover

Six Against the Yard by the Detection Club

Written in 1937, this book is gold for Golden Age Murder Mystery fans. The Detection Club was founded in 1930 and included mystery luminaries such as Dorothy L. Sawyers, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley etc. The Club had several books published including this one. The tagline on the book is “Who Better To Commit the Perfect Murder Than the World’s Greatest Mystery Writers?” Six writers of the Club — Margery Allingham, Ronald Knox, Anthony Berkeley, Russell Thorndike: Dorothy L. Sayers: and Freeman Wills Crofts — write six perfect murders that they put to a retired Scotland Yard detective to try to solve. Most of them are inverted mysteries, where the reader knows the murderer but like Charlie, the detective has to solve the crimes after the fact.

cover image for Shutter

Shutter by Ramona Emerson

Like Cale, Rita Todacheene has a special gift that gets her into more trouble than not. She can see the dead, specifically she can see ghosts of crime victims. She’s found her calling as a forensic photographer in Albuquerque, but she’s plagued by the ghosts who clamor for justice and her attention. But when one insistent ghost pushes Todacheene into solving her murder, can Todacheene survive the investigation?

Random cover

Random by Penn Jillette

Yes, Penn of Penn & Teller wrote this mystery. Bobby Ingersoll is in deep water. His late father owed a lot of money to the head of a criminal enterprise in Vegas, but due to sheer chance, Ingersoll manages to pay off the debt. As a result, he decides to live his life according to Random, where he makes decisions based on a roll of a dice. So much like Cale, Ingersoll lets himself be led by what he encounters along with a bit of chance. How will this new lease on life work out for Ingersoll? Will it keep him out of trouble or will he roll figurative snake eyes?

Dial A for Aunties cover

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Wedding photographer Meddelin Chan didn’t mean to kill her blind date. So she calls on her mother and aunties to help get rid of the body on the eve of the biggest wedding they’ve ever worked on. But when the body ends up on the island resort where the wedding is taking place, can the Chans figure out how to keep the body a secret and pull off a sensational wedding? As Meddelin Chan tries to maintain her composure, she learns that there are more foul deeds awaiting the wedding. She feels like a combination of Cale and murderer combined, but unlike the murderers in Poker Face, you’ll root for Meddy and her family.

Malice Aforethought cover

Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles

Considered a classic of the inverted murder mystery, this Golden Age classic is written under the pseudonym of Anthony Berkeley. Dr. Edmund Bickleigh hates his wife, feels oppressed by her, and his sights have landed on a new lady. He decides to kill his wife. Can he get away with it or will someone find out? Will Dr. Bickleigh out himself?

Trouble is a Friend of Mine cover

Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

This YA book (and its two sequels, Trouble Makes a Comeback and Trouble Never Sleeps) feel in the spirit of Charlie Cale. After her parents’ divorce, Zoe Webster ends up moving to Upstate New York with her mom. Moving is hard enough but finding your place is even harder. And then there is Philip Digby who seems like a big jerk. Yet, he manages to get Zoe involved in solving a kidnapping. Is Digby legit or is he going to get them all into big trouble? The book starts with Zoe trying to break into a house filled with explosives, so we kinda get that in medias res that Poker Face provides. It’s zany and hilarious with two characters trying to bring justice into the world despite the odds against them.

Want more books in the spirit of Rian Johnson? Check out this musing on The Book Adaptation Lives of The Glass Onion Cast. Or more hilarious mysteries? Read this 10 Funny Mystery Authors Like Janet Evanovich.