There are so many different types of mystery books for whatever mood you’re in. The “whodunnit” is a standard mystery, where you and the characters are trying to figure out who committed a crime. Detective novels are usually whodunits as readers follow along with the main character, tracking clues down and working out what happened at a scene. The tension here is the threat of another murder or crime committed by an unknown person still walking freely.
Another standard mystery set up is a locked room mystery, where the crime seems impossible, committed by someone despite no way in or out. These don’t have to take place in a locked room per se but can be on islands or isolated locations where it would be impossible to come and go without being noticed. The mystery in these is often heightened because it means, most of the time, someone trapped inside is the culprit, but no one knows which person it is.
Then there’s the howdunnit, where the reader knows who the killer is, but they don’t know how or why. Sometimes, the how leads the reader or detective to the who, but with this type of mystery, the tension comes from working out a confusing crime scene. These can be referred to as an inverse detective novel or “howcatchems” because the detective has to work out the how in order to put the suspect behind bars.
If you’re curious about this type of crime, check out these eight howdunnit novels full of mystery!
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
Yasuko’s a devoted mother, spending her days working in a bento shop and living her normal routine. But when her ex-husband shows up one day, she has to take drastic action to keep her life safe. As Detective Kusanagi digs into the events leading up to the fateful day, though, the why behind everything is more and more confusing.
When I Am Through With You by Stephanie Kuehn
High school senior Ben is awaiting trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Rose. What comes next is his recollection of the events of a hiking trip of high schoolers led by Ben’s teacher, Mr. Howe, that went terribly wrong. How it happened and whether he’s being truthful are all called into question as Ben tells his story his way.
The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo, Translated by Louise Heal Kawai
In a remote Japanese village, a young couple prepares for their upcoming marriage. But around town, a strange, masked man starts asking questions. Then, in a locked room, the couple are found stabbed to death on their wedding night. In this mystery, the howdunnit leads to the who, giving you both for twice the thrills.
The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard
As a child, Eve was the only one in her family to survive the attack of The Nothing Man. As an adult, she writes a memoir and devotes her life to tracking him down. Supermarket security guard Jim Doyle has a secret. He’s The Nothing Man, but he won’t let Eve expose him like she’s dangerously close to doing. He must tie off his loose end before she reveals his identity to the world.
Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh
At a theater performance, actor Felix Gardener points a gun at fellow actor Arthur Surbonadier and pulls the trigger. What was supposed to be a fake bullet, though, turns out to be real. Gardener just murdered Surbonadier in front of an audience of people, including a detective. Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn must figure out why and how this tragedy happened on that closely watched stage.
Two Little Girls in Blue by Mary Higgins Clark
After returning home from attending a party in New York City, Margaret and Steve Frawley find their twin 3-year-old daughters gone and a ransom note left behind. Struggling to muster the money in time, only one of the girls is returned with a note that the other was killed. But as their daughter claims a telepathic connection to her sister and insists she’s alive, the investigation is kicked into overdrive. While readers know who committed the kidnappings, the why isn’t so clear.
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
At a job fair in the cold, Brady Hartfield drives a Mercedes through the crowd of desperate people, killing eight and wounding 15. He gets away, unidentified. That is until ex-cop Bill Hodges receives a letter from someone claiming credit for Brady’s crime. As Hodges works through the crime scene, he’s in a race against time as Brady itches for another kill.
Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino
Yoshitaka Washiba is found dead, with poison in his coffee cup, in a locked room. The only one who could have done it is his wife. But she has an alibi. How could she have committed it when she was hundreds of miles away? Detective Kusanagi must figure out how the crime happened to prove his prime suspect did it.