Start with Mysteries, Thrillers, & True Crime If You’re New to Audiobooks

Cassie Gutman

Staff Writer

Cassie Gutman is happiest when surrounded by books and dogs. Originally from a small, funny-named town near Louisville, Kentucky, she now edits words for a living near Chicago and would like to be paid in ice cream. You can find her on Instagram @happybooklovers or on Twitter @cassiepgutman.

Cassie Gutman

Staff Writer

Cassie Gutman is happiest when surrounded by books and dogs. Originally from a small, funny-named town near Louisville, Kentucky, she now edits words for a living near Chicago and would like to be paid in ice cream. You can find her on Instagram @happybooklovers or on Twitter @cassiepgutman.

Shattered by James Patterson

Nothing could tear Detective Michael Bennett away from his new bride—except the murder of his best friend. NYPD master homicide investigator Michael Bennett and FBI abduction specialist Emily Parker have a history. When she fails to show at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, Bennett ventures outside his jurisdiction. The investigation he undertakes is the most brilliant detective work of his career…and the most intensely personal. A portrait begins to emerge of a woman as adept at keeping secrets as forging powerful connections. A woman whose enemies had the means and the motives to silence her —and her protectors.

While book sales were already rising before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, publishers have also reported incredible growth in audiobook sales, rising 12% in 2020 alone. This rise in sales has effects on consumers, too, and with apps like and Audible, along with library app Libby, making audiobooks more accessible than ever by just a tap of the phone, it’s no wonder everyone has their eye on audiobooks.

But while listeners of audiobooks are skyrocketing, many readers are still hesitant to try the new format, or simply struggle to follow along. When I first tried audiobooks, I found myself drifting off, losing track of the plot as my mind wandered to other subjects. It wasn’t until I had a good podcast experience that audiobooks finally clicked for me, and the biggest key I found was starting by listening to true crime, mysteries, and thrillers.

My Own Journey with Mystery & Thriller Audiobooks

Like many people, I first began consuming audio content way back in 2014 when the podcast Serial first premiered. I wanted to see what the hype was, and I was hooked. From there, I dove into every true crime podcast I could find (though there weren’t that many a decade ago). So when I finished everything I could get my hands on, I wanted more.

Turns out, journalists had been digging into cold cases and crimes for longer than podcasts had been around, and that’s how I found myself listening to true crime audiobooks via CDs from the library, starting with classics like The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. By sticking with a familiar genre and method of storytelling, I was able to follow along better than I thought I would, finding myself gripped in the same way that podcasts had hooked me initially.

As I listened to more and more, I began to wonder about the fictional side of storytelling. I loved reading mysteries. Why not try listening to them? And so my love of audiobooks was born.

Why Mysteries Make for Perfect Beginner Audiobooks

If you’ve been reluctant to try audiobooks before or are worried about your ability to follow the story or stay engaged, there are a few reasons I’ll suggest trying a true crime or mystery first.

First and foremost, even if you are not an avid consumer of true crime, there are millions of people who have listened to these types of podcasts in one way or another, and I’m betting you’re one of them. Having a background in listening to these types of podcasts is a great transitional step into audiobooks. You’ll be familiar with the general structure, type of storytelling, and pacing, but instead of one-hour episodes, you’ll have one full book.

Next is the structure of the mystery. It’s human nature to be curious and to want to learn more information about a story. Mysteries (and the sub-genres therein) are perfectly poised to stoke our curiosity, making us want to listen and learn more information about whatever it is we’re listening to. The best stories our friends tell us are the ones that have a bit of intrigue, and the best writers and narrators know how to use that when creating their stories. Plus, having a central mystery helps keep you engaged as you move toward an eventual solution, so you’ll always know what the end goal is, even if you feel yourself losing track of a few smaller details.

The pacing of mysteries and thrillers are also, by nature, typically faster than other types of genres. Not always, but for the most part, many mysteries and thrillers provide a story that will feel like it’s rocketing toward the end, and you can’t help but stay hooked to learn what exactly will happen next.

Mystery & Thriller Audiobooks to Try

If you’re ready to dive in, here are some great categories to experiment with to see what types of audiobooks will work best for you.

cover of The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

Full-Cast Mystery Audiobooks

Try a full-cast mystery audiobook if you’re a fan of podcasts. This means there will be multiple narrators playing multiple people for various parts of each book, giving it the feel of something you’re used to listening to. Some even have formatting elements like podcast excerpts, newspaper clippings, and other forms of narration to enhance that experience. Books like Acts of Violet by Margarita Montimore, The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd, and The Guest List by Lucy Foley work well in this format.

the cover of Blacktop Wasteland

Fast-Paced Thrillers

If you’re worried about drifting off or losing your place while listening to an audiobook, try a fast-paced thriller like Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby or The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James (which also has some true-crime-like investigative elements). These books move at a faster clip and are generally full of action sequences and plenty of suspense, which will help keep your interest over something that might be a bit quieter.

cover of Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg

Puzzle Mysteries to Solve

If you’re wanting to try an audiobook and need details, clues, and lots of plot elements to hold your interest, a puzzle-type mystery will be a great place for you to start. These typically include lots of characters, too, so there will be plenty of red herrings, small details, and other elements to keep you captivated. (If you loved Knives Out, this is where I’d recommend you start with audiobooks!) Books like The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T. A. Willberg, or The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes are great places to start.

We’re big fans of mystery audiobooks at Book Riot, and have all kinds of recommendations if you’re looking for more!