Readers of mystery novels are well-known to be voracious readers, constantly making their way through paperback stacks of murders, crimes, and various acts of foul play. When you’re reading a mystery, it’s a pleasurable experience to remember the various clues, whether they are physical objects or behaviors of the suspects. You have a mental murder board of possible outcomes. A mystery novel with a great movie adaptation can show this process with cinematic tropes: a zoom-in on an important object, making sure someone is visible in the background, or showing a suspicious stain on a costume.
When you’re looking for a movie adaptation of a mystery novel, there are plenty of period pieces to choose from. There’s a wide world of writers inspired by these famous authors who have done their own thing, and it’s exciting to explore the many authors whose work gets adapted in innovative ways. When you dive into the mystery genre, there’s more than an English country house murder to find among the many streaming services. Many of these movies are currently available to stream, so your weekend plans of cozy reading and watching mysteries through the winter are set for a while.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
When detective Hercule Poirot boards the luxury transcontinental Orient Express, he’s not expecting to get mixed up in a murder mystery. He’s on vacation, but when one of the passengers is found dead in his compartment, Poirot has a captive compartment of suspects to interrogate. The 1974 adaptation of the novel (directed by Sidney Lumet, streaming on Netflix) stars Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot. Since it’s one of the most famous mystery novels of all time, the rest of the all-star cast includes icons like Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, and Anthony Perkins.
Enola Holmes and the Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer
If Sherlock Holmes had a younger sister, she’d probably be the type of precocious teen detective ready to outdo her brother at every turn, like young Enola. When the mother who raised Enola to be an inquisitive mystery-solver goes missing unexpectedly, she travels on her own to London to find her. However, she gets wrapped up in solving a bigger mystery with larger stakes than she could have imagined. The Netflix adaptation of the series has two movies (Enola Holmes and Enola Holmes 2), and they’re the perfect weekend movie marathon.
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
For a long weekend, Amanda and Clay have decided to get out of town and relax. Their plans are interrupted when an older couple arrives at their vacation home and tells them about a major power outage in the city that’s causing catastrophe. They are unsure of what’s going on and who to trust. In the movie adaptation (2023, directed by Sam Esmail, streaming on Netflix), the second couple is turned into a father and a teenage daughter, and director Sam Esmail interrogates our reliance on technology, even when we’re trying to disconnect from the world.
Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes
When Senator Willis Douglas’s wife died under mysterious circumstances, the Senator’s fixer, named Sailor, didn’t ask questions and dealt with the cleanup as he usually did. Years later, Sailor (who knows Douglas called for the murder) goes to confront him. He’s being pursued by a cop investigating the former Senator, and over Sailor’s journey in Santa Fe, New Mexico, he encounters various people who help him along on his journey. Though director Robert Montgomery made some character changes in his 1947 film adaptation of the novel, it became as foundational to the noir film genre as Hughes’ novel was to the literary noir genre.
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
One regular workday in Tokyo, Yasuko gets an unpleasant surprise of her ex-husband showing up and upending everything. The crime is difficult to untangle, and Detective Kusanagi is in a bind of impossible circumstances while he tries to piece together what happened. Jaane Jaan (2023, directed by Sujoy Ghosh, streaming on Netflix) moves the setting to Kalimpong, with the same kind of incident and intrigue that set the novel in motion.
Calling Sehmat by Harinder S. Sikka
Set in the backdrop of political turmoil between India and Pakistan in 1971, a young college student named Sehmat Khan marries a high-ranking Pakistani soldier in line with her father’s final wish upon his death. Sehmat is to act as a spy for the Indian army on the plans of the Pakistani army. It was inspired by real events, and the film adaptation Raazi (2013, directed by Meghna Gulzar, streaming on Amazon Prime) is a harrowing adaptation of the dramatic spy thriller.
Honorable TV Mentions
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
There have been quite a few splashy novels about the publishing industry in the past few years, but Harris’s novel takes a decidedly creepy and exciting approach to the genre. As the only Black employee at the famous publishing house Wagner Books, Nella Rogers has a uniquely un-fun role of managing her white coworkers’ feelings about racism. When a new Black girl starts as an editorial assistant as well, she thinks she’s found an ally. But when Hazel outpaces and takes over Nella’s work, all while drawing her into a strange network of other Black girls, Nella has to figure out what’s going on before it’s too late. The television show (streaming on Hulu) had the misfortune of coming out in the center of the actors’ and writers’ strikes, so the dazzling leads couldn’t do much promotion. It’s well worth a watch if you love the book or want a twisty mystery.
Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood
Made into possibly the best mystery television series of the 2000s (streaming on Acorn TV / Amazon Prime), the Miss Fisher series starts with a bang. We meet Phryne Fisher tearing up the European continent in the roaring 1920s. Instead of sticking around in London and becoming a proper wife, Miss Fisher returns to Melbourne and immediately inserts herself into multiple crime investigations. She becomes Melbourne’s foremost lady detective on a mission to support the downtrodden while enjoying life’s luxuries.