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What’s That? 20 of the Best Mystery Books You’ve Never Heard Of

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Liberty Hardy

Senior Contributing Editor

Liberty Hardy is an unrepentant velocireader, writer, bitey mad lady, and tattoo canvas. Turn-ons include books, books and books. Her favorite exclamation is “Holy cats!” Liberty reads more than should be legal, sleeps very little, frequently writes on her belly with Sharpie markers, and when she dies, she’s leaving her body to library science. Until then, she lives with her three cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon, in Maine. She is also right behind you. Just kidding! She’s too busy reading. Twitter: @MissLiberty

When I was much, much younger, like right out of high school, I had a job working next door to a mystery bookstore. (You can bet I tried to get a job at the mystery bookstore, but they weren’t hiring.) Every day before work, I would go in and purchase a mass market and proceed to read it throughout the day. I love mystery novels and what a wonderful treat. I had SO many mystery books I had never heard of right in front of me. Which is why making a list of 20 of the best mystery books you’ve never heard of was exciting. Because they’re sure to be a mystery for someone else!

Of course, today, after decades in the book industry, I am sure I would recognize a lot more of them. But still, there are always hidden gems in every genre, and more authors and books than any one person could possibly know. It’s sad to think of how many incredible books slip under the radar every new release day. These are great titles, with less than 1000 ratings on Goodreads, some with less than a couple hundred. And from cozy mysteries to thrillers to weird mysteries, there’s something here for everyone. Some of these you might recognize as having been mentioned on Book Riot before — I read several of these because of our awesome BR contributors championing them. And one of these little-known books might be your next favorite mystery — good luck!

the cover of Blood's Echo, featuring a city and orange fading to blue sky in the background

Blood’s Echo (Veranda Cruz #1) by Isabella Maldonado

A Phoenix detective is determined to bring down a powerful crime family. But no one knows her real motivation behind her actions. How far is Veranda Cruz willing to go to get what she wants?

cover of When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris, featuring a collage of a young Black man with a baseball cap and a brick wall

When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris

This is an excellent recent YA mystery about a young Black man who is determined to find his missing sister after her case receives little attention. And Jay Murphy isn’t just doing it because she’s his sister — he also feels responsible for her disappearance.

Iced in Paradise cover image, featuring several people standing at an ice cream stand, with the cover bordered by pink flowers

Iced in Paradise (A Leilani Santiago Hawai’i Mystery #1) by Naomi Hirahara 

This is a fun cozy mystery set in Hawai’i! Leilani Santiago was not expecting trouble when she returned home to work at her family’s shaved ice shack. But it found her — in the form of a dead surfer. Now she must find out who killed the surfer before her father goes down for the crime.

cover of Haunt by Laura Lee Bahr, featuring shadow of woman behind a yellow window screen

Haunt by Laura Lee Bahr

Do you like your mysteries weird and twisty? Then buckle in! This is a bizarre, gritty Los Angeles noir that is almost hard to describe. “You” are the detective of this story, but good luck figuring out what is going on as you search for clues about a dead woman who haunts you.

cover of Uptown Thief by Aya de León, featuring a Black woman in a shimmery gold dress and red lipstick, in front of a city skyline

Uptown Thief by Aya de León 

In this excellent crime series, a group of enterprising women rob from the rich and give to the poor. These do-gooders, using the guise of a high-end escort service, will stop at nothing to take from the crooked and help out the less fortunate. It’s so fun!

cover of Mr. Bowling Buys a Newspaper by Donald Henderson, featuring a colorized b&W photo of a man strangling another man on a red staircase in front of a large image of a man in a hat reading the newspaper

Mr. Bowling Buys a Newspaper by Donald Henderson

This book was reportedly Raymond Chandler’s favorite novel! This is about Mr. Bowling, a serial murderer who buys the paper every day to see if anyone has caught on to his crimes. And every day he’s disappointed, which is too bad, because all Mr. Bowling wants is for someone to catch him and bring his career to an end.

cover of Rinn's Crossing by Russell Heath, photo of mist-covered pine forest

Rinn’s Crossing by Russell Heath

Two people in Alaska find themselves committing crimes they can’t believe they were capable of. Now they’re fighting for the world they believe in before their freedom comes to an end, even if it means turning on the people they love.

cover of The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin, featuring the outline of a woman walking in the park

The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin

This is an Edgar Award winner from over 60 years ago. It’s an early domestic thriller, about a young woman who is fighting sleep deprivation due to the demands of her children. Are her growing sinister suspicions about their lodger, a schoolmistress, true or a product of her lack of sleep?

cover of Past Life by Dominic Nolan, featuring a photo of the outline of a woman walking near a riverbank at dusk

Past Life by Dominic Nolan

This thriller is about a detective solving her biggest mystery — her own. Detective Abigail Boone is the victim of a trauma and lost her memory. Now she must figure out who is responsible for her abduction while she tries to remember the people closest to her. Her only clue: the last case she was working on before she disappeared.

cover of The Conjure-Man Dies: A Harlem Mystery by Rudolph Fisher, a photo of a close-up of half of the face of a Black man

The Conjure-Man Dies: A Harlem Mystery by Rudolph Fisher

Called the “first ever African American crime novel,” this novel was written in the 1930s. It’s about Perry Dart, one of Harlem’s ten Black police detectives, who is assigned to the case of a murder of an African conjure-man. Fisher was one of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, but died at the young age of 37 in 1934.

cover of A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill, featuring an illustration of people dancing and eating in a 1940s ballroom setting

A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill

This is a delightful mystery about a killer on the loose aboard a passenger liner traveling from New York to Sydney. Wealthy socialite Rowland Sinclair is the captain’s first suspect, so he must clear his name before the boat docks and he is turned over to the authorities. I read this book on Rincey’s recommendation, and it was great! It is the second in the series, so you might want to start at the beginning. Or jump in — I had no problem following along.

cover of Lapse by Sarah Thornton, a photo of the outline of a woman against the setting sun

Lapse by Sarah Thornton

This is an excellent Australian thriller for fans of Jane Harper and Candace Fox. It’s about the coach of a football club (with secrets of her own) who must figure out why her star player quit right before the finals. Before taking up writing, Thornton was a lawyer, so she knows her crime talk!

cover of Bury Me When I’m Dead (Charlie Mack Motown Mystery #1) by Cheryl A. Head, featuring a Black person's hands tied behind a chair

Bury Me When I’m Dead (Charlie Mack Motown Mystery #1) by Cheryl A. Head 

This is a great series about a dynamic detective agency in Detroit run by Charlie Mack. In this first book, Charlie and some of her team head to Alabama to help solve the case of a missing person, and wind up in a complex case. Making matters even more complicated are Charlie’s mother’s failing health issues and Charlie’s romantic situation with her girlfriend and ex-husband. I picked this up on the advice of Jamie and look forward to the next one!

cover of  A Prayer for Travelers by Ruchika Tomar, a design of purple and yellow swirling sands

 A Prayer for Travelers by Ruchika Tomar

Despite being the winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction, among other accolades, this beauty seems to go largely unnoticed. It’s an excellent slow burn of a psychological thriller, about two bored young women in a dead-end California town, whose new friendship leads to violence.

cover of  The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson, featuring illustration of two kids dressed in 1920s outfits holding magnifying glasses

 The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson

This is a delightful mystery for readers of all ages! It’s about two kids, Toby and Ivy. Toby helps out around his uncle’s detective agency, Ivy thinks she IS a detective. Together they decide to compete in the World’s Greatest Detective contest — a contest that leads to a real-life murder. Are they in over their heads, or can they catch a killer?

cover of Three-Fifths by John Vercher, cover is solid two fifths black and three fifths white

Three-Fifths by John Vercher

This stellar debut novel is set in Pittsburgh, and it’s about a biracial Black man, passing for white, whose friend gets him caught up in a crime. Bobby has never told anyone about his real heritage, but when his friend returns from prison a newly radicalized white supremacist, it has devastating consequences. And then Bobby’s long-absent father returns to town…

cover of Finding Claire Fletcher by Lisa Regan, photo of woman hiding face with her hands turned out toward the camera

Finding Claire Fletcher by Lisa Regan

This is the first in the Sacramento PD Detective Connor Parks series. Upset from the finalization of his divorce, Detective Parks goes out to drink his sorrows away, and winds up going home with a beautiful woman. But when the woman disappears, Parks finds himself involved in a case more complicated than anything he’s ever investigated before.

Cover of Rhode Island Red by Charlotte Carter, featuring a the upper part of a Black woman's head above a record on a record player

Rhode Island Red by Charlotte Carter

Nanette’s life is not going well — she’s having relationship trouble and then a fellow busker is murdered in her kitchen. When that busker turns out to be an undercover cop, Nanette finds herself in hot water. Can Nanette solve the mystery of the police officer’s murder and a legendary saxophone before she’s singing the blues behind bars?

cover of Blue Night by Simone Buchholz, an image of a blue neon sign of a hand and the title

Blue Night by Simone Buchholz

State prosecutor Chastity Riley has a talent for stirring up trouble, but her career is put on hold when she’s sent into witness protection. Not one to sit around, Chastity soon finds herself embroiled in the story of a mysterious man also under police protection and an attempt to bring down a dangerous Albanian mafia kingpin. But the next case for Chastity may be her own murder.

cover of The Night in Question by Nic Joseph, a photo of the bottom half of a woman's face over headlights

The Night in Question by Nic Joseph

And here’s another Jamie recommendation! Paula is a cab driver trying to come up with money for her husband’s mounting hospital bills. When she picks up a fare that she recognizes as a celebrity out with a woman who is not his wife, she sees a chance to get it. So she asks the celebrity for money in exchange for her silence. But when that woman is murdered days later, Paula’s innovating money-raising scheme may prove fatal.

I hope that you find something on this list that tickles your mystery fancy. I have just finished writing it, and I already want to go back and read so many of them again! MYSTERY BOOKS FTW. And if you love mysteries as much as I do, be sure to check out our mystery newsletter Unusual Suspects and our mystery podcast Read or Dead!