9 of the Most Thought-Provoking Mysteries Ever Written

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Courtney Rodgers


Courtney has been reading and collecting books almost as long as she's been alive. She holds a B.A. in Theatre and Creative Writing. Courtney has been writing with Book Riot since 2019, and is a Bibliologist with TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations. She's currently brainstorming for her next creative project. You can follow her on Instagram.

Step into the world of twists, turns, clues and ciphers, murders and murderers, all without leaving the comfort and safety of your home. Perhaps this is why mystery remains one of the most popular fiction genres for readers of all ages: it offers the chance for adventure and immersive experiences in a clever, compelling package. Beyond the thrills and suspense, mystery exists in a world of intricate, layered puzzles and shrouded deceit. The excitement of solving these intellectual puzzles keeps readers on the edge of their seats.

Even once the clues are laid out, and the mystery is solved, it’s not over. The reader is left to ponder over the web of clues, how they connect and where they don’t, and what led to the conclusion. Social themes are at the heart of the mystery genre, adding depth to characters and their situations, giving readers more to contemplate. Controversial content, such as the portrayal of Mormonism in A Study in Scarlet, can spark heated dialogue and ideas. From Golden Age detective fiction to the fast-paced mystery-thriller, mystery offers plenty to think about.

This list features thought-provoking mysteries that allow the mind to wander with possibilities, books that ask more questions than they answer, and books that have been stirring up trouble since the beginning. Get your notepad, and let’s start with the facts!

Thought-Provoking Mysteries To Mull Over

The Da Vinci Code Cover

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

This 2003 best-seller is better known as a controversial hot take than as a labyrinthian mystery. Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon and code breaker Sophie Neveu are summoned to Paris to investigate the suspicious death of Louvre curator, Sauniére. Langdon and cryptographer Sophie Neveu are swept into a confusing puzzle of symbols and codes, including clues that point to Mary Magdalene as Jesus Christ’s wife. 

Thought-provoking to the point of blasphemy, The Da Vinci Code has been called out by the Catholic Church and other organizations for historical, biblical, and scientific inaccuracies since its original publication.

miracle creek cover

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Small-town mystery meets courtroom drama in this layered, intense novel. Korean immigrants, Young and Pak Yoo, own an experimental medical device called “the Miracle Submarine.” Seeking solutions for everything from infertility to autism, locals sign up for the oxygen treatment. When the chamber explodes, killing two people, everyone is looking for someone to blame. Kim masterfully draws readers into courtroom scenes, leaving each chapter hanging by a thread.  As the truth is slowly revealed, disquieting questions about disability, race, and morality refuse to be left behind.

The Secret History Cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Presented with the answer to the mystery at the beginning of the book, readers must follow the clues backward. Told over the course of a year, the story is narrated by scholarship student Richard through his grim yet rose-tinted point of view of Hampden College. The Secret History is a spine-tingling build of anticipation. Everyone in this book is terrible; some may have even deserved their fate, and that is why no one can stop thinking about it.

Book cover of The Widows Of Malabar Hill

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

Set in 1920s Bombay, this historical mystery is entertaining and challenging. As one of the first female solicitors in India, Perveen is excited to begin her law career, especially to protect women’s rights where she can. When she discovers a discrepancy in a will, Perveen begins a whirlwind investigation that takes her into a private world full of secrets and danger. Layered and surprising, this book has plenty to ponder.

The Seven 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle Cover

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

This novel takes the locked room mystery trope and turns it on its head. Gathered for a party, eight guests witness the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle at 11 p.m. To prevent her death, Aiden Bishop is granted the same day over again, waking up in a different body each time. You’ll need an index to keep this mystery’s tangled clues sorted even after the last page.

Journey Under the Midnight Sun Cover

Journey Under The Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino

When Detective Sasagaki is assigned the murder of a man found in an abandoned building, he pieces together two other cases linked to the crime. This winding novel follows Sasagaki for over 20 years as he refuses to give up. Dark and clever, this mystery-thriller is complex from start to finish.

and then there were none  cover

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

The world’s best-selling mystery novel is also one of the most controversial and thought-provoking.  On a tiny island off the coast of Devon, eight house guests arrive with invitations to find their hosts absent. One by one, the guests and the house staff are killed in a manner matching up with lines in a 19th-century minstrel song. Updated versions of And Then There Were None feature a much-edited rhyme, sanitizing both the novel and the public’s view of Christie.

The Cutting Season Cover

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

Caren, the manager of an old plantation turned event venue, is caught up in an investigation when the body of a worker is found on the property. Details of Caren’s family history and the property’s history swirl to the surface as the investigation intensifies. This Southern Gothic mystery commands attention on subjects of race and justice.

cover of the name of the rose by umberto eco

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Set in a 14th-century monastery, this historical mystery blends secret codes, theology, and humor into a detective story. Brother William is set to investigate a monastery accused of heresy but is sidetracked by a series of murders. Using his wits and all the theological tools and ciphers at his disposal, Br. William begins his labyrinthian quest. This intricate novel requires the reader’s careful attention, or the mystery gets lost among the symbols.

Itching for more thought-provoking mysteries to mull over? Try some genre-defying mysteries to shake things up, or explore the best and worst tropes of the genre. Find out what quirky job you’d have in a cozy mystery novel with this quiz