One editor suggested that mysteries appeal to your intellectual curiosity, while thrillers more to your emotional curiosity, which may often be true. But then there are so many great books that do both: there are mysterious thrillers, and thrilling mysteries. So in the end, after much discussion, we drew this firm narrative line in the sand: Mysteries are about the solving of a crime. Thrillers are about the prevention of a crime. This is the definition we used when poring over our favorite mystery listens.
Why we think it's Essential:The Edgar Award for Best First Mystery Novel was just the start for Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series. The Black Echo kicked off one of the best police procedural series of all time, and Connelly ran from there, creating twisting plot after twisting plot, all anchored by Harry Bosch, a hardened L.A. cop/PI who echoes the noir ethos of hard-boiled detectives of the past. Dick Hill delivers a highly-skilled narration, impressing all ears with his rendition of Connelly's gritty and realistic dialogue. Hill's portrayal of Bosch is one for all narrators to aspire to, and it puts Connelly's debut in a class by itself.--Chris D.
Why we think it's Essential: Tom Rob Smith's debut novel took the mystery world by storm with its astonishing originality, and Dennis Boutsikaris's narration rises to the task. He takes the listener deep into the heart of the 1950s Soviet Union, where Leo Demidov is a former war hero who is fiercely loyal to the state and all the protections it offers its citizens. But when a serial killer starts targeting children, Leo learns that in his country even to suggest a blemish in paradise may be a bigger crime than murder. --Emily
Why we think it's Essential: Elizabeth Peters drew on her academic background in ancient history to bring to life a time in the late 19th century when the whole of Europe was Egypt-mad and amateur Egyptologists ran rampant. The heroine of her long and beloved series, Amelia Peabody, is one of them, and in this first novel she packs off to follow her passion for archeology and ends up stumbling on some ancient mysteries along the way. The first person format is suited for audio and Barbara Rosenblat perfectly creates the voice of the studious and cynical feminist while not losing the delightful parody in the story. --Emily
Why we think it's Essential: Wellington--Mrs. Shear's black poodle--is dead, and Christopher is writing a murder mystery novel based on his investigation of who stabbed the dog with a garden fork. Christopher is not your average sleuth--he's a 15-year-old who suffers from Asperger's syndrome. Not only does his hunt for Wellington's killer send him into unfamiliar territory, but it also takes the listener on a unique journey from a previously unexplored perspective. Jeff Woodman embodies Christopher's quirks and social anxieties flawlessly, from the boy's initial encounters with the police to the fallout of discovering the culprit is closer to home than anticipated. --Diana D.
Why we think it's Essential: Set along the terrifying and beautiful coastline of East Anglia at a theological college, a location that her fans call "quintessential James," Death and Holy Orders is the 11th Adam Dalgliesh novel, but arguably the best. The Commander agrees to take a murder case at the college, in large part because the place holds sentimental meaning for him. But his affectionate memories soon evolve into haunting suspicions as the complexity of the case grows. As always P.D. James' writing is balanced and beautiful and Charles Keating delivers the psychological and emotional gravity that it deserves. --Emily
Why we think it's Essential: The main character, DS Andy DalzieI, spends most of the story in a coma--yet this is perhaps the most gripping entry in one of the greatest British police procedural series. That's because author Reginald Hill's poetic writing--and Shaun Dooley's wonderful characterizations - peel back the surprising layers of the "Fat Man's" inner life. If you haven't had the Dalziel & Pascoe experience, this is a fine place to start. --Steve
Why we think it's Essential: Michael Prichard, who has also narrated books by Tom Clancy and Nelson Demille, brings Nero Wolfe, the ultimate eccentric shut-in private detective, to life. Originally published in 1934, this is the first mystery ever written by Rex Stout. It delivers his classic pair of detectives (Nero is joined by assistant Archie Goodwin), solving a crime involving a deadly snake and a college president. --Gina
Why we think it's Essential: If you ever wondered which audiobook should be your first listen, you have just found it. The first in a trilogy delivered to publishers shortly before Larson's death, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is full of complex and flawed characters. Simon Vance keeps you engaged in the story and the priceless characters, without distracting with over-done character voices. Without giving the ending away, know that there are some pretty impressive plot twists--you will never see them coming!--Sylvia
Why we think it's Essential: Martin Cruz Smith's masterpiece was published during the first months of the Reagan Era, at a time of heightened US-Soviet tension. This made his creation of the downtrodden everyman, Russian homicide investigator Arkady Renko, all the more remarkable. This novel is an all-time great combination of plot and character with an exceptional evocation of time and place, brought vividly to life by Henry Strozier's voice.--Steve
Why we think it's Essential: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story about murder on the moors is one of the great mystery classics. Originally serialized, the novel unfolds clue by clue beginning with the death of a rich landowner and the paw prints of a dog-like beast surrounding the body. Sherlock Holmes polishes his magnifying glass and with his trusty partner Watson, tracks the source of this crime. Actor David Timson delivers a credible performance, admirably giving voice to at least a dozen characters.--Corey
Why we think it's Essential: Tana French's debut novel tells the haunting story of Detective Rob Ryan whose past collides into his current case of a murdered 12 year old girl. The characters are flawed but real and the plot twists will keep you guessing right up to the end. Set in contemporary Ireland, the voices are brought to life by Steven Crossley's narration in a perfect match of story and storytelling.--Pam
Why we think it's Essential: This book marked Robert Crais' 2003 return to Elvis Cole after a hiatus of several years. And fans were not disappointed, as this installment digs deeper into Elvis' psyche than any of his prior novels. When Ben, the son of Elvis' girlfriend, disappears, his kidnappers let it be known that their motive is connected to a hidden and dark part of Elvis' past. James Daniels' narration moves seamlessly and skillfully between the first-person story, wartime flashbacks, and scenes from Ben's abduction. --Emily
Why we think it's Essential: Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon is the chain-smoking father of all hard-boiled detective fiction. Without Maltese, the genre would hardly exist, and William Dufris takes the experience to the next level. His character voices - from Sam Spade to Brigid O'Shaughnessy - have the perfect dramatic flair, and his voice and pace is keenly attuned to the noir atmosphere. It's more than enough to make you forget Humphrey Bogart.--Chris D.
Why we think it's Essential: Kerr's aptly-named Berlin Noir trilogy centers on ex-cop turned PI Bernie Gunther, a bedraggled and beleaguered Sam Spade who plies his trade in 1936 Germany. Squeezed by the Gestapo and horrified by what he sees, Gunther does what little he can to resist the Nazi's growing grip. What I especially like about this recording is that narrator John Lee chooses not to "do" the typical German accent, but simply tells this gripping story.--Steve
Why we think it's Essential: T.S Elliot hailed Wilkie Collins' masterpiece as "the first and greatest of English detective novels," and scholars have long agreed. But while its importance to the English cannon, and the mystery genre in general, is undisputed, The Moonstone is also a charming, fun, suspenseful, and highly enjoyable story. Through a series of perspectives, the story of Rachel Verinder's eighteenth birthday party, and the theft of her best present, a large yellow diamond from India, unfolds. Peter Jeffrey masterfully gives each character his own distinct voice, not only defined by gender but by their position in the household. And he even creates a sense of the house itself- the waiting place is a solid and stern ..
Why we think it's Essential: In this introduction to a most charming and delightful series, we meet Mma Precious Ramotswe and are quickly transported to her beloved Botswana by Lisette Lecat's rich, lilting voice. Lecat's elegant narration deftly weaves the cases Precious is called on to solve as her country's first female detective with her personal adventures. This authentic, nuanced performance--complete with a relaxed, enjoyable pace--will leave you wanting to follow Precious on all her future investigations.--Diana D.
Why we think it's Essential: If you've never listened to Carl Hiassen, you are in for a treat; if you have, know that the world in Skinny Dip is a quintessential example of one that can only be created by this author. The population of innocents, criminals, schemers, and outright villains that traverse through this satirical work will give you hours of enjoyment and more than a bit of satisfaction that you are not related to any of them. Stephen Hoye does a fantastic job of creating distinct voices, while showing restraint in not cracking up during the performance. --Pam
Why we think it's Essential:Donna Leon turns up on our customer favorite lists over and over again. Her Commissario Guido Brunetti series, which leaves through the corrupt underworld of Venice,is undoubtedly one of the best in the genre.Leon is a master of nuanced characters and David Colacci, a narrator for over 15 years, is sensitive and concise in his portrayals of these subtleties.--Gina
Why we think it's Essential: James Lee Burke is a master storyteller who has used the city of New Orleans as a character in the past, but in the wake of Hurricane Katrina Burke delivered a fantastic mystery and a scathing look at the aftermath of this tragedy. Burke's writing comes alive with the masterful narration of Will Patton. The world of Robicheaux springs to life on the audio, making it a rich and textured experience, so that however you encounter the Dave Robicheaux series going forward, Patton will be the voice in your head. --Pam
Why we think it's Essential: Cagey, unconventional and inventive are all words that come to mind when Laura Lippman's name comes up. This highly addictive story is a fast-paced winding mystery involving the disappearance of two girls, a disputed identity and a lot of dead-end leads. Linda Emond's narration is complementary to the "page-turner" nature of the story, expertly guiding us through the cliff-hangers. --Gina