Whodunit Whizzes: A Shortlist of the Best Mystery Authors
These mystery writers take the genre to a new level. Here's our pick of the best listens from our favorite mystery authors.
July 20, 2020
Who doesn't love a good mystery? Listening to mystery audiobooks is a great way to feel some semblance of order in an often chaotic world. The clues are there for you to solve along, and by the end, it will all come together in an incredibly satisfying manner. There’s a formula to the genre, sure, but the best mysteries still surprise you and often subvert expectations. The following authors excel at providing a satisfying mystery story while offering up a little something extra.
Gillian Flynn was once the chief TV critic for Entertainment Weekly, but she’s now a novelist who has become a household name. Her work is dark, unflinching, and increasingly popular. (It’s quite likely you’ve already heard of Gone Girl.) Looking for a more traditional mystery story with satisfying twists and turns? I’d recommend starting with her debut novel, Sharp Objects. This title is especially compelling in audio, as narrator Ann Marie Lee is the perfect voice for this suspenseful story.
If you love a good historical mystery, Sujata Massey’s novels are not to be missed. Try her series about Perveen Mistry, a character loosely based on some of the first female lawyers in India. Mistry as a character is all about advocating for marginalized women. At the start of the first audiobook, The Widows of Malabar Hill, Mistry has just joined her father’s law firm. She’s tasked with handling the will of a wealthy Muslim mill owner who has left three widows behind. But the more she looks into the case, the more suspicious she becomes. The first book in the series is narrated by Soneela Nankani, and the second installment, The Satapur Moonstone, is narrated by Sneha Mathan. Both talented narrators add their own flare to the story.
Attica Locke is a screenwriter and novelist whose work has been nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, an Edgar Award, and an NAACP Image Award. Her Highway 59 series houses pause-resistant mysteries that deliver hard looks at race and justice in America. Both audiobooks currently available in the series, Bluebird, Bluebird and Heaven, My Home, are narrated by JD Jackson, one of AudioFile’s 2020 Golden Voices.
Walter Mosley is a prolific writer with many works of crime fiction, science fiction, young adult fiction, erotica, nonfiction, and plays to his credit. His works have won several awards and have been translated into many languages. But Mosley is probably best known for his Easy Rawlins detective series. Easy Rawlins is a Black WWII veteran turned private detective. The majority of books in the series are narrated by Michael Boatman, who offers up a strong, consistent voice for the character. Start from the beginning with Devil in a Blue Dress to see the origins of Rawlins as a detective.
Tana French is one of my favorite authors on this list. Her books deliver intense atmospheric mysteries and well-drawn characters. Each book in the Dublin Murder Squad series is narrated by a different detective—so, naturally, each audiobook has a different narrator. But what’s really great about this series is that each detective’s story is loosely connected to the one that came before it. You can choose to listen to one or all of these works in any order you wish. Of course, you could start with French’s debut, In the Woods, but why not buck the system and dive into one of the audiobooks somewhere in the middle? My personal favorites are The Likeness and The Secret Place.
In a genre often associated with male voices, female author Natsuo Kirino offers a fresh perspective on the hard-boiled detective. And she is (pun intended) killing it. Kirino is a Japanese author, but many of her works have been translated into English. Out is the only one of her novels currently available in audio, but it’s her most popular work—for good reason. This award-winning story features a dark and intricate mystery at its center that will drive you to keep listening. The characters are compelling, and Emily Woo Zeller’s excellent narration adds that little something extra, bringing these characters to life.
What would this list be without a nod to one of the most iconic authors in the mystery genre? Agatha Christie’s name has become synonymous with mystery fiction, having written a total of 80 mystery novels and short-story collections over six decades. But with so many audiobooks to choose from, where does one begin? You really can’t go wrong with any Christie listen, but if you’re looking for an immersive experience, try the Audible Original Drama version of Murder on the Orient Express, which features a full-cast performance of the famous Hercule Poirot mystery. The cast includes Tom Conti, Jane Asher, Ruta Gedmintas, Paterson Joseph, Rula Lenska, Art Malik, Eddie Marsan, Sophie Okonedo, and Walles Hamonde.
We also can’t talk about mystery authors without discussing Raymond Chandler, the author who penned one of the most influential detective characters in all of literature: Philip Marlowe. Under Philip Marlowe’s tough private investigator exterior hides a sensitive and creative side—a man who loves poetry and philosophy. This model has been used for other detective characters since, but it all started here. And it all started with The Big Sleep, the first book in the Philip Marlowe series. The first two audiobooks in the series, both narrated by the acclaimed Ray Porter, are available exclusively on Audible.
I'm here to let you in on a little secret: Parker Bilal is actually the pseudonym that British and Sudanese author Jamal Mahjoub uses to publish his detective fiction. And if you aren’t sure who this exceptional author is, it’s time to find out—because he’s just started a brand new series, the Crane and Drake mysteries. Its debut volume, The Divinities, was released in early 2020, and the audiobook is available only on Audible. This book sees Detective Sergeant Calil Drake team up with forensic psychologist Dr. Rayhana Crane on the hunt for an elusive killer. Ben Onwukwe’s narration truly sets the tone for a dark, twisty mystery.
It only makes sense to close out this list with a bona fide mystery fiction legend. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has become so popular that the character’s name is more well-known than the author himself. The iconic detective first appeared in 1887’s A Study in Scarlet. You might want to start small with the work that introduced the world to Sherlock Holmes, or you could go all out: Stephen Fry brilliantly performs the complete Sherlock Holmes, which features an introduction from the narrator, a Holmesian scholar himself. An exquisite treat for true fans, this comprehensive collection offers more than 60 hours of Sherlock stories with impeccable, delightful narration—a truly legendary performance.
Emily Martin earned her PhD at the University of Southern Mississippi. She works as a contributor for Book Riot and as a blogger/podcaster at Book Squad Goals.