best mystery books

9 of the Best Mystery Books to Curl Up With on a Cold Winter’s Night

This week I’ve been sick with some kind of stomach bug/head cold hybrid.

Not SICK-sick, I hasten to add: I’m not on my last legs or anything. But you all know me: any excuse to curl up with a good book and be waited on hand and foot is just fine by me, and when the weather’s as cold and miserable as it’s been lately, I can’t really think of anything better to do, can you?

Well, I can’t help with the “being waited on hand and foot” bit, but I CAN provide you with some reading inspiration, which is even better, really. The books on this list are all mystery stories, which is one of my favourite genres: I’m a complete sucker for the “mystery from the past is solved by someone in the present” kind of plot, and there’s really nothing better to curl up with on a cold winter night, so here are nine of the best mystery books – in my opinion, at least…

9 of the best mystery books (according to me…)

9 of the best mystery books

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

I’m sure you’ve all read Rebecca, but if you haven’t, DO IT NOW. I mean, read the rest of this post, obviously, but then go and read Rebecca: it’s one of my all-time favourites, and ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,’ remains one of the best opening lines ever. If you don’t get chills down your spine just from reading that line, then we can’t be friends, and I’m not joking.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White is credited as being one of the first mystery novels, and, for me at least, it’s still one of the best. This book has it all: ghosts, mysterious letters, a strange old house filled with secrets – and that’s without even mentioning the woman in white herself, who… you’ll have to read it to find out. As well as being a great read, this book is also satisfyingly long, so you can settle down with it for a good long time, too. Seriously, is there ANYTHING sadder than when a book you’re really enjoying comes to an end? Didn’t think so.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

I’ve read all of Kate Morton’s books (with the exception of the latest release, which is on my Kindle right now, just waiting to be read. I like to save a book I know I’ll love for the Christmas season, so that when all of the socialising gets to be too much, I know I have something to escape to. For this reason, I now associate Christmas with murder, mystery, and SECRETS. Which I personally think is better than associating it with “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day“, but that’s just me… ), and found it really hard to pick a favourite, because if Kate Morton wrote a shopping list, I’d probably read it, and then give it 5 stars on Amazon. With that said, if Kate Morton DID write a shopping list, I’m willing to bet the shopping list would have a dark secret – probably one involving a mysterious old house.  God, I LOVE that stuff. I wish I could uncover a secret from the past. Seriously, why has that never happened to me? Anyway, I’ve picked The Forgotten Garden purely because it was the book that introduced me to this author: if you enjoy it, though, you’re going to have to read them all, there’s just no way around it.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters is another writer who can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. The Little Stranger was something of a departure for her, but as much as I enjoyed her other books, this one, which tells the story of an eccentric family living in a crumbling (and haunted, obvs.) old mansion, was definitely my favourite. Like most of the writers on this list, Sarah Waters has a real gift for conveying atmosphere, and this is the kind of book that allows you to totally immerse yourself in the world it creates, so that when you’re forced to put it down (Like, to refill your wine glass or something…) you’re surprised to find the modern world still in existence, and even MORE surprised to discover that there are people in that world who AREN’T totally consumed by the mystery of the old house. Who ARE these people? And how do they survive, in a world without good books?

Simply Heaven by Serena Mackesy

The cover of this book shows a cheerful sandcastle on a sunlit beach, while the blurb promises an Aussie/English romance, with the down-to-earth Australian heroine finding herself the newest inhabitant of an English country manor. You can only imagine my delight, then, when the book inside was NOT, in fact, the hilarious chick-lit romp I was expecting, but actually the dark and honestly quite disturbing tale of a young woman trapped in an increasingly loveless marriage, and oh yeah, a haunted house. BINGO! That’s WAY more interesting to me than all of the “you call flip-flops thongs, but over here, thongs are g-strings!” jokes I was expecting, so it just goes to show, you really SHOULDN’T judge a book by its cover. And sometimes not even by the words on the back. This was my first Serena Mackesy novel, but since then I’ve read (and loved) them all: Hold My Hand is another favourite, and I also really recommend the books Serena writes under the pen name Alex Marwood: such a great writer!

The House of Stairs by Barbara Vine

Barbara Vine was the pen name of crime writer Ruth Rendell: I’m not a huge fan of crime stories, but one day I somehow came across The House of Stairs, and found myself pulled into the world of Cozette – a respectable, middle-aged woman, who, following the death of her husband, re-invents herself as something of a social butterfly, at the centre of bohemian life in 60s London. Naturally, there is mystery surrounding both Cosette and the characters she surrounds herself with, but the House of Stairs itself is the real star of this book, which is another one with its own distinct atmosphere to sink right into. All of the best books are like that, don’t you think?

The Legacy by Katherine Webb

Whatever happened to cousin Henry, that summer many years ago? Erica and Beth are determined to find out when they return to the old manor house they spent their childhood summers in. I’m really starting to think the lack of a dilapidated old mansion house is at the root of all of my problems, here – anyone want to let me one, so I can uncover its devastating secret? Anyone?

The Truth About Melody Browne by Lisa Jewell

Lisa Jewell is another favourite writer of mine, and although this book is a little more “chick lit” than most of the others on this list, it should still appeal to anyone who enjoys a good mystery. In this case, the mystery revolves around a person, rather than a place: the Melody Browne of the title has no memories of anything prior to her ninth birthday – but as the book progresses, she gradually starts to find out more about her childhood, and to piece together the puzzle of her past.

The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan

Imagine you find a faded old photograph, of a woman no one will ever talk about: a woman who disappeared in mysterious circumstances, many years ago. I mean, wouldn’t that be AWESOME? Wouldn’t you just DIE? Then wouldn’t you do everything in your power to find out what happened to her, and to finally solve this decades-old mystery? Because I would. I don’t have to, though, because I’ve already read The Girl in the Photograph: now it’s your turn…

   *   *   *

So, I really felt like there should be nine books on this list (well, it’s just a nice, round number, isn’t it?), but I also wanted each book to be awesome, without any filler, so I’m going to stop at 9, and let you fill in the rest. If you share my love of mystery novels, please feel free to suggest some of your favourites: it’s going to be a very long winter…

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  • Yay book recommendations! I love Rebecca, it’s one I will definiately re-read time and again. I have read the Melody Brown one too but none of the others so might just open up my Amazon wishlist in another tab. I know exactly what you mean about when the socialising gets too much… I love nothing more than taking myself off with a cup of tea, selection pack and a book 🙂

    November 27, 2015
  • I haven’t read any of these except for most of Kate Morton’s, so thanks for the recommendations! I can’t wait to get started on these 😀

    November 27, 2015
  • I love Rebecca and The Woman in White. Have you read The Moonstone, also by Wilkie Collins? I am not familiar with some of your other suggestions. I will have to check them out. And since I can never resist recommending books here are some I like. The Moon Spinners and This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart. They aren’t so much mysteries as suspense but I really enjoy them. Smart, independent heroines who can hold their own in any situation, and atmospheric writing. I also thought of Georgette Heyer. She wrote Footsteps in the Dark which does involve a possibly haunted old house. It isn’t my favorite of hers but it is fun. I like Death in the Stocks. And then there is M.M Kaye’s Death in…series (Berlin, Zanzibar, Kenya, etc.) They are light, fun, and easy reads.

    November 27, 2015
  • If you haven’t yet, do try the Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. Historical mysteries with a hint of comedy; very feminist Victorian Egyptologist heroine. I enjoyed them a lot!

    November 27, 2015
  • Helen Love


    Hi Amber… thanks for all of these recommendations. I will put them on my “to read” list. I like it when people recommend books! I also enjoy anything by Rosie Thomas. If you haven’t read The Potter’s House – then please do, and see what you think – it has a very strange twist at the end. After that, I think you will be looking to read more. I particularly enjoyed Constance, The Strangers and Iris & Ruby. Sending love x

    November 27, 2015
  • Annabel


    Thanks, Amber, for making me add nine more books I won’t be able to find anywhere to my ever-growing to read list! I love mystery, so I will definitely check these out. My preference leans more towards crime in the mystery spectrum. My favourites are Sherlock Holmes (particularly The Sign of the Four and The Valley of Fear), Agatha Christie’s work (Five Little Pigs and Ten Little Niggers/Indians/And then there were none are the best out the ones I’ve read) and Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling. This last one was so good I’m dying to get my hands on The Silkworm- JK Rowling has a real talent for mystery and crime stories I should say

    November 27, 2015
  • Barbara West


    I really love books in series. I could list dozens, but Louise Penny’s series set in Quebec are particular favorites. A couple of them have different titles in the UK and in North America. Here’s a link to her web page. Her books are listed in order, with alternate titles, on the right-hand side with the first one, Still Life, at the bottom. You really need to read them in order because there are several overlapping long story arcs.

    November 27, 2015
  • Myra


    I love Rebecca and agree it is the best opening in any blood ever. I also love Wilkie Collins, and will add some of your recommendations to my wish list. I’ve never read anything by Kate Morton. If you like historical who-done-it’s try CJ Sansom’s series in the era of Henry VIII

    November 27, 2015
  • Myra


    That should read “book” not “blood” . Don’t you hate predictive text!!

    November 27, 2015
  • It’s not a haunted house one but ‘the taxidermists daughter’ by Kate Mosse is a good one

    November 28, 2015
  • This makes me want to read Rebecca again! And I love Kate Morton’s books! I’m hoping that The Lake House will be under the Christmas tree – I gave a lot of hints for it. 🙂

    November 28, 2015
  • Jackie


    It is so good to read this many rave reviews regarding Rebecca. Yet again I have procrastinated and now have until Wednesday to read it for my book club. I was contemplating giving up this time but now have to read it! Then maybe I can add the others to my list!

    November 29, 2015
  • Love the first two! And The Moonstone is an excellent shout by someone above – definitely read that one if you can. A newer book I liked in this genre is The Thirteenth Tale – which ive heard described as ‘gothic suspense’. I think you’ll really like it!

    November 29, 2015
  • Katie


    The Shadow of the Wind is a must read. It describes the cemetery of forgotten books so vividly that I can’t help but think it must exist and I want to find it…!

    November 29, 2015
  • Gah, comment eaten by the internet! I’ll try again – I thought I would have read all of these, but only Rebecca and The Little Stranger actually. Both in my top ten books, let alone mystery books. Thank you for the other recommendations! I have little time to read books I actually want to at the moment, thanks to PhD reading, but I just finished ‘Mystery In White’, a 1930s murder mystery. Other recommendations more mystery than murder include ‘The World Before Us’ by Aislinn Hunter xx

    November 29, 2015
  • Lily


    Book recommendations! That’s my Christmas reading sorted.

    Have you read Elizabeth is Missing, Amber?

    November 30, 2015
  • Claudia


    I have a fantastic recommendation for a book that covers a wide range of genres (fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, adventure, thriller, philosophy). It’s called “The Question” by R. Breuer Stearns ( and it is a heavy read with lots of existential questions and ideas. If you are feeling philosophical and looking to confront the unknown than this is the book for you! The main character, Nate, and his fellow group of scientists are studying a phenomenon related to the possibilities and powers of group thinking. This group thinking may be able to answer some of our biggest life’s questions; Is there a God? Why are we here? And of course, there are many who are very opposed to studying these topics (especially those from a religious background). This book is perfect for a cold and dark day! Get ready to have your mind blown! Hope you will check it out!!

    December 1, 2015
  • Aparna


    Thank you for all the book recommendations. Rebecca is one of my absolute favourites, and I agree with you regarding the opening line.

    I am probably in the minority, but I think Agatha Christie’s “By the Pricking of my Thumbs” is a great read. There are secrets galore, a mysterious house, and lots of creepy murders.

    December 2, 2015
  • This list if perfect for me. I find it almost impossible to pick up any other genre and tend to read the same authors over and over. I love the sound of The Girl in The Photograph. Great list.

    April 1, 2016
  • Joanne


    If you like a bit of mystery and a good twist, I recommend anything by the fabulous Emily Barr. Her books are brilliant, and never predictable.

    October 28, 2016
  • Sandra


    Tom Savage The Inheritance…so good..

    August 9, 2017
  • Ginger Wood


    Wow! The comments are just as good as the blog! Saving for the future when I need to find a new author.

    February 12, 2019