The easiest way to create a sense of urgency in a mystery book? Put a clock on it! As the deadline draws closer, the reader will be drawn to the edge of their seat, wondering if the mystery will be solved in time. Here are seven of the best ticking clock mystery books.

7 Ticking Clock Mystery Books - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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The 7 1/2 Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The 7 1/2 Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle - Stuart Turton - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The 7 1/2 Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle is a multi-player Black Mirror-esque game of Cluedo, with time travel and body swapping and a ticking clock. We meet the narrator as he’s running through the woods shouting a woman’s name, as he forgets entirely who he is and what he’s doing. He’s doomed to repeat the same day over and over again, each time in the body of a different guest at a mansion party, until he solves the murder of the hostess’s daughter. If he fails, all he has learned will be wiped from his memories, and he’ll start all over again. This complex mystery is full of side plots and rabbit warrens that you can’t help tumbling down.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie - Keeping Up With The Penguins

As far as mystery novels go, And Then There Were None demonstrably has a (pardon the pun) killer premise. It’s a locked-room mystery, with a ticking clock. Ten strangers have been lured to an island under false pretenses, and each of them is hiding their own dark secret. A storm whips up that prevents them from leaving, and they’re going to be murdered, one by one – unless they can identify the murderer and stop them before they kill whomever is next. Yes, there are some racist and problematic elements of the time, but Agatha Christie is the Queen of Crime for a reason. Read my full review of And Then There Were None here.

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

The Chain - Adrian McKinty - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s hard to imagine a more chilling beginning to a story than that you’ll find in the opening chapters of The Chain. A woman receives a phone call, advising her that her daughter has been kidnapped while waiting for the school bus. That’s terrifying, of course, but not only does she have to pay a ransom, she must also has to kidnap another person’s child, in order to secure her daughter’s safe return before the clock runs out. The titular ‘chain’ is a series of parents and loved ones held together by their complicity, kidnapping someone in order to secure the return of their own. This is a ticking clock mystery book with a moral dilemma at its heart, and you won’t be able to look away. Read my full review of The Chain here.

The Art Of Death by David Fennell

The Art Of Death - David Fennell - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Picasso once said that “every act of creation is first an act of destruction”, and The Art Of Death takes that idea to its logical extreme. The premise is basically this: what if Banksy was a serial killer, and his artworks were his murder victims? This one checks all the boxes for high-energy procedural thrillers: child abduction, a missing MP, a troublesome journalist, a difficult home life for the lead detective, and (of course) a ticking clock. It’s solid, gripping read, one that steers into the skid of the gruesome and macabre. Read my full review of The Art Of Death here.

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson

Mother May I - Joshilyn Jackson - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Bree is 38 years old, she uses canvas bags, she’s a former board member of several charities, and she’s a doting mother to two teenage daughters and a “surprise” infant son. Her perfect life is shattered when she looks away for just a moment, and her son is taken. The phone rings: “Go home. Tell no one. Do not call the police. Do not call your husband. Be at your house by 5:15pm or he’s gone for good.” The clock is well and truly ticking in Mother May I, and author Joshilyn Jackson hits her stride as an author of compelling suburban thrillers. Read my full review of Mother May I here.

Survive The Night by Riley Sager

Survive The Night - Riley Sager - Keeping Up With The Penguins

To fully immerse yourself in Survive The Night, you have to take yourself back to a time where it was dangerous to get in a stranger’s car, long before we ordered them to our doorstep via the internet. The year is 1991, and Charlie Jordan needs someone to split the long drive home with her, so she finds a fellow Ohio transplant via her college noticeboard. Charlie’s friend was recently murdered by a man known as the Campus Killer. You can see where this is going, right? The longer Charlie sits in the passenger seat, the more she suspects the man she’s with might be the murderer – all she’s got to do is survive the night, and find a way to prove it.

Angels And Demons by Dan Brown

Angels And Demons - Dan Brown - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I don’t want to hear any Dan Brown slander in the comments. It’s not sophisticated literature, it’s not historically accurate, but his books are really compelling mysteries that will keep you gripped all the way from the airport departure lounge to your destination. Angels And Demons is the first in his Robert Langdon series, where the Harvard symbologist is summoned to help solve the murder of a scientist in a Swiss research facility. It turns out he’s the only one who can save the Vatican from a time bomb ticking away in a mystery location. Your heart will beat in your throat as the clock counts down and Langdon struggles to put the pieces together.