Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

13 Well Plotted Mysteries

Have you ever thought about how hard it must be to plot a mystery novel? The author has to know who did it, why they did it, how they did it – and they’ve got to figure out how to tell the reader all of that, without going too fast or too slow, and keeping them entertained all the while. It’s no mean feat, and it’s all the more impressive when an author does it particularly well. Here are thirteen well plotted mysteries that will keep you intrigued all the way through to perfectly crafted solutions.

13 Well Plotted Mysteries - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

The Cry - Helen Fitzgerald - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I happened to watch The Cry as a television mini-series before I read the book, but let me tell you: it’s one of the most well plotted mysteries you’ll experience, no matter the format. The central mystery revolves around a missing child, an infant who disappears from under his parents nose. The media flocks to the scene, the parents make tearful appeals – but all is not as it seems. There’s a reveal at the mid-point of this one that will knock your socks off, and you’ll barely have a chance to pull them on before they’re knocked off once more. Read my full review of The Cry here.

Kill Your Husbands by Jack Heath

Kill Your Husbands - Jack Heath - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Jack Heath is a remarkably prolific writer, with over forty titles to his name across multiple genres, so he’s got a well-practiced hand when it comes to writing well plotted mysteries. Kill Your Husbands is a sharp and funny mystery-thriller about a couple’s weekend gone wrong – like, really wrong. Three couples rent an isolated house on a mountaintop, and decide to spice things up with some partner-swapping. It’s all fun and games until one of the husbands turns up dead, and then another, and then one of the wives goes missing. Read my full review of Kill Your Husbands here.

Remember Me by Charity Norman

Remember Me - Charity Norman - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Are some secrets best left buried? That’s the question at the heart of Remember Me, a wonderfully suspenseful novel about a young woman who went missing twenty-five years ago, and the clues to her fate coming from an unlikely source. Through the mists of her father’s failing memory, Emily gets glimpses of the past, and what might have happened to Leah Patara. But does she really want to know? It’s a family drama wrapped around a crime mystery, and it will keep you hooked to the very last page. Read my full review of Remember Me here.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall - Liane Moriarty - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You might know Liane Moriarty best for Big Little Lies, the best-selling novel turned HBO series starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, but if you’re after well plotted mysteries, it’s well worth exploring further into her catalogue. Apples Never Fall is perfectly paced and totally readable, with town gossip and parallel timelines that keep you guessing. There’s a cast of characters bound together, but each harbouring their own secrets – secrets a nosy detective is determined to uncover. If you’re a fan of town gossip and barely-founded assumptions, this is the mystery novel for you. Read my full review of Apples Never Fall here.

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

56 Days - Catherine Ryan Howard - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Is it too soon for a COVID-19 murder mystery? Not when it’s as well plotted as this one! 56 Days is Catherine Ryan Howard’s latest high-concept crime thriller, set in Dublin in the early days of the city’s first lock-down. The main characters are a couple who barely know each other, forced into the pressure cooker situation of living with each other during the pandemic, so the reader gets two (or more?) very different perspectives on the same events. It’s well written, well paced, with tantalising clues and a couple of truly excellent fake-out twists. Read my full review of 56 Days here.

The Likeness by Tana French

The Likeness - Tana French - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Tana French has been called the reining queen of Irish crime, with good reason: her Dublin Murder Squad series is wall-to-wall well plotted mysteries. The Likeness is my favourite, the one with a premise so bonkers that I simply had to read it. Detective Cassie Maddox is trying to find her balance after a major trauma on a previous case when a murder victim shows up who looks identical to her. That’s weird, but it gets weirder when they learn that the victim was living under an alias that Maddox once used while undercover. None of the victim’s friends know that she’s dead, so Maddox’s boss has her pose as the dead girl, pretending to recover from her injuries in the hopes of luring the murderer out of the woodwork. It’s insane, but will it work? Read my full review of The Likeness here.

I Saw A Man by Owen Sheers

I Saw A Man - Owen Sheers - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I Saw A Man isn’t a thriller, but it’s every bit as tense and gripping. It’s a literary mystery, one that penetrates far more deeply than your standard paint-by-numbers airport novel. Owen Sheers uses two terrible tragedies to interrogate the psychology of trauma, the capriciousness of chance, the weight of grief, and the morality of complicit silence, all the while keeping the reader glued to the page by the mysterious moral dilemma that changes the life of every character. Read my full review of I Saw A Man here.

Big Lies In A Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

Big Lies In A Small Town - Diane Chamberlain - Book on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Regular readers of Keeping Up With The Penguins might be sick of me recommending Big Lies In A Small Town, but I can’t help it! It’s one of the most well plotted mysteries I’ve read, all the better for the fact that I simply wasn’t expecting it at all based on the cover and blurb. The story centers around a Depression-era mural: the woman commissioned to paint it (who disappeared under mysterious circumstances), and the woman charged with restoring it for installation, nearly eight decades later. Will she uncover the truth with the layers of paint and grime? Read my full review of Big Lies In A Small Town here.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Fleishman Is In Trouble - Taffy Brodesser-Akner - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You probably won’t find Fleishman Is In Trouble shelved with the mysteries at your local independent bookstore, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the most well plotted mysteries of recent years. It looks like your stock-standard New York divorce novel, with a privileged couple – he’s a doctor, she’s a talent agent/manager – sniping at each other and using their kids like battering rams in the dissolution of their marriage. But by the end of the first chapter, you’ll realise that this is something very different. Read my full review of Fleishman Is In Trouble here.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Plot - Jean Hanff Korelitz - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s so meta: one of the most well plotted mystery is a book about a well plotted mystery. How about that? The Plot is “a psychologically suspenseful novel about a story too good not to steal, and the writer who steals it”. A creative writing student sadly dies tragically young, and his professor decides to take the plot he planned to use for his debut novel. Who would notice, who would care? It turns out someone does, and they care a lot. Enough to put the author’s life at risk, not to mention his career and reputation. Read my full review of The Plot here.

The Woman In The Library by Sulari Gentill

The Woman In The Library - Sulari Gentill - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Woman In The Library is an underrated gem, a well plotted metafictional mystery that will keep you turning pages way past your bed time. Hannah Tigone is a crime writer, working on a novel that begins in the Boston Library. Four strangers get to talking after a woman’s scream in the next room breaks the silence. Later, they discover that the woman who screamed was murdered – could one of them be the killer? Chapter-by-chapter, Hannah forwards this work-in-progress to her writer friend Leo, but slowly his responses reveal he might not be the trusty correspondent he seems. Read my full review of The Woman In The Library here.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn - Keeping Up With The Penguins

With just a few well plotted mysteries, Gillian Flynn has changed the game. She reached mainstream popular appeal with her best-seller Gone Girl, but her debut novel Sharp Objects is the one with the truly masterful plot. The follows Camille, a journalist for a small Chicago newspaper, as she’s drawn back to her hometown to report on the abduction and murder of two young girls. At first, she doesn’t seem particularly unusual – sure, she’s a bit of a drinker, and she clearly has some unresolved issues with her family, but who doesn’t? Soon, you’ll realise how dark she really is, and why those issues with her mother and her hometown might never be untangled. Read my full review of Sharp Objects here.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

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

Of course, it’s not a list of well plotted mysteries without an Agatha Christie novel. And, even though it’s kind of an obvious choice, we really can’t go past And Then There Were None. It’s a Christie classic, a locked-room mystery with a ticking clock, featuring ten strangers trapped on an isolated island. All were brought there under similar false pretenses, and all of them are destined to die. But who would draw them there? Why are they being killed off, one by one? How can the murderer operate undetected? Christie will tell you when she’s good and ready, but you’ll realise that the clues there all along. Read my full review of And Then There Were None here.

2 Comments

  1. Love a well-plotted mystery! Can’t necessarily say it’s my favorite genre, but it’s what sparked my love of reading as a child, and I always find myself back in it.

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