If you’re a mystery fan, you probably love nothing better than a twisty page-turner or murder mystery that keeps you guessing. But, within the genre, you probably gravitate to certain types of stories. From classic locked room tales to cozy mysteries with multiple suspects, we’ve rounded up five of the most popular mystery tropes out there, along with three great book recommendations for each.
Mystery Trope #1: Locked room
Nothing turns up the intensity in a murder mystery like keeping a group of people in an enclosed mansion, room, or island where a murder occurs. As claustrophobia creeps in, we wonder who is doing the killing — and who will be next to die. If you love locked room mysteries, here are three books to add to your must-read list.
No discussion of the locked room trope is complete without this Agatha Christie classic. On a remote island, ten strangers with dark pasts show up to a gathering at a mansion. As they share their secrets, they begin dying. But who is orchestrating this deadly party? Named a PBS Great American Read, this locked room mystery is unmissable.
Written by #1 New York Times bestselling author Ruth Ware, you’ll be riveted by this mystery set in the snowy French Alps. When eight co-workers gather at a ski chalet for their corporate retreat, business tensions threaten to undo them. Then an avalanche hits, trapping them — and co-workers start disappearing one at a time. As you read, you’ll be shivering from more than just the cold.
A wedding celebration off the coast of Ireland turns deadly in this thrilling New York Times bestseller and Reese Witherspoon book club pick. With nods to Agatha Christie, the story follows the couple exchanging vows alongside a bridesmaid, groomsmen, and wedding planner who, behind their well wishes, hide secrets and resentments — and, for at least one of them, the impulse to kill.
Mystery Trope #2: Nosy reporter
Journalists are determined to discover the truth, which often means sticking their nose where others think it doesn’t belong. The mysteries here feature a journalist who puts her own life on the line to find out what’s really going on, including disgraced or former journalists who remain steadfast in their pursuit of justice.
At a conference for Black journalists, reporter Alex finds the fresh corpse of a colleague about to be named Journalist of the Year. Will investigating the suspicious death help her discover what happened — or only lead to more murder? You’ll be hooked by this mystery written by NPR senior correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates.
After losing her career in television news, disgraced reporter Jane finds herself investigating a scandal involving the United States Senate. Her path collides with Jake, a detective on the hunt for a serial killer. As they realize they’re working the same case, Jane discovers what she’s learning could get her killed.
Lana swapped journalism for java when she went to work at a small-town Florida coffee shop. But when a former barista ends up dead, Lana is determined to find the real killer — and clear her own name — in this cozy mystery sprinkled with a cast of colorful suspects, a dash of romance, and a generous scoop of Florida humor.
Mystery Trope #3: Stately Home
Why should horror novels get to have all the haunted houses? In the mysteries and thrillers below, the buildings may be haunted by deadly secrets instead of ghosts, but they all offer the trope of a creepy home that’s obviously hiding a dark past. We can’t wait to see what’s under these floorboards.
In this unsettling New York Times bestseller, 25-year-old Libby inherits an incredible London mansion with a bloody past. When she was found as a baby, the mansion’s downstairs contained three dead bodies, a note, and no sign of the other children. Now, as Libby digs into her family’s sordid past, the truth about what happened will chill her — and readers — to the bone.
Book lovers will flock to this story about Susan, an editor for troublesome crime novelist Alan. As Susan reads his latest mystery set at a manor house, she becomes convinced there’s a disturbing truth to the story he tells. Named a best book of the year by NPR, The Washington Post, and others, this mystery will keep you riveted as you unravel the story alongside Susan.
Ellie and Ash are happy to move into an old home in the Norfolk countryside next to a kind-hearted neighbor. But soon Ellie becomes suspicious of the home — and even her beloved Ash. Something strange happened to the people who lived there before, and her puppy is too curious about the cellar. Pro tip: Keep the lights on while you’re reading this.
Mystery Trope #4: Everybody did it
Discovering whodunit in a mystery is never more complex than when the suspect is basically everyone. The three stories below feature a cast of characters that could all be suspects for a variety of reasons. Within each mystery, the suspense builds as suspects are eliminated (or killed), clues are followed, and the ultimate culprit is finally revealed.
After returning home to work at her family’s Chinese restaurant, Lana must balance waitressing with sleuthing when the restaurant’s property manager is killed. Mr. Feng’s death was caused by eating shrimp dumplings while having a deadly shellfish allergy, leading Lana to suspect one of the staff. But who? Served with a side of romance, you’ll love watching this multi-suspect mystery unfold.
A mystery where the suspects are all in a book club? Sign us up. When a corpse is found in Cambridge, the bloody trail leads back to a book club of friends who are hiding secrets and tensions behind their book banter. You’ll be side-eyeing each of the members as the detectives determine if one of them is really a murderer.
Bronwyn runs an ice cream shop in charming Chagrin Falls, Minnesota. But when a bitter former festival queen dies at the annual Harvest Time Festival, Bronwyn’s tasty treats are to blame. Can she discover who got tired of the dead woman’s attitude? Filled with mouth-watering ice cream dishes and a heroine you’ll root for, this is one mystery you’ll be licking up.
Mystery Trope #5: Unsympathetic victim
They’re mean, they’re unlikeable, and they’re soon to be dead. When the murder victim in a mystery turns out to be greedy, mean, or otherwise disliked in a community, it makes guessing the killer that much harder. A cousin of the “everybody did it” trope, there are murderous motivations aplenty here, enough to keep readers wondering until the final pages.
When an aging actress steals Nana Jo’s part in the retirement village play, bookstore owner and mystery writer Sam must clear her grandmother’s name of the crime. But discovering a murder among the dead actress’s lies and secrets is harder than it looks. If you like dogs, witty elders, and mysteries set in bookstores, you’ll enjoy guessing the culprit in this cozy tale.
When a cheating husband dies in an accident involving a tractor, horseshoer Rainy suspects foul play. Did his wife know about his extramarital habits? Did someone else? Rainy, her friends, and her crew of pets follow the clues to the killer. With its rural Oregon backdrop and unconventional main character, Dead Blow is one ride you’ll be ready to saddle up for.
Hailed as “a tempting feast that should satisfy all fans” by Publishers Weekly, this novel starts with the murder of an irritating celebrity cookbook author who comes to a small Minnesota town — and is found dead with one of local baker Hannah’s muffins in her mouth. Now Hannah must find the person she dissed one too many times so she can use her crime scene of a kitchen before the winter carnival.
About the Author: G.G. Andrew
G.G. is a freelance writer and author of romance and women's fiction, including the short story "Everything Left Unsaid" in the collection A Million Ways: Stories of Motherhood. A Texas transplant, she lives outside Houston with her husband and two sons, both of whom are on the autism spectrum. In her spare time, she enjoys browsing bookstores, yoga, paper crafts, cooking, genealogy, and anything related to Halloween. She's probably drinking tea right now.