18 Top Mystery Writers Of All Time

Curl up with a good detective story or murder mystery by checking out these top mystery writers.

When it comes to books that keep people guessing, mystery fiction is at the top of the list. Some writers seem to have a knack for writing mystery novels that are real page-turners. If you are a fan of this type of writing, you will want to check out the works of some of these authors.

Whether you are looking for a classic detective story or like something a little more edgy and thrilling, you will find an author on this list that fits the need. Stock your bookshelf with these top mystery writers, and enjoy the books that have thrilled millions of readers before you.

Many of the below are also crime thriller authors of note. From the antics of Sherlock Holmes to the detective work of Jack Reacher, here are the top 16 mystery writers that you will want to look for on Amazon.

Top mystery writers

1. Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie via Wikipedia, Public Domain

A discussion of the best mystery writers usually starts with Agatha Christie. She is the best-selling author of all time, with 66 mystery books under her name. Some of her most famous works include:

Her books feature well-known characters like Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot, and her play The Mousetrap is the longest-running in the history of theater. She is known for keeping her readers and audience guessing as to who did it until the very end. Check out our guide to the best Agatha Christie books.

“In the midst of life, we are in death.”

Agatha Christie

2. P.D. James

P.D. James
P.D. James via Wikipedia, Public Domain

P.D. James, who also wrote under the name Phyllis Dorothy James White, was a British mystery writer who created the character of Dalgliesh, a master detective who solves crimes with an introspective personality. Some of her most famous novels include:

She also wrote a series of non-fiction books that explored real-life true mystery stories.

“If people died in your house the least you could do was to attend the funeral.”

P.D. James

3. Thomas Harris

The creator of the infamous serial killer Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris, deserves a spot on this list of mystery authors. Many of his books are now major motion pictures, and The Silence of the Lambs swept the Academy Awards. Some of Harris’s most famous books include:

These books fall under the suspense novel and psychological thriller category of mystery novels.

“Fear comes with imagination, it’s a penalty, it’s the price of imagination.”

Thomas Harris

4. Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier
Daphne du Maurier via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Daphne du Maurier rose to fame as a mystery writer when Alfred Hitchcock made a film based on her short story “The Birds” and her novel Rebecca. When she first published her books, critics did not take her seriously, but today her genius is well-recognized. Some of the most famous books by du Maurier include:

What makes du Maurier’s books so enduring is her ability to build tension throughout the story while shrowding some characters in never-ending mystery. She is also responsible for one of the most famous quotes in the genre: 

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Daphne du Maurier

5. Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett
Dashiell Hammett via Wikipedia, Public Domain

If your idea of a good mystery is a detective novel, then Dashiell Hammet is an author you’ll want to explore. He created several characters that have stood the test of time, including Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, and the Continental Op. Some of his top books include:

Hammett has earned credit for launching the hard-boiled detective fiction genre. 

“He looked rather pleasantly, like a blonde Satan.”

Dashiell Hammett

6. James Patterson

James Patterson
James Patterson via Wikipedia, Public Domain

James Patterson is a modern mystery writer who has over 380 million books sold around the world. He has the Guinness World Record for the most New York Times Bestsellers. He is well-known for thriller novels and has also dabbled in young adult fiction. Some of Patterson’s most famous works include:

Passionate about helping children love to read, he launched ReadKiddoRead.com, a website designed to spark a love for reading with kids. You may also like our James Patterson Masterclass review.

“I never miss a good chance to shut up”

James Patterson

7. Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell
Ruth Rendell via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Ruth Rendell, who sometimes wrote under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, writes psychological crime novels. Many of her books focus on domestic violence and family issues while also highlighting the plight of women in society. Some of her most famous works include:

She is famous for creating Chief Inspector Wexford as one of her murder mystery novel characters.

“You’re supposed to be a detective. Well, detect.”

Ruth Rendell

8. Truman Capote

Truman Capote
Truman Capote via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Truman Capote is a famous American writer who has several books that are considered literary classics today. Not all of his books are mystery books, but some are, earning him a spot on this list. He got his start writing short stories for The New Yorker. Some of his most famous works include:

At least 20 films and television shows have Capote’s books as their primary source.

9. Stieg Larsson

Though he only has three main works to his name, Stieg Larsson remains a top suspense and mystery writer. This Swedish writer also left behind some unpublished manuscripts for thriller books when he died. His most famous works include:

Originally published in Swedish, his books have since been translated into many languages and have sold 80 million copies globally.

“What she had realized was that love was that moment when your heart was about to burst.”

Stieg Larsson

10. Stephen King

Stephen King
Stephen King, author of numerous famous mystery books

The name Stephen King is synonymous with horror and mystery books. The prolific author has over 350 million copies of his books in print, and multiple books are now major motion pictures. In 2007 he was named Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, and in 2015, he earned a National Medal of Arts from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts due to his many contributions to literature. Some of the King of Horror’s best-selling books include:

King has a few pseudonyms he used throughout his career, including Richard Bachman, John Swithen , and Beryl Evans. Check out our guide to the best-selling Stephen King books.

“Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters.”

Stephen King

11. Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers was a British author who published her works in the early 1900s. She created the character Lord Peter Wimsey, an amateur sleuth who finds himself caught up in a variety of murder experiences. Some of her most famous works include:

In addition to mystery novels, Sayers wrote short stories and plays.

“Even idiots occasionally speak the truth accidentally.”

Dorothy L. Sayers

12. Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Gillian Flynn is an American author who has four novels under her belt. A competent storyteller, Flynn has the potential to bring even more thriller and mystery books to the literary world in the future. Her book Gone Girl is now a major motion picture. Her three novels include:

In 2007 Gone Girl was on the shortlist for the Best First Novel by an American Writer award from the Mystery Writers of America.

“There’s something disturbing about recalling a warm memory and feeling utterly cold.”  

Gillian Flynn

13. Lee Child

Lee Child
Lee Child via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Lee Child earned instant success with his first book, Killing Floor, which introduced the famous character of Jack Reacher, a roaming former military man who finds many opportunities to investigate criminal acts. Because of his success, he continued to write crime novels, and eventually, his character made it to the big screen in a movie starring Tom Cruise. Some of the most popular Jack Reacher novels include:

Currently, Child has written 26 Jack Reacher novels.

“I’m not a vagrant. I’m a hobo. Big difference.”

Lee Child

14. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle via Wikipedia, Public Domain

The creator of investigator Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, has a well-earned spot on the list of top mystery writers. 

Today, the word “Sherlock” is synonymous with a detective, and this is due to the immense popularity of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle.

“What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence. The question is what can you make people believe you have done.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

15. Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane
Dennis Lehane via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Dennis Lehane is famous for his mysteries that follow Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, two protagonists who solve mysteries together. Four of his books have become motion pictures. Lehane earned the Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel in 1995. Some of his most popular works include:

In addition to his mysteries, Lehane published a historical fiction novel The Given Day, in 2008.

“There are threads in our lives. You pull one, and everything else gets affected.”

Dennis Lehane

16. Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Few writers are as synonymous with suspense as Edgar Allan Poe. He does not write “whodunit” style books but is often called the creator of the science fiction and detective story genres. His tales are filled with imagination, morbidity, mystery , and a bit of terror. Some famous works of Poe’s include:

Most of Poe’s works are short stories and poems.

“And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses?” 

Edgar Allan Poe

17. John Grisham

John Grisham
John Grisham via Wikipedia, Public Domain

John Grisham’s take on the mystery book is to go beyond the detective and police officer and write from the perspective of a criminal defense or personal injury litigator. His books are known as legal thrillers, and he pulls from his own experience as a lawyer practicing in Mississippi. Southern settings weave their way into his mystery novels. Some of his most famous books include:

Many Grisham novels share their titles and plots with famous motion pictures, and Grisham is still publishing books today. 

“The theory was simple: If a man had enough sense to accumulate a bunch of cash, then he would certainly make a worthy U.S senator.”

John Grisham

18. Tana French

Tana French is another New York Times bestselling author. This Dublin native earned the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction and the Los Angeles Times Award for Best Mystery/Thriller. She came onto the mystery novel scene somewhat quietly but earned international acclaim since the publication of her first novel. Some of her most famous works, which are a mixture of police procedural and psychological thriller novels, include:

Her books often take place in Dublin, where she lives, which adds interest to the settings.

“I am not good at noticing when I’m happy, except in retrospect.”

Tana French

A Final Word on Top Mystery Authors

Mystery books and stories are popular because they keep the reader engaged and guessing via plot twists. The best murder mystery writers know how to keep enough details from the reader, so the ending is a complete surprise.

If you are a fan of this genre, you will find there are many must-read authors out there. From classics like Edgar Allan Poe to modern writers like Grisham and Patterson, you can fill your bookshelf with mystery fiction and always have a great story to read when you have some time to yourself.

FAQs on Top Mystery Writers

Who are the best mystery writers today?

The best modern mystery writers include  John Grisham, James Patterson, and Stephen King. 

Who are the best mystery authors?

Throughout literary history, some mystery authors have stood out. These include Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Allan Poe.

Who are the top cozy mystery writers?

Some of the best cozy mystery writers are Agatha Christie, Janice Hallett, Anthony Horowitz and Richard Osman. In The Guardian, SJ Bennett states that with the ‘cozy crime’ genre, “we spend our time… among communities who, despite their differences, ultimately trust each other and get along.”

Who are the top British mystery writers?

The best British mystery writers include Martina Cole, Ian Rankin, Agatha Christie, P. D. James
Ruth Rendell, Arthur Conan Doyle and Nicci French. Of course, that is just to name a few. Britain has an excellent history of wonderful writers and continues to produce brilliant mystery writers today. Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None is the world’s best-selling mystery novel, with more than 100 million copies sold.

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  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.