The best classic crime novels

If you're a crime aficionado, these are the classic mysteries and crime novels you need to read.

A motive. A crime. Secrets. Lies. Suspects. The twists and turns. We all know the makings of a good crime novel, but what elevates 'good' to 'classic'? We've listed some of our favourite classic crime books for those looking to get lost in mystery.

If you're after more current crime fiction books, that haven't yet reached 'classic' status, we've also got you covered.

The Daughter of Time

by Josephine Tey

Book cover for The Daughter of Time

Voted the top crime novel of all time by the UK Crime Writers’ Association, The Daughter of Time is Josephine Tey’s last and most successful book. Inspector Alan Grant is laid up in hospital with a spinal injury and he’s bored. Renowned for his ability to read a face, he passes the time looking at old portraits and one which particularly grabs his attention is of Richard III, the supposed arch villain who killed his own nephews, ‘the princes in the tower’. But Grant doesn’t accept the face in the portrait is the face of a villain so he sets out to investigate what really happened. 

The Franchise Affair

by Josephine Tey

Book cover for The Franchise Affair

For fans of true crime and of classic crime fiction, The Franchise Affair is a gripping thriller, based on a true story, featuring detective Alan Grant and a masterful exposé of the powerful connections between media, the establishment and what people choose to believe. Fifteen-year-old Betty Kane has never put a foot wrong. Naturally, everyone is shocked and horrified to hear her story – that she was kidnapped, tortured and held prisoner by Marion Sharpe and her elderly mother, owners of the mysterious old house, The Franchise. But are the two women really guilty of such a horrendous crime? 

Malice Aforethought

by Francis Iles

Book cover for Malice Aforethought

Malice Aforethought is one of the earliest, and finest, examples of the inverted detective story – not a whodunit but a will he get away with it? Dr Edmund Bickleigh is a seemingly genteel doctor who can no longer tolerate his insufferable wife in the face of his growing passion for the mysterious Madeline Cranmere. He resolves to murder his wife, but will he get caught? Set in stuffy 1920s England and told from the perspective of the devious Dr Bickleigh himself, Malice Aforethought is impeccably plotted and darkly comic.

Brighton Rock

by Graham Greene

Book cover for Brighton Rock

Set among the seaside amusements and dilapidated boarding houses of Brighton’s pre-war underworld, Brighton Rock is both a gritty thriller and a study of a soul in torment. Pinkie Brown, a neurotic teenage gangster, commits a brutal murder – but it does not go unnoticed. Rose, a naive waitress at a rundown cafe, has the power to destroy his crucial alibi, and Ida Arnold, a woman bursting with easy certainties about what is right and wrong, has made it her mission to bring about justice and redemption. A classic of modern literature, it maps out the strange border between piety and savagery. 

Classic Locked Room Mysteries

by David Stuart Davies

Book cover for Classic Locked Room Mysteries

"How dunnit" rather than "who dunnit"; the crucial question behind any locked room mystery. Locked-room mysteries reached their height of popularity in the Victorian and Edwardian eras; this collection, edited and introduced by David Stuart Davies, brings together stories from such masters of the genre as Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and G. K. Chesterton. In each story the reader is invited to play detective and is presented with a challenge: can you solve the mystery before the solution is revealed?

Tales of Mystery and Imagination

by Edgar Allan Poe

Book cover for Tales of Mystery and Imagination

This collection of Poe's work contains some of the most exciting and haunting stories ever written. They range from the poetic to the mysterious to the darkly comic, yet all possess the genius for the grotesque that defines Poe's writing. They are peopled with neurotics and social outcasts, obsessed with nameless terrors or preoccupied with seemingly unsolvable mysteries. Collectively, these tales represent the best of Edgar Allan Poe's prose work before his premature death in 1849.

The Best of Sherlock Holmes

by Arthur Conan Doyle

Book cover for The Best of Sherlock Holmes

A list of classic crime novels is not complete without Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Showcasing the legendary, unparalleled sleuth at his best this collection is perfect to get lost in. Follow Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as they pit their wits against 'Napoleon of Crime' Professor Moriarty; assist European royalty threatened by disgrace; and solve the mysterious death of a young woman due to be married. This edition features an afterword by David Stuart Davies, and accompanying each tale are Sidney Paget's fantastic original illustrations from The Strand magazine.

The Tiger in the Smoke

by Margery Allingham

Book cover for The Tiger in the Smoke

A dark, taut psychological thriller by queen of crime, Margery Allingham, featuring an introduction by the New York Times bestselling author of detective fiction, Sara Paretsky. Jack Havoc, jail-breaker and knife artist, is on the loose on the streets of London once again. In the faded squares of shabby houses, in the furtive alleys and darkened pubs, the word is out that the Tiger is back in town, more vicious and cunning than ever. It falls to private detective Albert Campion to pit his wits against the killer and hunt him down through the city's November smog before it is too late.

The Way Through the Woods

by Colin Dexter

Book cover for The Way Through the Woods

A search for a beautiful young Swedish woman who went missing a year earlier is reopened after an anonymous riddle, in the form of a five-stanza poem, is sent to the police. The police ask The Times for help with the poem, as Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis are put in charge of the new investigation. First published in 1992, The Way Through the Woods strikes the perfect balance between the best of Colin Dexter's cantankerous detective, and the character as portrayed in the television adaptation. Ingenious and affecting, this modern crime novel will endure as a classic of the genre.

The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor

by Cameron McCabe

Book cover for The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor

An extraordinary post-modern detective novel from an author who remained a mystery for decades. 1930s King's Cross, London. When an aspiring actress is found dead on the cutting-room floor of a film studio, Cameron McCabe finds himself at the centre of a police investigation. As more people around him die, McCabe begins to perform his own amateur sleuth-work. But then, abruptly, McCabe’s account ends . . . Who is Cameron McCabe? And if not McCabe, who is the author of The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor?

A Little Local Murder

by Robert Barnard

Book cover for A Little Local Murder

This classic small-town murder mystery has everything you could ask from a cosy crime novel. A radio documentary on the small village of Twytching provokes a fierce rivalry among the villagers. Inspector George Parrish is keen to stay out of all the fuss until the murder of one of the villagers and a rash of poison pen letters uncovering secrets about Twytching's leading citizens forces him to get involved. Robert Barnard's ability to prepare the reader for the totally unexpected, combined with his incisive character portrayal, makes A Little Local Murder an early gem of detective fiction. 

Murder on the Orient Express

by Agatha Christie

Book cover for Murder on the Orient Express

When one thinks of classic crime, it's hard not to think of Agatha Christie, and Murder on the Orient Express is probably her most famous murder mystery. A train journey is delayed by thick snow. So when a passenger on the train is found murdered in his bed, it is the perfect opportunity for Agatha Christie's famous detective, Hercule Poirot, to prove his ability and solve the crime using the power of his brain. Now also a major movie, Murder on the Orient Express is a must-read for all fans of classic crime. 

In Cold Blood

by Truman Capote

Book cover for In Cold Blood

Controversial and compelling, In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and both their children. Truman Capote's comprehensive study of the killings and subsequent investigation explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime and the effect it had on those involved. At the centre of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, who, vividly drawn by Capote, are shown to be reprehensible yet entirely and frighteningly human.

Strangers On A Train

by Patricia Highsmith

Book cover for Strangers On A Train

Strangers on a Train encounters Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno, passengers on the same train. But while Guy is a successful architect in the midst of a divorce, Bruno turns out to be a sadistic psychopath who manipulates Guy into swapping murders with him. "Some people are better off dead," Bruno remarks, "like your wife and my father, for instance." As Bruno carries out his twisted plan, Guy is trapped in Highsmith's perilous world, where, under the right circumstances, anybody is capable of murder.

The Big Sleep

by Raymond Chandler

Book cover for The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep is Raymond Chandler's first novel featuring laconic PI Philip Marlowe. Los Angeles Private Investigator Philip Marlowe is hired by wheelchair-bound General Sternwood to discover who is blackmailing him. A broken, weary old man, Sternwood just wants Marlowe to make the problem go away. However, with Sternwood's two wild, devil-may-care daughters prowling LA's seedy backstreets, Marlowe's got his work cut out. And that's before he stumbles over the first corpse.

The Long Good-bye

by Phillip Marlowe

Book cover for The Long Good-bye

Another classic novel by Raymond Chandler, the master of hard-boiled crime, The Long Good-Bye is the sixth novel featuring laconic PI Philip Marlowe. Marlowe befriends a down-on-his-luck war veteran with the scars to prove it. Then he finds out that Terry Lennox has a very wealthy nymphomaniac wife, who he's divorced and re-married and who ends up dead. And now Lennox is on the lam and the cops and a crazy gangster are after Marlowe . . . Will he escape and solve the mystery?