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Top mystery authors of all time

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Infographics

8 min read

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Mystery authors have been turning pages since the early 19th century, be it with an old fashioned whodunnit or an edgy, fast-paced thriller. Throughout the years, these writers have inspired gripping art, cult-classic films, and of course, theatre. 

Theatres and their audiences love the drama of a nail-biting mystery. Exciting Blackpool upcoming events include a West End mystery production written by the best-selling fiction writer of all time, Agatha Christie. In this ultimate list of mystery authors, we’ll look at the best writers of all time and how their detective fiction, murder mysteries, and crime novels are still a big part of our culture today.

 

Buy tickets for The Mousetrap

 

Top 19th Century Mystery Writers

 

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When reading mystery novels, it’s sometimes best to start with the classics. Not only have these authors paved the way for more contemporary writers, but they have also created works that continue to make an impact in entertainment to this day. Image (C) Blackpool Grand Theatre (June 2022)

 

Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1839)

Edgar Allen Poe is best known for his dark poems and gothic short stories like The Raven and The Fall of the House of Usher. We often associate him with grim tales and horror literature. However, this American author is also known as the father and inventor of detective fiction. 

 

The first detective mystery written in the English language is recognised as Poe’s short story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue. This story follows the Parisian detective C. Auguste Dupin as he tries to solve the brutal murder of two women. 

 

Poe wrote two more short stories with this character (The Purloined Letter and The Mystery of Marie Rogêt), and these stories were the first to create that classic crime-solving duo: a brilliant detective and their narrating personal friend. These stories inspired other classic authors to try their hand in the detective mystery genre, such as Charles Dickens with his novel Bleak House

 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)

Sherlock Holmes is quite possibly the most famous detective in literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first introduced this enigmatic character to the world in the late 19th century with the novel, A Scandal in Bohemia. Doyle wrote 56 short stories and four novels centred around Sherlock and his sidekick, Dr John Watson. 

 

These crime dramas are as popular as they were when first published, and they continue to work their way into modern television, film, and art to this day. 

Our top picks for Sir Arthur Canon Doyle mystery novels:

  • A Study in Scarlet
  • The Hounds of the Baskervilles
  • And the Sign of the Four

 

Agatha Christie (1890- 1976)

As we mentioned above, Agatha Christie is the best-selling fiction author of all time, outsold by only Shakespeare. Her mystery novel, And Then There Were None, has sold over 100 million copies, and her stage play, The Mousetrap, holds the world record for the longest initial run. It has been performed more than 27,500 times and is the world’s longest-running play. 

 

Buy tickets for The Mousetrap

 

Agatha Christie is well known for mystery novels that keep you guessing until the very end. Her books centre around quirky protagonists, such as Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple, and the murders that they solve. These books have made their way into film countless times, with the most recent adaptation in 2022 based on Christie’s Death on the Nile

 

For more on Agatha Christie, see our favourite Agatha Christie books, learn about her real-life mystery, and sneak a peek into her storyline process in our blog, Decoding Agatha Christie. 

 

Blackpool Grand Theatre will be performing The Mousetrap in June 2023. Click here for everything you need to know about this genre-defying murder mystery.   

 

You can buy tickets for The Mousetrap at Blackpool Grand Theatre here. 

 

Top 20th Century Mystery Authors

As the above classic authors set the standard for mystery novels, 20th Century writers discovered new ways to tear into the genre. They expanded detective fiction, making it more gritty, true-to-life, and thrilling well into the 21st century.    

 

P.D. James (1920–2014)

Readers were first introduced to Scotland Yard’s Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh in 1962 with P.D. James’s debut novel, Cover Her Face. James was working in a London hospital when she first began to write this story, following an introspective sleuth and his investigations into the hidden resentments of an English countryside manor. 

 

James went on to write 14 Dalgliesh mysteries. However, she is also well-known for a non-fiction series that dug into mysteries surrounding real people and true stories.

 

See our favourite literary crime fighters here

 

Ruth Rendell (1930–2015)

Ruth Rendell is a British mystery writer famous for psychological murder mysteries and crime thrillers. Many of her novels probe into the minds of criminals and their backgrounds through the eyes of her legendary detective, Chief Inspector Wexford.   

 

Ruth Rendell also sometimes wrote under the pseudonym Barbara Vine. Under this name, she published award-winning novels such as A Dark-Adapted Eye, which was a serious and analytical mystery surrounding a family’s secrets during World War II. 

 

Her other novels explore topics such as domestic violence, family issues, and women’s rights.  

 

 John Le Carré (1931–2020)

John Le Carré shifted his mystery novels away from classic detective plots and pulled his readers deep into the world of spies and espionage. He himself worked for both MI5 and MI6 during the 50s and 60s, and he wrote his first two novels while currently working for the Secret Intelligence Service. Carré finally retired from MI6 to become a full-time author after the international success of his third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. 

 

Our top picks of John Le Carré’s espionage thrillers: 

 

  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • The Little Drummer Girl
  • The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

 

Top Contemporary Mystery Authors

Contemporary authors have taken up the mystery mantle by consistently delivering riveting novels that keep readers on the edge of their seats. Some of these modern authors, such as Stephen King and James Patterson, have sold hundreds of millions of copies of their books. 

 

Stephen King

No top mystery author list would be complete without Stephen King. He may be referred to as the King of Horror, but Stephen King is also renowned for his crime fiction and has even received the 2007 Grand Master Award for Mystery Writers of America. 

 

King’s crime novels explore the genre through hard cases (The Colorado Kid and Joyland) conspiracy thrillers (The Dead Zone),  and gritty prison-noir (Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile).  

 

Many of Stephen King’s stories have been adapted for film and the stage. The most recent adaptation is set to arrive on the big screens this September as the American horror film, Salem’s Lot

 

See our favourite book-to-film adaptations here.

 

John Grisham

John Grisham is another one of those modern mystery writers who can do no wrong. He is responsible for 28 consecutive number one fiction bestsellers and has sold over 300 million copies worldwide. Many of his novels have been adapted into successful films such as The Pelican Brief and The Rainmaker

 

Grisham’s novels are known as “legal thrillers”, looking beyond investigations and detectives and often writing from the perspective of a criminal defence lawyer. His experience as an attorney-turned-author has led him to write some of the most popular crime novels such as A Time to Kill, The Firm, and The Last Juror

 

James Patterson

James Patterson pulled the mystery genre into the 21st Century by being the first person to sell over one million e-books. He is one of the highest-paid authors with books that have sold more than 400 million copies in total. 

 

Patterson has written fiction for all ages, including adult novels, young adult fiction, and even books for children. His most popular mystery novel series, Alex Cross, follows a widowed detective who balances solving cases, fighting criminals, and maintaining a relationship with his family. 

Our top picks for James Patterson mystery: 

 

  • The Alex Cross series
  • Women’s Murder Club series
  • Michael Bennett series

Buy tickets for The Mousetrap

 

Lee Child

This modern British mystery author is famous for crime fiction, thrillers, and his American, former military, policeman character, Jack Reacher. His Jack Reacher series has consistently provided new action-packed novels every year since 1997, and they have found their way to the big screen featuring A-list actors such as Tom Cruise.  

 

Lee Child’s first introduced Jack Reacher in the novel Killing Floor, and other popular Jack Reacher novels include The Enemy and One Shot

 

Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn is a newer novelist most well known for her 2012 crime thriller Gone Girl. This novel topped the New York Times Bestseller list for eight weeks straight and led to the 2014 blockbuster film with a script that was also written by Flynn. 

 

This mystery author has so far published three novels and one short story, and each have found incredible individual success. Sharp Objects, a Southern Gothic thriller, has been adapted into a critically acclaimed HBO television series, and Dark Places, a mystery novel surrounding Satanic cult hysteria, has also been adapted into an A-list film. 

Want more mystery? Explore our blog for more recommendations and a look into how the mystery genre is conveyed on stage. Check out our upcoming shows in Blackpool, including Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap showing at Blackpool Grand Theatre next year!

 

#IDUNNIT – Tour Information www.mousetrapontour.co.uk/

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