11 Hands-Down Favorites from a Bestselling Mystery Writer

May 17 2016

Maybe it’s being a writer or working with books, but I’m always being asked for my “must-read” recommendations. Every time I struggle to pin it down to just one or two titles, the more so because I’ve always been an eclectic reader. So it’s a huge pleasure to be invited to pick not just one, two, or even three top reads, but a whole list of favorites for Off the Shelf.

These are the most dog-eared books on my shelves, the ones that have been read and reread over the course of years, sometimes decades. Some of them are thought-provoking, some elegiac, some chilling, and others are pure comfort reads, the book equivalent of wrapping yourself in a cozy duvet, but they all have one thing in common—they’re books I’d whole-heartedly recommend to readers of almost any age.

Ruth Ware is the bestselling author of IN A DARK, DARK WOOD, THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10, and THE LYING GAME.

Love in a Cold Climate
by Nancy Mitford

Some writers you return to again and again, and for me, Nancy Mitford is one of them. I love all her novels, but LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE has a special place in my heart as the one I read first—a quintessentially English mix of comedy and briskly unsentimental tragedy.

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Love in a Cold Climate
Nancy Mitford

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My Cousin Rachel
by Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier is best known for her masterpiece in toxic love, REBECCA, but this story of Philip Ashley’s obsessive infatuation with the enigmatic Rachel is just as compulsive. Is Rachel a grieving widow or a murderess? The reader can only watch as the truth unravels.

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My Cousin Rachel
Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier is best known for her masterpiece in toxic love, REBECCA, but this story of Philip Ashley’s obsessive infatuation with the enigmatic Rachel is just as compulsive. Is Rachel a grieving widow or a murderess? The reader can only watch as the truth unravels.

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Cold Comfort Farm
by Stella Gibbons

For laugh-out-loud comedy, you can’t beat Stella Gibbons’s effortless skewering of the earnest literary pretensions of melodramatic twentieth-century novelists. Can briskly efficient socialite Flora Poste sort out her hopeless family relations, moldering away in the country at Cold Comfort Farm?

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Cold Comfort Farm
Stella Gibbons

For laugh-out-loud comedy, you can’t beat Stella Gibbons’s effortless skewering of the earnest literary pretensions of melodramatic twentieth-century novelists. Can briskly efficient socialite Flora Poste sort out her hopeless family relations, moldering away in the country at Cold Comfort Farm?

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The Tombs of Atuan
by Ursula K. Le Guin

Often shelved as YA, Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea novels trace the life of Ged, from a young magician-in-training to an old man. All are wonderful, but as a teen, it was ATUAN, with its imperious, courageous heroine, the child-priestess Tenar, that spoke to me.

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The Tombs of Atuan
Ursula K. Le Guin

Often shelved as YA, Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea novels trace the life of Ged, from a young magician-in-training to an old man. All are wonderful, but as a teen, it was ATUAN, with its imperious, courageous heroine, the child-priestess Tenar, that spoke to me.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo

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And Then There Were None
by Agatha Christie

Twelve strangers, trapped on a luxurious island retreat, being picked off one by one by an unseen killer. What’s not to like? If that’s not enough, there’s also a cracking BBC adaptation starring Aidan Turner and Maeve Dermody. You’re welcome.

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And Then There Were None
Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie might be the most famous mystery writer in the world, with a massive fan base and lasting legacy. Her family has given author Sophie Hannah full support to release a new story of Christie's famous character, Poirot. AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, Christie’s most popular work, is a now classic mystery and the perfect introduction to the author’s books.

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The Complete Claudine
by Colette

The quartet of Claudine novels follows the coming-of-age of a girl not unlike Colette herself, growing up in rural France and eventually moving to Paris as a young wife. Rich, sensuous, and full of an almost unbearable nostalgia, they are wonderfully escapist reading.

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The Complete Claudine
Colette

The quartet of Claudine novels follows the coming-of-age of a girl not unlike Colette herself, growing up in rural France and eventually moving to Paris as a young wife. Rich, sensuous, and full of an almost unbearable nostalgia, they are wonderfully escapist reading.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

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The Secret History
by Donna Tartt

The slow crumbling of apparently unassailable privilege is always fascinating to watch, and Donna Tartt’s genius is to take us inside the ivory tower itself, from the perspective of envious outsider Richard Papen. But the murder is only the beginning. . .

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The Secret History
Donna Tartt

If your favorite character is Jonathan Byers

The misunderstood, unhappy kid who yearns for an East Coast college where he can forget his modest upbringing and meet sufficiently interesting friends? Sounds like Richard Papen, the narrator of Donna Tartt’s first novel, THE SECRET HISTORY.

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Brat Farrar
by Josephine Tey

Josephine Tey’s THE DAUGHTER OF TIME is justly celebrated, but this story of Brat Farrar, an imposter come to cheat an unassuming family out of their inheritance, deserves to be better known. As with her other novels, this is crisp, intelligent, and beautifully plotted crime.

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Brat Farrar
Josephine Tey

Josephine Tey’s THE DAUGHTER OF TIME is justly celebrated, but this story of Brat Farrar, an imposter come to cheat an unassuming family out of their inheritance, deserves to be better known. As with her other novels, this is crisp, intelligent, and beautifully plotted crime.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo

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My Brilliant Friend
by Elena Ferrante

The first in another quartet, this time translated from Italian, The Neapolitan Novels follows the lives of two friends, Lila and Lenu, from girlhood to adulthood, as their lives intersect and diverge and they struggle to escape their roots.

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My Brilliant Friend
Elena Ferrante

Stuart’s Fictional Dinner Party Guests: Elena and Lila

I’d like to host a dinner with an eye on close friendships. Friendships are fascinating because they are the one relationship in life that you aren’t required to be in because of birth or bound to by law. Those in attendance would ideally have a multiple-decade friendship like Elena and Lila of MY BRILLIANT FRIEND. And even though he’s not fictional, I’d love for my best friend to be sitting at the table, too.

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A WWII Historical Novel of Hope and Resistance to Light Up the Darkness

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I Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith

Dodie Smith is better known for her THE 101 DALMATIANS, but I much prefer this wistful, romantic, yet unsentimental coming-of-age story. I read it first as a teen, but it has stood reading and rereading into my twenties and thirties, and I hope beyond.

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I Capture the Castle
Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle's walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle"--and the heart of the reader--in one of literature's most enchanting entertainments.

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The Leopard
by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa

One of my desert island books, THE LEOPARD is not so much a novel as a eulogy for a way of life and a Sicily that was already lost by the time Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa was writing. Simply beautifully written (and translated), this is a book everyone should read.

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The Leopard
Giuseppe Di Lampedusa

One of my desert island books, THE LEOPARD is not so much a novel as a eulogy for a way of life and a Sicily that was already lost by the time Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa was writing. Simply beautifully written (and translated), this is a book everyone should read.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

9 Festive Books We Always Read to Get Into the Holiday Spirit

By Off the Shelf Staff | December 1, 2020

The 10 Most Popular Books We Escaped Into This November

By Off the Shelf Staff | November 30, 2020

A WWII Historical Novel of Hope and Resistance to Light Up the Darkness

By Holly Claytor | November 27, 2020

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By Maddie Ehrenreich | November 26, 2020

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5 Workplace Thrillers to Make You Miss Your Office (or Not!)

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Close

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