Detective kit laid out on table

Literary Sleuths I’d Trust to Solve My Murder

Sara Roncero-Menendez
November 3 2020

No one likes to imagine themselves the victim of a grisly murder, even a fictional one. Still, to start every murder mystery, there has to be (or at least pretend to be) a murder victim. And while it’s much more fun to pretend to be the elegant heiress or the soldier with a secret, if you were at the center of a mysterious mauling, who would you want to help solve your crime?

Having done the research, I’ve collected several ace gumshoes from various genres I’d want on the case in the event of my untimely demise. From supernaturally gifted to just plain supernatural, here are the literary sleuths I’ll want on the hunt for my killer.

The Tenant
by Katrine Engberg

Being a muse sounds romantic, but maybe not when you end up the murder victim in someone else’s story. And then end up being murdered yourself while living in the house with the book’s author. That’s what ends up happening to Julie Stender, a young woman who lives as a tenant in the home of retired professor Esther de Laurenti, who is writing a novel where a Julie look-alike is killed. If you’re ever the victim in a garden-variety case of “stranger than fiction” murder, you’ll need Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Kørner and Anette Werner on your case. Kørner and Werner are a bit of an odd couple, with his moodiness juxtaposed to her positivity, but it works out when you give the pair a real sense of chemistry and add tension to the plot as they work together to solve the case. THE TENANT may be about a fictional murder happening in real life, but it proves the very real fact that often two heads are better than one.

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The Tenant
Katrine Engberg

An Indie Next Pick
An O, The Oprah Magazine Titles to Pick Up Now
A People Book Pick
A New York Post Best Book of the Week
A Parade Most Anticipated Books of Early 2020
A Bustle Most Anticipated Books of January 2020
A CrimeReads Most Anticipated Crime Books of 2020
A She Reads Most Anticipated Thrillers of 2020

An electrifying work of literary suspense from internationally bestselling author Katrine Engberg, The Tenant—heralded as a “stunning debut” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Kathy Reichs—follows two Copenhagen police detectives struggling to solve a shocking murder and stop a killer hell-bent on revenge.

When a young woman is discovered brutally murdered in her own apartment with an intricate pattern of lines carved into her face, Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are assigned to the case. In short order, they establish a link between the victim, Julie Stender, and her landlady, Esther de Laurenti, who’s a bit too fond of drink and the host of raucous dinner parties with her artist friends. Esther also turns out to be a budding novelist—and when Julie turns up as a murder victim in the still-unfinished mystery she’s writing, the link between fiction and real life grows both more urgent and more dangerous.

But Esther’s role in this twisted scenario is not quite as clear as it first seems. Is she the culprit or just another victim, trapped in a twisted game of vengeance? Anette and Jeppe must dig more deeply into the two women’s pasts to discover the identity of the brutal puppet-master pulling the strings.

Evocative and original, The Tenant promises “dark family secrets—and a smorgasbord of surprises” (People).

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Mr. Mercedes
by Stephen King

It’s probably not anyone’s desire to be murdered by a terrifying serial killer who is intent on destroying as much human life as possible. But if you’ve been caught in the claws of a dangerous man like Mr. Mercedes, then you’re going to want Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney on the hunt. Hodges is a grizzled, retired police detective who gets pulled into the case via a mysterious, taunting letter, while Gibney is an eccentric but highly detailed young woman able to make connections others can’t. Together, they are able to fill in the gaps in each other’s skills and tackle the strange twists and turns in MR. MERCEDES, as well as its sequels, FINDERS KEEPERS and END OF WATCH. And trust me, with a dark and sadistic man like Brady Hartsfield doing all he can to torment and kill others, you’re going to need a super-sleuthing duo on your case.

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Mr. Mercedes
Stephen King

Now an AT&T Audience Original Series

WINNER OF THE EDGAR AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL
#1 New York Times bestseller! In a high-suspense race against time, three of the most unlikely heroes Stephen King has ever created try to stop a lone killer from blowing up thousands. “Mr. Mercedes is a rich, resonant, exceptionally readable accomplishment by a man who can write in whatever genre he chooses” (The Washington Post).

The stolen Mercedes emerges from the pre-dawn fog and plows through a crowd of men and women on line for a job fair in a distressed American city. Then the lone driver backs up, charges again, and speeds off, leaving eight dead and more wounded. The case goes unsolved and ex-cop Bill Hodges is out of hope when he gets a letter from a man who loved the feel of death under the Mercedes’s wheels…

Brady Hartsfield wants that rush again, but this time he’s going big, with an attack that would take down thousands—unless Hodges and two new unusual allies he picks up along the way can throw a wrench in Hartsfield’s diabolical plans. Stephen King takes off on a “nerve-shredding, pulse-pounding race against time” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) with this acclaimed #1 bestselling thriller.

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The Killing Kind
by John Connolly

John Connolly is a master of thrills and chills, whether it be mystery, sci-fi, or horror. But he might be best known for his long-running detective series, which follows the adventures of Charlie Parker. A former NY Police Department detective, Parker often finds himself drawn to strange and terrible cases that have dark resolutions after his wife and daughter are brutally murdered. And while I don’t think I’ll ever get swept into a cult that mysteriously disappears until their mass grave is found four decades later, THE KILLING KIND proves that if anyone’s going to find my killer, it’s Charlie Parker. And while this book is not for the faint of heart, thanks to the dark antagonism of the terrible Mr. Pudd and a literal ton of spiders, it’s exactly the type of spooky thriller that’s tailor-made for Halloween reading. Also, if you’re looking for more adventures, Charlie Parker stars in 17 books, with the 18th, THE DIRTY SOUTH, set to hit shelves in November. So if I do ever disappear under mysterious circumstance, someone be sure to give Mr. Parker a call—hopefully he’ll have time with his busy caseload.

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The Killing Kind
John Connolly

Troubled ex-cop turned private investigator Charlie Parker returns in the latest “compulsively readable” (Publishers Weekly) thriller from #1 internationally bestselling author John Connolly.

John Connolly takes battered ex-cop Charlie Parker on his third outing after Every Dead Thing and Dark Hollow. Still struggling with the horrific ghosts of his past, Parker is now a disillusioned private eye hired to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Grace Peltier—which neither her father nor a former US Senator believe was suicide. The trail leads to a mass grave in northern Maine where a Baptist community disappeared forty years earlier. The deaths of the Baptists and Grace are connected and point in the direction of a shadowy organization known as the Fellowship. With the assistance of some idiosyncratic and murderous acolytes, Parker soon confronts the Fellowship's demonic leader and finds himself caught in a situation more gruesome than even he could ever have imagined.

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Kill the Father
by Sandrone Dazieri

Sometimes the best detective duos aren't comprised of two detectives. Take Deputy Captain Colomba Caselli and Dante Torre. Caselli is a fierce police detective dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic incident, while Torre is a claustrophobic who spent years kidnapped by a mysterious figure and whose keen eye and thirst for knowledge are unparalleled. The two are paired off when the figure who held Torre captive, known as The Father, is back on the scene after a mother is beheaded and her child goes missing. This unlikely team will have to combat their personal demons as they hunt down the strange and sadistic man, who may have had more victims than either of them ever imagined. What I love about this team-up is that Torre brings an insight into the crimes that only a previous victim of crime can, while Caselli has the experience and fearlessness to charge headfirst, even when she’s in pain. A dark thriller you can’t get enough of, KILL THE FATHER will have you glued to your seat. And once you’ve devoured that, you can read the next two books in the trilogy, including the recently released KILL THE KING.

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Kill the Father
Sandrone Dazieri

An “electrifying...page-turning thriller” (New York Times bestselling author Jeffery Deaver) about two people, each shattered by their past, who team up to solve a series of killings and abductions that turn out to be just the visible surface of something far more sinister.

When a woman is beheaded in a park outside Rome and her six-year-old son goes missing, the police unit assigned to the case sees an easy solution: they arrest the woman’s husband and await his confession. But the chief of Rome’s major crimes unit doubts things are so simple. He hires two of Italy’s top analytical minds to solve the mystery: Deputy Captain Colomba Caselli, a fierce, warrior-like detective still reeling from having survived a bloody catastrophe, and Dante Torre, a man who spent his childhood trapped inside a concrete silo. Fed by the gloved hand of a masked kidnapper who called himself “the Father,” Dante emerged from his ordeal with crippling claustrophobia but, also, with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and hyper-observant capacities.

All evidence suggests that the Father is back and active after being dormant for decades. Indeed, he has left telltale signs that signal he’s looking forward to a reunion with Dante. But when Colomba and Dante begin following the ever-more-bizarre trail of clues, they grasp that what’s really going on is darker than they ever imagined.

Kill the Father is “outstanding…an unrelenting, adrenaline-fueled novel, with a final twist serving as a setup for a sequel. Don’t be surprised if Kill the Father becomes the next Big Thing in international crime fiction” (Booklist, starred review).

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The Alienist
by Caleb Carr

The mean streets of New York City in 1896 aren’t a place for...well, anyone really. It’s a dog-eat-dog time, where everyone you meet has the potential to be friend or foe. So if I were to meet my maker in as dark and dreary a place and time as that, I know I would be looking for the brightest intellect around. Enter Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, alienist (or in our parlance, psychologist), and part-time detective when there’s a deranged killer on the loose. When young boys are being murdered all over the city, Kreizler and his unlikely companions, including a crime reporter and the first woman hired by the NY Police Department, take to the strange and gruesome case. Kreizler is a bit of an oddball, but he’s methodical and works to understand the criminal mind to catch them before they can strike again. Think of it as a historical Criminal Minds, if you will. As much an examination of class and racial politics as a psychological thriller, THE ALIENIST will have you hooked through to the very last page (or minute, if you’re listening to the audiobook).

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The Alienist
Caleb Carr

A new breed of evil in Old New York

New York, 1886: Lower Manhattan's underworld is ruled by a new generation of cold-blooded criminals...Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt battles widespread corruption within the department's ranks...and a shockingly brutal murder sets off an investigation that could change crime-fighting forever.

In the middle of a wintry March night, New York Times reporter John Moore is summoned to the East River by his friend Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a brilliant pioneer in the new and much-maligned discipline of psychology, the emerging study of society's "alienated" mentally ill. There they view the horribly mutilated body of a young boy, a prostitute from one of Manhattan's infamous brothels. Supervised by Commissioner Roosevelt, the newsman and his "alienist" mentor embark on a revolutionary attempt to identify the killer by assembling his psychological profile -- a dangerous quest that takes them into the tortured past and twisted mind of a murderer who has killed before...and will kill again before the hunt is over.

As rich in vivid period ambience as Ragtime and Time and Again, and as relentlessly suspenseful as Red Dragon or The Silence of the Lambs, The Alienist will take you to a New York that no longer exists -- to confront an evil of timeless savagery.

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MENTIONED IN:

Literary Sleuths I’d Trust to Solve My Murder

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | November 3, 2020

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Death on the Nile
by Agatha Christie

Leave it to the queen of the murder mystery to create one of the most iconic detectives of all time. Hercule Poirot is a world-famous Belgian detective who always finds himself at the scene of a gruesome murder, and never fails to find the killer. If I’m ever murdered on some fabulous vacation surrounded by gorgeous strangers, he’s the one I want on my case. In the classic DEATH ON THE NILE, Poirot becomes embroiled in a murder involving affairs of the heart on a cruise of the Nile. Socialite Linnet Doyle has been slain, and there are any number of suspects, including her former friend Jacqueline de Bellefort, whose fiancé Linnet stole. And while this is a classic, and you may already be familiar with it, the ending is still sure to surprise the reader as Poirot interrogates the various suspects aboard the boat. It’s a story so intriguing, it’s even being adapted for the silver screen, releasing this December. If you’re looking for a detective with class who will stop at nothing to discover the truth, make sure you go wherever Poirot is headed next.

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Death on the Nile
Agatha Christie

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Storm Front
by Jim Butcher

It’s very unlikely I am going to die at the hand of something supernatural, but one should be prepared for all eventualities. If it is something not-quite-human that takes me down, be sure to get in contact with Harry Dresden, wizard and private investigator. Dresden deals with a lot of strange and otherworldly madness in his job, and uses just as many creepy and dangerous tools to get to the bottom of every case. In his first appearance, STORM FRONT, Dresden finds himself the prime suspect after two bodies are found with their hearts ripped out by supposedly magical means. He must work with Karrin Murphy of the Chicago PD, his ghostly associate Bob, and his bag of tricks to find the real killer—and absolve himself of the supernatural crime. If this book casts a spell on you, the Dresden Files series includes seventeen books, as well as a ton of short stories.

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Storm Front
Jim Butcher

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photo credit: DeRepente / iStock

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