Figuring out who the antagonist is, whether they’re a cold-blooded killer or the perpetrator of a terrible scheme, and unraveling their motive is often the best part of a mystery. But if you’re like me, then regular whodunnits sometimes just don’t cut it—there needs to be something more to make the mystery more enticing. Enter locked room mysteries, where characters are forced into a confined space after a crime, knowing full well one of them must be the killer, and have no means of escape. So come inside, if you dare, and check out these seven suspenseful locked-room mysteries.
7 Locked-Room Mysteries That’ll Keep You in Suspense
With cellphones, GPS, the Internet, and any number of other technological innovations, it takes a lot to not be able to contact the outside world now. That’s why historical murder mysteries can get so intense—there may be no hope that people will be able to call for help. In DANGEROUS CROSSING, Lily Shepherd is set to make the journey from England to Australia on the brink of war in 1939. At first, the ocean liner she has boarded is a luxurious, wondrous experience, full of new faces, with multiple stops along the way to explore new ports, and plenty of music and dancing. That is, until two people are found dead. Could any of the dazzling new friends Lily has made really be a killer? All she can do is pray she’s not the next victim before they reach Australia.
One of the newest additions to the subgenre, THE WOMAN IN THE LIBRARY takes the locked-room formula and ups the suspense ante. The Boston Public Library has a beautiful reading room that attracts people from all walks of life. When security asks all visitors to stay exactly where they are after hearing a woman’s terrified scream, four strangers find themselves stuck together. What starts off as a pleasant, if inconvenient, meeting turns sinister as it becomes clear that one of them is not as innocent as they seem. Trapped together within a locked room, will the other three patrons be able to make it out of the reading room alive? You’ll just have to grab a seat at the table and find out for yourself.
Sometimes, the locked-room mystery forces characters into uncomfortable situations. But in others, like Ruth Ware’s THE TURN OF THE KEY, the victim is drawn into isolated quarters by an offer they can’t refuse. When Rowan finds a live-in nanny job with a massive salary and scenic views, she can hardly say no, feeling like she’s in a dream. However, her stay at the remote, Gothic Scottish estate of Heatherbrae quickly turns into a nightmare, complete with a dead child. Rowan is locked up for murder, so her story is told in flashbacks via her letters to her lawyer, explaining all that occurred in order to uncover the truth about what went on in the closed quarters of the sinister house. An homage to the classic Gothic tale, THE TURN OF SCREW, this book will have you furiously reading to find out what really happened.
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“A superb suspense writer…Brava, Ruth Ware. I daresay even Henry James would be impressed.” —Maureen Corrigan, author of So We Read On
“This appropriately twisty Turn of the Screw update finds the Woman in Cabin 10 author in her most menacing mode, unfurling a shocking saga of murder and deception.” —Entertainment Weekly
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Lying Game and The Death of Mrs. Westaway comes this thrilling novel that explores the dark side of technology.
When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.
What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.
Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the home’s cameras, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman.
It was everything.
She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder—but somebody is.
Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, The Turn of the Key is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.
When tragedy strikes, you want to be near loved ones, people you can count on and trust when shit hits the fan. However, that’s not always possible, and that can make circumstances even more terrifying. In THE LAST, Jon is stuck at an academic conference in Switzerland when the unthinkable happens: nuclear weapons strike cities across the world. Trapped in a hotel with his fellow academics, he does his best to survive until he can go home, but soon finds the body of a young, murdered girl on the roof. Could one of his fellow survivors be a killer? Part apocalypse drama, part murder mystery, the sense of dread and despair that comes over reading about Jon’s impossible situation only makes you root for him more.
This propulsive post-apocalyptic thriller “in which Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None collides with Stephen King’s The Shining” (NPR) follows a group of survivors stranded at a hotel as the world descends into nuclear war and the body of a young girl is discovered in one of the hotel’s water tanks.
Jon thought he had all the time in the world to respond to his wife’s text message: I miss you so much. I feel bad about how we left it. Love you. But as he’s waiting in the lobby of the L’Hotel Sixieme in Switzerland after an academic conference, still mulling over how to respond to his wife, he receives a string of horrifying push notifications. Washington, DC, has been hit with a nuclear bomb, then New York, then London, and finally Berlin. That’s all he knows before news outlets and social media goes black—and before the clouds on the horizon turn orange.
Two months later, there are twenty survivors holed up at the hotel, a place already tainted by its strange history of suicides and murders. Jon and the rest try to maintain some semblance of civilization. But when he goes up to the roof to investigate the hotel’s worsening water quality, he is shocked to discover the body of a young girl floating in one of the tanks, and is faced with the terrifying possibility that there might be a killer among the group.
As supplies dwindle and tensions rise, Jon becomes obsessed with discovering the truth behind the girl’s death. In this “brilliantly executed...chilling and extraordinary” post-apocalyptic mystery, “the questions Jameson poses—who will be with you at the end of the world, and what kind of person will you be?—are as haunting as the plot itself.” (Emily St. John Mandel, nationally bestselling author of Station Eleven).
Who doesn’t love a good research trip? When author Penelope is looking for some inspiration for her new book, she decides to investigate a witch on Stone Point, a small outpost on the coast of the Pacific Northwest. The legends are too juicy to ignore—the cabin at Stone Point was the site of a gruesome murder and disappearance, left abandoned until a young couple tried to renovate it, only for them to disappear as well. Penelope drags along her boyfriend and a thoroughly motley crew to see what they can find, but she’s going to get a lot more murder and mystery than she bargained for. LAST ONE ALIVE is a gripping tale of legends come to life, and how the small sparks of animosity and bitterness can set off a full-blown fire.
A team of researchers exploring the myth of a witch find their numbers mysteriously dwindling in this irresistible psychological thriller for fans of Ruth Ware, Shari Lapena, and Lucy Foley.
Bestselling debut novelist Penelope Berkowitz is desperate for inspiration for a second book. With the help of her new boyfriend, she embarks on a research trip with a Clue-like team of professionals, ex-lovers, and estranged family members to investigate the myth of a witch on Stone Point, a remote coastal outcropping in the Pacific Northwest.
For over a century, the cabin on the point stood vacant after the violent death of the original owner and the disappearance of his wife—until a young couple decided to turn it into an eco-lodge. Shortly after starting renovations, however, they suddenly ceased all contact with others and were never heard from again.
Given the area’s mysterious history, Penelope is certain there’s a story to be found in the isolated region. But soon after arriving on the point’s wind-whipped shores, things begin to go awry for the team. Storms blow in. Tempers flare. The satellite phones stop working and no boats are due for days. Then people begin to disappear. When bodies turn up, it’s up to Penelope and the remaining members of the team to solve the mystery of the Stone Witch before the killer is the only one left alive.
Sometimes a locked-room mystery can happen in a wide, open expanse—what makes it harrowing is that no one can get in or out of the space before danger strikes. Case in point, THE HUNTING PARTY follows a group of friends celebrating New Years at an exclusive retreat in the Scottish Highlands. Unfortunately, a massive blizzard blows through, trapping them in their luxury digs for an unknown amount of time. And even more unfortunately, one of the revelers is murdered. This is a chilling mystery, both literally and figuratively, where friends and foes become one in the same as they race against the clock to solve the mystery before the killer strikes again.
Not every locked-room mystery is about poor, undeserving victims who ended up in a bad situation. For example, Miriam, is tricked into heading to a remote Mexican island under the cover story that she will be competing for a lot of money. But she and the other “contestants” find that they’re really attending the memorial service for their lawyer, Phillip Omeke. And each of them has a dark past, and will be called to answer for the terrible things they’ve done. A play on the classic Agatha Christie tale, THEY ALL FALL DOWN takes some dark twists and turns that will have you rooting for someone to win in this deadly cat-and-mouse game—but they just might not be who you think they are.
Photo credit: iStock / Premyuda Yospim