The Edgar Awards honor the best of the best in mystery writing, and I’m so excited that the 2023 awards are just around the corner—the winners will be announced at the end of April. So, in honor of this year’s amazing nominees, I wanted to take a look back at some truly thrilling Edgar award–winning authors and their novels. Here are eight phenomenal mysteries to decode while you wait!
Winner of the 2014 Edgar Award for best novel, ORDINARY GRACE is a truly special and wholesome coming-of-age story. Kent’s prose alone reads like poetry and he places you deeply into the setting of New Bremen, Minnesota, in the summer of 1961. Minnesota now has a baseball team, America has a new, young president, and there is a sense of hopefulness in the air. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum, his family, and the rest of New Bremen, 1961 becomes a summer of unexpected tragedy. Frank and his younger brother, Jake, are forced to grow up quickly as they find themselves surrounded by deceit and betrayal. Each tragedy affects everyone differently, from Frank’s faithful minister father to his wonderful artsy mother; from his musical prodigy sister to and the quiet and wise Jake. Now forty years later, Frank reflects on the summer that death visited them so many times and the price for the wisdom he now has. ORDINARY GRACE is a truly beautiful novel.
When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, thirteen-year-old Frank Drum finds himself thrust into a world of secrets, adultery, and betrayal. Set in 1961, Ordinary Grace is the story of what a shocking murder does to a boy standing at the door of adulthood and the fabric of a small Minnesota town.
The newest mystery thriller from the truly diabolical mind of two-time Edgar Award winner Rupert Holmes is one you do not want to miss. What if you really could delete someone from the universe that causes you immense pain and strife? Wouldn’t that make the world a better place? I don’t condone murder . . . but that’s where McMaster’s Conservatory for the Applied Arts comes in. To gain admission, you must have an ethical reason for removing someone who truly, deeply deserves a fate no better or worse than death. At an undisclosed location, students will study the homicidal arts all leading up to their mandatory thesis. To graduate, they must commit the perfect murder of someone so horrible that the whole world will be better off once they’re gone. This is a unique novel full of dark, dark humor and wit and a delightfully entertaining mystery as you follow several students from the 1950s through their studies.
From the diabolical imagination of Edgar Award–winning novelist, playwright, and story-songwriter Rupert Holmes comes a devilish thriller with a killer concept: The McMasters Conservatory for the Applied Arts, a luxurious, clandestine college dedicated to the fine art of murder where earnest students study how best to “delete” their most deserving victim.
Who hasn’t wondered for a split second what the world would be like if a person who is the object of your affliction ceased to exist? But then you’ve probably never heard of The McMasters Conservatory, dedicated to the consummate execution of the homicidal arts. To gain admission, a student must have an ethical reason for erasing someone who deeply deserves a fate no worse (nor better) than death. The campus of this “Poison Ivy League” college—its location unknown to even those who study there—is where you might find yourself the practice target of a classmate…and where one’s mandatory graduation thesis is getting away with the perfect murder of someone whose death will make the world a much better place to live.
Prepare for an education you’ll never forget. A delightful mix of witty wordplay, breathtaking twists and genuine intrigue, Murder Your Employer will gain you admission into a wholly original world, cocooned within the most entertaining book about well-intentioned would-be murderers you’ll ever read.
Rupert Holmes’s much celebrated career ranges from chart-topping story songs with surprising twists—“Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”—to Tony Award–winning whodunit musicals—The Mystery of Edwin Drood—Edgar Award–winning comedy-thrillers—Accomplice—and the Nero Wolfe Best American Mystery Novel nominated Where the Truth Lies, made into an Atom Egoyan motion picture starring Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon. Called “an American treasure” (Los Angeles Times), “a true Renaissance man” by Newsweek, “a comic genius” (Kirkus Reviews) and simply “a genius” (The Times, London), Rupert Holmes brings his wickedly clever storytelling talents to this outrageous and darkly comic mystery set in a secret, idyllic campus where students learn how to “do in others as you would have others do you in.”
BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD is unputdownable. Locke’s incredible atmospheric prose mixed with a compelling noir-feeling mystery that deals with so much hate in East Texas is a must-read. This 2018 winner follows Darren Mathews, a Black Texas Ranger who takes his job to serve and to protect to heart. When his past puts his career in jeopardy, he ventures to the small town of Lark, where the bodies of a wealthy Black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman are found just days apart. As speculation flies and racial tensions rise, Darren is thrown into a full-blown murder investigation. With town connections to the Aryan Brotherhood, local police want this swept up quickly, but Darren is determined to get all the facts to bring both cases to justice. BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD is so much more than an incredibly tense crime thriller as it deals with politics, race, and justice in America.
It’s summer in Atlantic City, but you wouldn’t know it. Businesses are closing up and tourists are scarce. Unbeknownst to all except the person who put them there, two unidentified dead women are laid out in the marshes behind the Sunset Motel. Clara, a young boardwalk psychic, is desperate to bring in enough clients to pay her rent. She does have psychic abilities, but the gig itself is mostly a scam. That is until she begins having more and more disturbing visions that might be related to recent disappearances. Lily, a former NYC gallery girl reeling from a personal tragedy, has moved back to Atlantic City and is working at one of the crumbling casino spas. When the two cross paths, Clara hopes that Lily can help her with the visions, but Clara is battling her own past. Can the two come together in time to break the horrible cycle or will they draw too much attention and become victims themselves? Are they destined to be two more Jane Does in the world? Mullen crafts a truly suspenseful psychological thriller about the women society ignores in this 2021 Edgar-winning debut novel.
In this sophisticated, suspenseful debut reminiscent of Laura Lippman and Megan Miranda, two young women become unlikely friends during one fateful summer in Atlantic City as mysterious disappearances hit dangerously close to home.
Summer has come to Atlantic City but the boardwalk is empty of tourists, the casino lights have dimmed, and two Jane Does are laid out in the marshland behind the Sunset Motel, just west of town. Only one person even knows they’re there.
Meanwhile, Clara, a young boardwalk psychic, struggles to attract clients for the tarot readings that pay her rent. When she begins to experience very real and disturbing visions, she suspects they could be related to the recent cases of women gone missing in town. When Clara meets Lily, an ex-Soho art gallery girl who is working at a desolate casino spa and reeling from a personal tragedy, she thinks Lily may be able to help her. But Lily has her own demons to face.
If they can put the pieces together in time, they may save another lost girl—so long as their efforts don’t attract perilous attention first. Can they break the ill-fated cycle, or will they join the other victims?
A “beautifully written, thoughtful page-turner” (Chloe Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortalists), Please See Us is an evocative and compelling psychological thriller that explores the intersection of womanhood, power, and violence.
RED SPARROW is an engaging spy thriller romance drawn from the author’s own CIA career. The suspense reads more like an exciting chess match brought to life as US and Russian operatives try to slowly win the upper hand through sex and lies. Dominika Egorova is a promising ballerina with a temper. When she begins to get more attention, her jealous classmates purposefully injure her foot and ruin her career. With no other options, Dominika is forced to attend “Sparrow School,” a secret academy outside of Moscow training young operatives in the art of sexpionage. Dominka’s target is CIA operative Nate Nash, who is working with a Russian mole. Yet as their game begins, a forbidden passion blooms between them. One of them is now living a dangerous double life with potentially deadly consequences. Matthews’ real-life experience with counterintelligence and spy recruitment really come to life in RED SPARROW.
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In this incredible first novel in the RED SPARROW trilogy set against the backdrop of modern-day Russia, Dominika Egorova is drafted to become a “Sparrow” for the Russian state intelligence. Her complex journey has all the makings of the perfect espionage tale: Moles, double lives, betrayals, and yes... even love. The only pairing that makes any sense with this book should be shaken—not stirred.
While Stephen King is mostly known for horror and fantasy, his thrillers are equally chilling. It should be no surprise that this 2015 bone-chilling Edgar-winning thriller made the list. A group of hopeful people line up for a job fair on a foggy morning when the unthinkable happens. A madman with a stolen Mercedes drives through the crowd, backs up, and runs over them again, killing eight innocent people. Now retired, Detective Bill Hodges is still haunted by this senseless crime that was never solved. When one day he receives a disturbing letter from a man claiming to be the killer, Bill fears that he will strike again, and fears it will be much worse than the last time. Meanwhile, killer Brady Hartsfield desperately wants to feel the same rush he felt when he plowed through those innocent people. Now he’s planning something so horrible that if he succeeds, he could kill thousands of people. Bill comes out of retirement in a race against the clock before Brady strikes again. King is a master at creating memorable characters, and the back-and-forth between Detective Hodges and the killer is sure to keep you in suspense until the very end.
Retired cop Bill Hodges feels depressed and purposeless, still haunted by the one that got away—a sadistic killer who drove a Mercedes into the crowd at a job fair. But when he receives a taunting letter from someone claiming to be the Mercedes killer, Hodges will have to come out of retirement to prevent another massacre.
Walter Mosley delivers a truly incredible gritty mystery with his 2019 winner DOWN THE RIVER UNTO THE SEA. Joe King Oliver was one of the best investigators on the force until he was framed by his enemies within the police department for an assault that landed him in Rikers. Now, ten years later, he’s still investigating crimes, just not for the NYPD boys in blue. Suffering from PTSD of life in prison, King is running his own investigative agency and looking into the case of a Black radical journalist who has been accused of killing two police officers using their privilege and their badges to smuggle drugs and women. King is determined to find justice when he receives a letter from a woman who admits that she was paid to falsely accuse him all those years ago. Now he finally has a chance to figure out who wanted him gone and why. Desperate to keep his teenage daughter far away from his violent life, King will go up against the dirtiest of cops, corrupt lawyers, and more if he is going to save his client’s life and his own. Mosley brings an incredible cast of characters to life with his exceptional and brilliant dialogue for a truly enthralling thriller.
Haunted by one of Nick Parrish’s victims, journalist Irene Kelly makes a deal with the notorious serial killer: life in prison for the location of the body. Written and set in 1999, Kelly ventures into the wilderness with a small team, but unbeknownst to them, more horrors await than just one dead body. Now stranded with a killer on the loose in a deadly environment, will Kelly be able to escape and apprehend Parrish or will he make her his next victim? In this tense hunt through the woods and beyond, Burke reveals a haunting cat-and-mouse game and the psychological effects of such a horrifying experience. This 2000s Edgar Winner mystery is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat with a still downright terrifying killer.
In this Edgar Allen Poe Award–winning novel, Irene Kelly is on the hunt for the body of a murder victim…with the killer as her guide: “a journey into the heart of darkness” (Los Angeles Times).
Only one person knows where Julia Sayre is: her killer. Four years ago, the young mother of two disappeared, a story that soon became a personal mission for Irene Kelly. But the search for Julia proved fruitless. Now on death row for unimaginable acts of torture and murder, inmate Nick Parrish is plea-bargaining for a life sentence, promising to lead investigators—and Irene—into the dark isolation of the Sierra Nevadas, where they will discover what really happened to Julia Sayre. But Parrish has other terrifying secrets and plans, and now his deadly focus is on a new potential victim—Irene Kelly.
Photo credit: iStock / Andranik Hakobyan