I have loved murder mysteries since I was in 5th grade. I started with these thriller books from Joan Lowery Nixon, then found the wide and wonderful worlds of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and others. I’ve never looked back. I’ve always been particular about the location of the book, whether it was British country estates, an art museum, or a tea shop.
But in the past few years, I’ve learned the wonders of murder mysteries taking place in entirely new worlds, space or fantasy worlds overlaid on our own. Unlike mysteries grounded in the “real world,” these mysteries have magic and magical beings, advanced technologies that can make plots even more creative and deeper. Personally, it’s all about the clever murder mystery. This list of seven books combines the genre of murder mysteries with that of fantasy and science fiction, whether it’s the locked room mystery but in space, or innovative retellings of the British manor history.
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
Private Investigator Ivy Gamble is brought into Osthorne Academy for Young Mages to solve a murder. However, Osthorne Academy is no Hogwarts or even Brakebills. This school looks a lot like every day high schools, full of bullies, petty hatreds and feuds, and other challenges of being a teenager. Gamble is brought into the world of magic, one that had been denied to her while her gifted sister, Tabitha, has always excelled and even teaches at Osthorne. It’s a great thought experiment for those who wonder what it would be like if you didn’t get your letter to Hogwarts but your sibling did.
Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
It’s the quintessential locked room murder mystery but in space. When Maria Arena wakes up in her cloning vat, she is surprised to see dried blood from the body of her former self. Turns out that Arena is not the only person of the seven crew of the spaceship Dormire who wakes up in a new clone body after their violent deaths. The crew has to figure out what happened and who is responsible. The story explores the ethics and logistics of a world where cloning is common and widespread.
The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Aidan Bishop wakes up in a body in a forest he doesn’t recognize. But he quickly learns that he has to solve the future but inevitable death of Evelyn Hardcastle. Each day he will wake up in a new body on the same day to solve her murder. But soon he learns that he’s not the only player in the game and that others want to ensure his failure. For people who love novels with shifting points of view, this really takes the genre to a new level.
Rivers of London/Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch
When Probationary Constable Peter Grant guards a murder scene in London’s Covent Garden, he ends up interviewing a possible witness who turns out to be a ghost. Grant finds himself drawn into the little known part of the London Metropolitan police dedicated to magic and the unknown. Decades before, England had a rich magical tradition where practitioners learned magic and defended the country but World War II killed many of them. Magical beings also co-exist with the regular world, such as vampires, the fae, and river deities. Grant finds himself as the first apprentice in decades, trying to make up for lost time, while dealing with dangerous entities. It’s the first in a continuing series along with several graphic novels and novellas.
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a place for children who have lost their way. These are children who fell through their own version of the rabbit hole into their own fantastical worlds. But these children find themselves pushed back into the world they were born into and the ones who cannot cope end up at Eleanor West’s school. Nancy is a new student at the school, getting used to the world of living, when a fellow student is brutally murdered. Can Nancy and her new friends figure out the killer or will Nancy be blamed? This is the first in the Wayward Children series.
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
Bulikov, the Divine City, was once a powerful center of the gods until they were killed and conquered by their former colony Saypur. Then came the Blink, where parts of the city disappeared violently, and then famine. Now the city is a hollow shell of what it used to be. Its people are forbidden to learn their history or even speak of their former gods. But when a Saypuri scholar is killed, Shara Thivani, a spy masquerading as a diplomat, comes to investigate; they learn that maybe Bulikov’s past is not as dead as they think. This is also part of a larger series.
Golden State by Ben Winters
The Golden State has made lying a crime. Citizens meretriciously record all details of their lives, even signing each other’s registers about conversations had. Laszlo Ratesic is a veteran of the Speculative Service, a police force that specifically fights against misrepresentation, following his brilliant brother Charlie. When Ratesic is brought in to inspect a likely accidental death, something feels wrong to him. Members of the Speculative Service physically feel the impact of lies. He starts investigating with his new, unwanted partner, a rookie who reminds him of his brilliant brother who died in the Service. They discover several incongruences with the death that makes him wonder if it wasn’t actually an accident. Ratesic will have to figure out if the man was murdered and why that may cause him to question the very apparatus of the state that he is sworn to protect.
Originally published April 2020.
Elisa Shoenberger is a freelance writer and journalist. She has written for the Boston Globe, Deadspin, Huffington Post, Syfy, We are the Mutants, and others. She writes regularly for Book Riot, US News and World Report/Best Lawyers, and Streeterville News. In her spare time, she plays alto saxophone and makes cheese.