Murder mystery books to keep you guessing to the last page

Four books sat side by side

Carl East's recommended murder mystery reads - Credit: Winstone's Independent Booksellers

Ever since the huge success of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club publishers have been looking for the next big thing in crime books. New contenders are often signified with familiar-looking covers to reassure readers that they are making a good choice.

Modern versions of Golden Age classic mysteries have become all the rage, here are some of this year’s new cases:

A Fatal Crossing by Tom Hindle
Hindle uses the closed world of an ocean liner as his location, The Endeavour is sailing to New York with a killer among its 2,000 passengers.

When an elderly gentleman is found dead, ship's officer Timothy Birch sees it as an accidental fall. But passenger James Temple, who happens to be a Scotland Yard detective, thinks there is more to it than meets the eye.

Birch agrees to investigate, and when a priceless painting of the Devon coastline is stolen the mystery deepens.

With time running out before they reach New York, and Temple's purpose onboard the ship arousing its own suspicions, the search for the culprit is fraught with danger, will the killer strike again?

The Maid by Nita Prose
Prose’s debut takes its style from the golden age but is bang up to date.

Molly Gray is a maid in the Regency Grand Hotel. To the high-class guests, she is invisible, but she sees all their secrets, often leaving their rooms filthy and behaving appallingly to her and other staff.

When guest Mr Black is found dead in his room, she quickly becomes the main suspect in a modern spin on the locked room mystery.

As narrator, Molly is seen by the reader to be neuro-divergent and able to pick up the clues others may miss but is at a loss to read the social cues that others live by.

The Canadian author gives a somewhat curious English twang to her dialogue, which may be designed for US readers but it adds to the classic feel of the novel.

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett
Hallet’s previous book, The Appeal, was a quirky hit last year, and published in a red, black and white cover it might indeed have looked familiar to readers of Richard Osman. The book was a modern-day epistolary novel; a murder mystery composed of text messages and emails, rather than letters. Now in The Twyford Code she presents a crime novel as audio transcripts, and gives an up to date twist to the familiar device of the unreliable narrator.

40 years ago ex-convict Steven Smith’s teacher Miss Iles vanished on a school trip, after becoming convinced that classic children’s author Edith Twyford’s books contained hidden codes. On his release, Steven sets out to solve this disappearance with the clues leading to unexpected places.

Hallet’s invented children’s author Twyford owes much to Enid Blyton and there is a measure of spoofing old fashioned values as Smith revisits his childhood memories and locations.

The Christie Affair by Nina De Gramont
Agatha Christie’s disappearance for 11 days in 1926 has provided the basis for a number of books and dramas over the years, my favourite being the Dr Who episode the “Unicorn and The Wasp”.

The Christie Affair takes a bold title and adds to this canon with a novel mixing mystery and romance, taking the unusual choice to have Christie’s adulterous husband’s lover as narrator. In parallel to the disappearance is a murder mystery that brings the two women together in unexpected ways.

I find the delight in books such as these is being able to combine the nostalgia and wit of a genre which can be formulaic at times with our modern sensibility about the roles of class, mental health and women’s roles in society.

They are a great intellectual game between author and reader, though I always fall for the red herrings.