The Circular Staircase, The Hidden Window Mystery, The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries, The Saturday Morning Murder, The Black Cat, The Haunted Bridge … what do these titles have in common? They suggest mystery and intrigue. Any title with haunted, hidden, locked, secret, password, mask, staircase, clue, murder, or a color is sure to grab my attention. Titles with well-known places or cultural references captivate me as well: consider Margaret Truman’s Murder in the Smithsonian and Murder at Ford’s Theatre. And there’s The Raphael Affair by Iain Pears and Music to Murder By by Vernon Hinkle.
I’ll never forget the day my mother visited the P.M. Bookshop in Plainfield, New Jersey, and brought home my first Nancy Drew books, The Hidden Staircase and The Clue of the Velvet Mask. Oh, what intriguing titles! I dove right in and from that day on was hooked to the tales of everyone’s favorite girl detective. I made many trips to the P.M. Bookshop with my mother, and at school we swapped the stories like mad.
Note: Nancy Drew fans know that The Hidden Staircase is #2 in the series and that The Clue of the Velvet Mask is #30. This marks the start of my lifelong disregard for series order. It irks many of my fellow readers to no end. I just shrug and say, “It’s my mother’s fault.”
But I digress. Back to titles.
Nancy Drew had the best ones. You knew exactly what you were getting: Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion delivered just what the title promises: a mystery at a moss-covered mansion; the same with The Secret in the Old Attic, The Whispering Statue, The Bungalow Mystery, The Clue in the Crumbing Wall—you get the idea. And it wasn’t long before I discovered By the Light of the Study Lamp, #1 in the Dana Girls series (I did start with the first in that series!).
But titles don’t always have to be self-explanatory to appeal to me: there’s Marcia Muller’s Pennies on a Dead Woman’s Eyes and The Shape of Dread; Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie; and Robert Crais’ The Monkey’s Raincoat and Sunset Express.
Here’s a by-no-means-complete list of my favorite titles:
Raymond Chandler: The High Window, The Lady in the Lake
Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express, The Mystery of the Blue Train, Peril at End House
Michael Connelly: Angel’s Flight, The Concrete Blonde
Dicey Deere: The Irish Cottage Murder, The Irish Manor House Murder
Joanne Dobson: Maltese Manuscript, The Northbury Papers
Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister, The Case of the Velvet Claws
Bartholomew Gill: The Death of a Joyce Scholar, Death in Dublin
Martha Grimes: The Anodyne Necklace, The Old Wine Shades
Batya Gur: A Literary Murder: A Critical Case, The Saturday Morning Murder: A Psychoanalytic Case
Lyn Hamilton: The Celtic Riddle, The Maltese Goddess
Carolyn G. Hart: A Little Class on Murder, The Mint Julep Murder
M.L. Longworth: Death at the Chateau Bremont, The Mystery of the Lost Cezanne
Katherine Hall Page: The Body in the Belfry, The Body in the Bookcase
Anne Perry: The Cater Street Hangman, Funeral in Blue
Mary Roberts Rinehart: The Circular Staircase, The Red Lamp, The Window at the White Cat
Elliot Roosevelt: Murder in the Blue Room, Murder in the West Wing
Jeffrey Siger: Devil of Delphi, Murder in Mykonos
During my recent bookstore visits these titles made me stop and take notice:
James Anderson: The Never-Open Desert Diner
Jean-Luc Bannalec: Death in Brittany
Frances Brody: Murder in the Afternoon
Walter Mosley: Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore
Ellen Pall: Corpse de Ballet: A Nine Muses Mystery: Terpsichore
Years ago, I picked up Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Heart (Ellis Peters) at the library, based on the title alone.
Mystery writer Linda Thorne posted about titles and how she came up with her own attention-grabbing one. See her post on the Make Mine Mystery blog.
For further reading:
I didn’t read the Hardy Boys series but I love the titles.
The film industry knows the titles that will get the attention of moviegoers. This long list of mystery films proves it.
Readers, what are your favorite titles? Which ones reach out to you from the shelves, crying “Read me! Read me!”
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