Mystery Titles That Reach Out and Grab Me

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.

hidden staricase 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

corpsecoverDuring 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:

101 Best Book Titles of All Time

Nancy Drew

The Dana Girls

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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Comments

Mystery Titles That Reach Out and Grab Me — 6 Comments

  1. I love your list! Nancy Drew books have great titles. I like titles with place names/references in them: The Bastard of Istanbul, The Tomb of Zeus, Death at the Chateau Bremont, etc. I love to read about new places, and when I pick up a book with a new place in the title, especially if it’s a mystery, I can be sure I’m going to learn something about that place.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Amy. You know how to create great titles: Secrets of Hallstead House, House of the Hanging Jade, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor.

  3. Fun post! I gravitate toward titles that have “secret” or “mystery” in them, words like that. A humorous title will get my attention, too.

  4. I’m thinking of a humorous title from years ago: Help! I’m a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery, by Alan King. It was quite funny, at least my teen-age self thought so.

  5. I like titles that are a play on words. In my Coming Attractions this week are “Clock and Dagger,” “Silk Stalkings,” “Haunt Water,” and “Much Ado About Muffin.” And then there’s my own book: “A Snitch In Time.” Yep, I’m a sucker for puns in the titles!

  6. A Snitch in Time is a great title. Jill Churchill uses puns for all the titles in her Jane Jeffry series. Thanks for commenting, Sunny.