Books About Books: 8 Unputdownable Novels Featuring a Literary Mystery

by  | June 10

Sit back, Glommable readers, we’re getting meta here. If you love mysteries and you love books, then let us recommend one of our favorite genres: the literary mystery where books themselves at the center of the puzzle. Here are eight novels featuring whodunits and riddles with a bookish bent.

1. The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

madwoman upstairs

Rumor has it that the Brontë sisters’ left behind a secret literary estate of unpublished manuscripts and juicy diaries that remains in the family to this day. But Samantha Whipple, the last remaining descendent of the Brontë family, knows nothing about it. That is, until her eccentric father suddenly dies and she begins receiving mysterious books addressed to her and annotated in her father’s handwriting. She soon comes to realize that she’s on elaborate treasure hunt using the world’s greatest literature—and that her actual inheritance might just be the long-lost literary estate she never believed existed.

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2. Special Topics in Calamity Physics  by Marisha Pessl

special topics calamity physics

Clever but lonely Blue van Meer finds some much needed friends in the form of a clique of eccentrics at her elite high school. But when the friends get swept up in a murder mystery, their hyper-intellectualism (think highbrow literary allusions and endless parentheticals) both helps and hinders their precocious attempt at sleuthing in ways that will change Blue’s life forever. Part mystery, part literary survey, Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a strangely dazzling novel that you’ll find hard to forget.

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3. Shriver by Chris Belden


An academic farce and literary puzzle set at a writer’s conference at a small liberal arts college, Shriver is the story of a solitary divorcé who is mistaken for a famous but reclusive author of the same name. Unable to admit that he isn’t an author, Shriver participates in the conference under false pretenses where he is treated like literary royalty and finds unexpected romance. But when a fellow featured author goes missing and another man claiming to be Shriver arrives on the scene, it becomes clear that nothing is quite as it seems.

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4. The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

year of gadfly

The prestigious and fiercely competitive Mariana Academy has operated for decades under the rule of a powerful honor code, but when a secret society with a penchant for vigilante justice re-emerges, the school’s spotless reputation is threatened. Budding journalist Iris is determined to go undercover in the society’s underground newspaper to discover the truth behind the society’s rumors and blackmail. All she knows for certain is that a rare book called Marvelous Species is at the center of the society’s schemes . . .

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5. The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman


At a secluded artists’ colony with a tragic past, five talented artists have gathered to create masterpieces under the estate’s captivating spell. First-time novelist Ellis Brooks has come to write a novel based on the colony’s enigmatic history, but she soon becomes convinced that the story has a darker end than anyone knows. When a series of bizarre accidents strikes the group of artists, they are forced to confront the tangled truth of the colony’s mysterious past as the distinctions between the past and the present, and the living and the dead, become ever murkier.

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6. The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper

killing circle

Failed novelist and widowed father Patrick Rush joins a creative writing circle as a serial killer wreaks havoc on the city of Toronto, striking apparently at random and leaving behind cryptic notes for the police. The killings seem uncannily similar to the tales of a disturbed young woman in the writing group, whose character the Sandman is a child-stealer and terrifying murderer. When Patrick turns the story of the Sandman into a best-selling novel, fantasy and reality converge as a real-life stalker sets his sights on Patrick’s own family. Perhaps the greatest crime is taking someone else’s story for your own . . .

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7. The Dewey Decimal System by Nathan Larson

Larson_The Dewey Decimal System_Cover

In a dystopian New York City, an obsessive-compulsive veteran with an inconsistent memory moves into the main branch of the New York Public Library and begins an exhaustive reorganization of the library’s stock. Known as “Dewey Decimal,” he gets by as a hitman for the city’s crooked district attorney. One day, a seemingly straightforward job turns into a bloody labyrinth of violence and double-crosses. What’s more, Dewey seems to have been the victim of an experimental brain-wiping procedure. Can he overcome old vendettas and decipher the darkness of his own past?

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8. The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

ghost writer

When young Gerard Freeman discovers a trove of ghost stories written by his great-grandmother, his mother’s baffling reaction sets him on a lifelong quest to understand the mystery that haunts his family. What is his mother obsessively trying to protect him from? And why do these century-old ghost stories seem to parallel his reality? Slow burning and eerie, The Ghost Writer is a gothic puzzle of a novel that blurs the lines between truth and fiction. Don’t read this one late at night.

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