Sep 19 2017 3:00pm

Mysterious Ways: 5 Books Featuring Ordinary People Solving Mysteries

Read Brad Abraham's exclusive guest post about mysteries featuring ordinary people, then make sure to sign in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of his debut novel, Magicians Impossible!

To describe a novel as a mystery conjures images of hardboiled detectives, plucky criminologists, driven cops, and clever British pensioners. But at their heart, every book is a mystery in its own way. What story hasn’t centered on a character or characters seeking the answer to some question or a higher truth about the world or about themselves? A mystery can be set in worlds both mundane and magical and in times past, present, and future—some don’t even have a resolution at all, other than to impart some lesson on the one seeking an answer to the thing that keeps them up at night. Some don’t even need a detective.

Here are five of the latter, mysteries featuring ordinary people seeking answers that put them into physical, emotional, and psychological danger. Scheming corporate headhunters, grieving boyfriends, white-trash detectives, hipster writers, and an entire community—they’re all here.

Headhunters by Jo Nesbø

Set in the cutthroat world of corporate recruiting, Headhunters is the twisty tale of headhunter Rodger Brown—a man who gets as much a thrill in finding the right candidate for the right job as he does in locating, stealing, and fencing paintings from many of Oslo’s wealthiest families. Roger meets Clas Greve, the seemingly perfect candidate for a high-paying client’s advertised position. But when he learns Greve had a relationship with his girlfriend Diana, Roger sabotages Greve’s chances … and unleashes a whirlwind. To say Rodger’s life soon spirals out of control is to say Norwegian winters are long and dark; Headhunters is packed with enough jaw-dropping twists and turns and “I can’t believe that just happened” moments for ten books let alone one.

Buy at iTunes

Buy at Barnes and NobleBuy at Amazon



This Is Sarah by Ally Malinenko

Not all crimes have a solution, and not all mysteries can be solved. Any grieving parent with a missing child knows this; sometimes, you don’t find the one who’s lost. And so is the case of Colin Leaventhal in Ally Malinenko’s This Is Sarah. The grieving, confused boyfriend of the titular figure; a teenage girl gone missing who, a year later, has yet to be found. Sarah’s disappearance is a mystery. Was she kidnapped? Abducted? Murdered? Or did she just walk away from Colin, from her sister Claire, from everything? This Is Sarah is a mystery about learning the truth about who Sarah was and finding no easy answers. 

Buy at Barnes and NobleBuy at Amazon



Mucho Mojo by Joe R. Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale first introduced the not-so-dynamic duo of Hap Collins and Leonard Pine in 1989’s Savage Season, but it wasn’t until 1995’s Mucho Mojo that they really hit their stride. Twenty years down the road, it is perhaps the finest in the Hap and Leonard series and the best gateway to Lansdale’s work overall. Beginning with the discovery of a child’s skeleton in the basement of Leonard’s recently deceased uncle’s house, the amateur sleuths embark on a wild and twisty narrative that involves corrupt cops, a traveling carnival, a fire-and-brimstone preacher, and the crack house next door. It’s all anchored by the friendship between black, gay Republican Leonard and lefty, white “cracker” Hap—a friendship that has stretched to over a dozen novels and short-story collections as well as two, soon to be three, seasons of Sundance TV’s acclaimed Hap & Leonard TV series. 

Buy at iTunes

Buy at Barnes and NobleBuy at Amazon



The Big Rewind by Libby Cudmore

The cafes and clubs of hipster Brooklyn might not seem a place for a murder mystery, yet Libby Cudmore pulls it off in The Big Rewind, which is as much about that aimless post-college drift through low-paying jobs and fractured relationships as it is about the murder of Jett Bennett’s downstairs neighbor Kit-Kat. Jett resolves to solve the murder, but before she can do that, she has to come to terms with her own life’s journey, its disappointments, and those “WTF was I thinking” moments we all share. It’s murder as metaphor for navigating those difficult post-college years and figuring out just who you want to be when you grow up after you’ve grown up (surely the greatest mystery of them all).

Buy at Barnes and NobleBuy at Amazon



Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

The Gothic Picnic at Hanging Rock details the events that occurred at a girl’s boarding school buttressing the Australian outback in 1900. On Valentine’s Day, an excursion to the local and legendary Hanging Rock ends with four girls and a teacher disappearing without a trace. Detailing the fallout and the accusations, the mystery remains unsolved at the end … depending on which version you’ve read or seen. Famously, author Joan Lindsay originally included a concluding chapter explaining the disappearance, but her editor wisely recommended she remove it. The resultant novel (and later film adaptation) was a sensation in its native land, so much so that many to this day believe the story to be based on a real-life disappearance. Reality and fiction in Hanging Rock blur as much on the page as they do off it, but like This is Sarah, it’s the mysteries without resolution that cut deepest and linger long after the book has been closed.

Buy at iTunes

Buy at Barnes and NobleBuy at Amazon



Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Magicians Impossible by Brad Abraham!

To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

Magicians Impossible Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2017/09/mysterious-ways-5-books-featuring-ordinary-people-solving-mysteries beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) September 19, 2017. Sweepstakes ends 2:59 p.m. ET September 26, 2017. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


To learn more or order a copy, visit:

Buy at Barnes and NobleBuy at Amazon



Brad Abraham is the author of Magicians Impossible (Thomas Dunne Books), creator of the Mixtape comic book series (Space Goat Productions), screenwriter of the films Fresh Meat and Stonehenge Apocalypse, writer on the television series Canada Crew, Now You Know, I Love Mummy, and Robocop Prime Directives, and a journalist whose work has appeared in Rue Morgue, Dreamwatch, and Fangoria. He lives in New York City.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
4. Gilbert P. Bardsley
Novels are indeed mysteries. Looking forward to your new magician's mysery book. Check out "Magic Men Mysteries" series by Elly Griffiths (writer of equally wonderful Ruth Galloway mystery series) for a great example.
Joy Isley
These books all sound really good. Woud love to win them.
Michael Carter
8. rubydog
This looks really interesting.
Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
10. pcal2
So many good books and never enough time to read them all!
15. Polly Barlow
You have just given me 6 new books ( to me) to read.
Sally Schmidt
16. bigcootie
More books to add to my TBR stack, plus a book I would love to win and read. Thanks!
Angie Stormer
18. ReadaholicZone
Magicians would make great crime solvers. They could get evidence with the slip of the hand. Perfect!
Lori Provenzano
19. Mountainesque
Hard to resist projecting ourselves as the protagonists when ordinary people are the sleuths. Plus, there's generally the expectation that they'll survive til the questions are answered. Works for me!
Peter W. Horton Jr.
20. mosaix
It will be a mystery if I don't win! Yes!
Jackie Wisherd
21. JackieW
This would be a new author to me so would love to read his book.
John Smith
25. jsmith2jsmith
I know how "Picnic At Hanging Rock" "really" ends, since I've watched documentaries about it. I prefer not to have ambiguity!
susan beamon
27. susanbeamon
Good selection of fiction mysteries. I don't think I've read any on this list, although I read several mysteries a year. Sure would like to win this one.
Marisa Young
33. Risa
More books to add to the To Read pile.
Darlene Slocum
34. darandsam
I can always use a good mystery book by my bedside.
Robert Grieco
35. RobG
These books look like they'll keep me up all through the night. Can't Wait!
Jeffrey Malis
37. bravejam
Sounds like a great read... Thanks for the article and the chance!
Jeffrey Malis
37. bravejam
Sounds like a great read... Thanks for the article and the chance!
Sandy Klocinski
40. attea2d
I'm intrigued. Perfect. Thanks for the opportunity to win
Dauna Bartley
44. dbartley
Brad, thank you for choosing to write about these books! They sound very engaging, and much more appealing to me than a story about an unrelatable "special" protagonist. I'll check them out, and I'm really looking forward to reading Magicians Impossible!
Jane Schwarz
45. Janeschwarz
The list of books that you described all have that mysterious allure. Thanks for the recommendations and thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of your Magicians Impossible.
Marjorie Manharth
46. mmanharth
But, magicians are not ordinary people! Would love to read this.
Marjorie Manharth
47. mmanharth
But, magicians are not ordinary people! Would love to read this.
49. Carl Scott
That sounds like a pretty good reading list. Thanks for the tips and the chance to win Magicians Impossible.
Todd Henson
50. thedelfrog
These all sound like entertaining reads, as does Magicians Impossible. Thanks for the chance!
Sharon Shumway
51. Shellen
I can't wait to read your book. Love mystery and magic. Thank You.
53. LStirling
Great choices. I love Picnic at Hanging Rock. The way it leaves us hanging (pun intended) has stayed with me since my first reading and brought me back to the book many times. These selections bode very well for Mr. Abraham's book!
teresa sopher
59. tas58
Nice line up of mystery possibles".
61. Shannon Baas
I would like this.
Jerry Marquardt
62. versatileer
I would love to thank you so much for featuring this fine giveaway. I look forward to following you in the future.
Deb Philippon
66. DebP
I would love to read this book. Wish me luck!
68. Stephanie Liske
Thank you!
Carl White
72. CarlWhiteEntry
Good post, interesting read, Mucho Mojo may very well be my next read.
73. Regina M
Looking forward to reading these.
jean olaughlin
74. kerrigans
This sounds like a great read, count me in!
jean olaughlin
74. kerrigans
This sounds like a great read, count me in!
75. Leela
Thanks for the giveaway!
Post a comment