Mystery Without End... Literally
Raymond Chandler famously said, “The ideal mystery is one you would read even if the end is missing.”
In honor of his birthday this week, we asked our librarian experts to name mysteries they’d read even if there were no endings—books so compelling, with such great characters or such an evocative setting, that the story itself is just a bonus.
I would read the Gods of Gotham series by Lyndsay Faye, even sans ending, since she so carefully envisions the formation of the NYPD at the peak of the great Irish potato famine. —Jenny Baum, Jefferson Market
I love reading historical mystery series, so the books become less about the mystery du jour and more about the characters’ ongoing relationships and the details of the historical setting. A favorite is Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mysteries. Set in late 19th-century New York City, they involve upper class, midwife Sarah Brandt who always stumbles onto murders and gets help from Irish, NYPD detective Frank Malloy. Filled with historical detail of the city and great developing relationships, you’ll not remember the mystery plots but you will remember the vivid characters. Start with Murder on Astor Place. —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street
Christie, Doyle, & Co.
I’ll go with The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie, featuring the amazing detective Hercule Poirot. This book could have ended twice (!) before it actually ended as potential murderers were identified - each with equally compelling motive and suspicious behavior. Such was the twist and mastery of this whodunit tale. —Jean Harripersaud, Bronx Library Center
I read and re-read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None when I was young, fascinated by the idea of remote-island mystery. Who did it really didn’t matter. Louise Penny’s Still Life and the rest of the Three Pine series are another kind of remote island—although that one has friendly characters you’d like for your neighbors. —Danita Nichols, Inwood
The first mystery I read as a child was A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, closely followed by The Hound of the Baskervilles (also by Doyle). I was enthralled by Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and the Victorian London setting. It’s not that I don’t want to know the solutions to the mysteries, but getting to know the characters was the real enjoyment. So I recommend anything Sherlock. —Lois Moore, Mid-Manhattan
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Who cares even what the mystery is? The sights, smells, and feel of Botswana matter the most! —Danita Nichols, Inwood
The mysteries of Kathy Reichs have already been turned into a television series, but her novels have different nuances to her characters or completely different characters altogether. She also has very different settings than the show, from Canada to North Carolina. Peter May is another mystery writer whose works have been adapted for television. His setting of Scottish Hebrides islands is rich with details of the culture and landscape. —Jenny Baum, Jefferson Market
It is more the journey than the destination that appeals in Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow, a murder mystery and a meditation on nature. The protagonist is Greenland native Smilla, who can read snow like a book (and in whose language there are over a dozen words for it) and sees in the snow on the scene of a rooftop fatality that it was actually murder. The end of the book takes us deeper into supernatural territory, but it is Hoeg’s vivid descriptions of winter along the way that make this the perfect heat wave read. —Jeremy Megraw, Billy Rose Theatre Division
In Emotionally Weird, set in northern Scotland, Atkinson tells a story of a dysfunctional mother telling stories about the past and her college writing major daughter telling stories about the present in order to learn about the past. There are deaths, dogs, and unpleasant weather, and when you finish it you get to think about whether you really know what went on. Did I mention that Atkinson has an unusual sense of humor? Well, she does. When Will There Be Good News, a Jackson Brodie mystery, is all about deaths that happened many years before and still haunt the victims today. Police, a train wreck, missing people, lovers, and a teenage heroine are the characters that keep readers entertained and guessing. —Peggy Salwen, St. Agnes
Hard-boilers, Noir, & More
I absolutely adore Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie. Stout began with Fer-de-lance, published in 1934, and continuously wrote until the mid-1970s. The main characters do not age over the years, but they present a really interesting glimpse into New York life over the decades. —Leslie Bernstein, Mott Haven
No ending? Well in that case, the writing has to be so delicious that I don’t care what happens at the end. A mystery writer that easily fits that bill is Dashiell Hammett, who was a predecessor of Raymond Chandler (in fact he’s considered to be the father of "noir" fiction). His last novel The Thin Man is a masterwork in combining mood, humor, and sentences that will make you shiver... not with fear, but with delighted appreciation. —Wayne Roylance, BookOps
I love open-ended mysteries—the ones where the police close the case, but the characters are left with questions and guilt. Two of the best— Kenneth Fearing’s “The Big Clock” and Cornell Woolrich’s “I Married a Dead Man”—are in an anthology: Crime Stories: American Noir of the 1930s. In both, someone confesses and dies but the characters (and readers) are left with questions, suspicion, and guilt. I recommend any of Woolrich’s novels and short stories, but not if you require beginnings, middles, and ends. —Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, Exhibitions
Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn & Child is a mystery novel set in a heavy fog, or an impenetrable steam. Two middling detectives track a maybe ghost car, a maybe crime boss, a pick-pocket, and more. To what end? Who knows. They certainly don’t. The result is a book that asks whodunit… and what was done anyway… and why do we care? Fantastically strange. —Chad Felix, Social Media
Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your picks! Leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend.