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Mystery Books Set in the 1920s

When our annual survey revealed historical fiction and mystery as two of the favorite genres among our readers, we thought we’d challenge ourselves to put together a fun list that crosses both categories. There have been some great mystery novels set in the 1920s published in recent years, from light, cozy mysteries to stories based on real crimes from the 20s.

Three tilted dark blue and black book covers

Combining these new works with classic 1920s detectives, like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, created a fun new book recommendation list. Whether you’re looking for a good mystery book on prohibition or a murder mystery book set in 1920s India, we’ve found something for every reader. There are even two non-fiction reads for our true crime fans! 

If you’re participating in the Decades Challenge, this list is a great supplement to our main list of Books Set in the 1920s, which spans all genres.

Best Mystery Books Set in the 1920s

Beautiful Little Fools book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

96% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Revisit the glittering Jazz age with this atmospheric novel that reimagines The Great Gatsby from the perspective of three alternating female voices. When Jay Gatsby was found shot dead in his swimming pool in August of 1922, and a local mechanic was found dead in the woods nearby, the police viewed it as an open-and-shut case of murder/suicide. 

But then a diamond hairpin is found in the bushes around the pool, and three women suddenly become suspects – Daisy Buchanan, who once thought she’d marry Gatsby; Jordan Baker, who has a secret that could derail both her golf career and her friendship with Daisy; and Catherine McCoy, a suffragette who’s fighting for women’s rights and to protect her own sister from a terrible marriage.

This is a tale of money and power, marriage and friendship, love and desire, and ultimately murder.

The Book Girls Say…

Reviewers say this entertaining retelling of The Great Gatsby is perfect for fans of Big Little Lies.

The Mayor of Maxwell Street book cover

Book Summary

Nelly Sawyer is the 20-year-old daughter of a Kentucky horse breeder who is alleged to be the “wealthiest Negro in America.” Their family is catapulted to a new level of elite Black society. Her brother is presumed to be the heir to the family fortune, but when he dies unexpectedly, Nelly is suddenly elevated to premier debutante.Marriage and societal influence are far from Nelly’s goals, however.

She’s spent the last year working as an undercover investigative journalist. In this capacity, she’s had the opportunity to share the achievements of many everyday Black people living under the shadow of Jim Crow. Her latest assignment throws her into the world of the dangerous so-called Mayor of Maxwell Street.

Jay Shorey is a charming and mysterious young man who longs for the comfort of high society. His parents, a biracial couple in rural Alabama, were murdered and Jay took the chance to escape his hometown. He found himself in Chicago where he crosses paths with Nelly and she asks his help to expose the Mayor and fight the corruption that has overrun Prohibition Era Chicago.

The Book Girls Say…

We are looking forward to this novel from debut author Avery Cunningham.

Last Call at the Nightingale book cover

Book Summary

Vivian lives in a dreary tenement building in New York City and spends long days sewing for a dress shop. However, her world comes alive at night in The Nightingale, an underground dance hall. When she’s there, the dangers of Prohibition-era New York drift away into the music. 

But when Vivian is caught in a police raid after a body is discovered behind the club, people assume she knows more about the crime than she does. Vivian is thrust into a world where the poor (like her) are considered disposable, and the wealthy use money to hide their sins.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 02/08/2024
Bangalore Detectives Club book cover

Book Summary

The protagonist, Kaveri, is a new bride and recently moved to Bangalore to be with her husband, a doctor. She has no plans to be a typical housewife and is studying advanced mathematics and hopes to attend college. Thankfully, her husband, Ramu, adores her and supports her dreams, even if his mother believes women should cook, clean, and center their lives around their husbands. 

During a party one evening, Kaveri notices an uninvited guest lurking in the shadows. A short time later, someone is murdered, and a vulnerable woman has been identified as a suspect. Kaveri isn’t willing to stand by and let this woman pay for someone else’s crime, so she launches an investigation that takes her from a brothel to a mansion.

The Book Girls Say…

In the 1920s, India was under British colonial rule. Political protests were growing over the exploitation of the Indian people. This book addresses those issues and creates a delightful main character ready to move her country forward. You’ll find detailed descriptions of the food and culture, along with fun references to classic mystery leads like Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and Lady Molly.

The second book in this new series was published March 28, 2023.

Book Summary

When a naked body is discovered dead in a bathtub, the police assume the victim is a prominent financier. However, there are some odd aspects to this crime beyond the tub. For example, the victim’s face was shaved AFTER he was killed. 

Lord Peter Wimsey does a bit of amateur sleuthing as a hobby. He has never encountered a murder, but takes up the case when he believes the police are wrong about the victim’s identity.

The Book Girls Say…

The first book in this classic mystery series was published in 1923 but is available in both Kindle and audiobook forms. It’s on the shorter side at 212 pages, so it’s perfect for dipping your toes into the series. We hope you enjoy Lord Wimsey as much as others have over the past century.

Botanist's Guide to Parties and Poisons book cover

Book Summary

Saffron is a rare female research assistant with a vast knowledge of poisons. While at a dinner party, her professor’s wife drops to the floor. She expected to spend the night talking about an upcoming expedition to the Amazon, but now her mentor, Dr. Maxwell, is the main suspect. He’s always been more supportive of her than others in the all-male, very old-school department, so she wants to help.

Saffron must work to clear his name before the departure date to Brazil. She’ll need her extensive knowledge of botany as she partners with fellow researcher Alexander to investigate greenhouses and dark gardens, looking for the deadly poison.

The Book Girls Say…

This book has been described as a cross between a historical thriller and a cozy mystery, so it’s perfect if you’re looking for something a bit deeper and more detailed than the typical cozy mystery, but still enjoy amateur sleuth stories. Also, be aware that there is a lot of talk about botany/plants, so it’s perfect if that’s your thing, but it may be distracting if you’re less into scientific details.

Widows of Malabar Hill book cover

Book Summary

Book 1 of 3 in the Perveen Mistry Novel Series

Perveen Mistry is one of the first female lawyers in India, complete with an Oxford education and a passion for protecting women’s rights. After joining her father’s law firm in the 1920s, she’s assigned oversight of a wealthy man’s will with three widows.

Perveen becomes suspicious when all three women sign their inheritances to a charity, leaving themselves no money to live on. When Perveen investigates, things quickly escalate to involve murder. She has to figure out what happened behind the closed doors of Malabar Hill before someone else is hurt.

The Book Girls Say…

If you enjoyed this book, consider picking up the sequel, The Satapur Moonstone, also set in 1922.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set in Asia: Southern Countries

Relative Fortunes book cover

Book Summary

Julia Kydd is a sophisticated book lover living in Manhattan with aspirations to launch a new private press. She views women’s suffrage as old news and believes life is too short for politics, but as a woman, she still must fight for what is hers, including the inheritance that her estranged half-brother, Philip, is challenging.

Julia is skeptical when another woman, Naomi, an ardent suffragist from a wealthy family, dies of an apparent suicide. Philip is unsure but proposes a wager – if Julia can prove that Naomi was murdered, he’ll drop his claims to Julia’s inheritance. However, Julia soon discovers just how turbulent Naomi’s life was, and as she gets closer to the truth, she realizes there is much more at stake than her inheritance.

The Book Girls Say…

Many readers find this novel to start a bit slow, but the social and economic issues women faced in this era were woven into the story exceptionally well.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 02/08/2024
Mysterious Affair at Styles book cover

Book Summary

The debut book in the beloved Hercule Poirot series introduces us to the eccentric Belgian detective. He’s a refugee from the Great War and lives on the country estate of wealthy Emily Inglethorp. 

When she is poisoned, Poirot must figure out which of the many suspects is the murderer. From a much younger husband and resentful step-sons to the London specialist on poison who just happens to be in town, every suspect has a secret. 

True to Christie’s style, red herrings and plot twists fill the pages as you investigate with Poirot. 

The Book Girls Say…

Books 2-5 in this series take place in the 1920s.

*After publishing this post, we realized that while this book was published in 1920, it is actually set while WW1 is still ongoing in 1917. The next 4 books in the series do flow into the 1920s.

Cozy Mysteries Set in the 1920s

Murder at Melrose Court book cover

Book Summary

This cozy mystery series set in the 1920s is described as Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie, with just the right amount of humor. 

Major Heathcliff Lennox is a WWI veteran pilot visiting his uncle’s manor for Christmas when he finds himself suspected of murder. When a snowstorm prevents the police from investigating, Lennox does some sleuthing to discover the real murderer.

The Book Girls Say…

Readers praise the well-developed, colorful characters and the vivid descriptions of the setting. Reviewers also say that the audiobook narrator is excellent.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 02/08/2024
Very English Murder book cover

Book Summary

After spending the last few years adventuring around the world, Eleanor Swift just endured a chaotic 45-day trip from South Africa to England. It’s 1920, and twenty-something Eleanor (or “Lady Eleanor” as she is now known) has reluctantly returned to Henley Hall after inheriting it from her late uncle. 

First on the agenda is befriending the household dog. Second, she has to figure out who she saw shoot a man in the distance and why the killer now seems to have her in their sights.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 02/10/2024

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Mystery By the Sea, #5 in the series, is included on our Summer Cozy Mystery book list

Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions book cover

Book Summary

This recently released collection of short stories features Phryne Fisher, the star of the 21-book cozy mystery series published over the last 30 years, beginning with Cocaine Blues. Phryne’s passions include food, sleep, intellectual puzzles, clothes, men, and solving mysteries, of course.

The fifteen 1920s-era stories in this collection are set in Melbourne, Australia. They include four previously unpublished stories and eleven others curated from novels throughout the series, making it the perfect read for those who don’t want to dive into the entire series. This story collection is said to add character depth and provide a richer historical context of the 1920s.

The Book Girls Say…

After reading, check out the Netflix series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, inspired by the books.

Murder at the Spring Ball book cover

Book Summary

The year is 1925, and Lord Edgington of Cranley Hall, England, has planned a grand ball to celebrate his 75th birthday. There will be a little music, a little dancing, and – as it turns out – a little murder. 

Lord Edgington, a retired Scotland Yard inspector, enlists the help of his teenage grandson to help him find the killer before any other family members turn up dead.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 02/08/2024

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Best Books to Read in Spring

Come Hell or Highball book cover

Book Summary

Lola is a 31-year-old recently widowed society matron in the era of Prohibition. Desperate for rent money in NYC, Lola has agreed to recover a stolen film reel to its rightful owner. But before she can retrieve it, the man who had it in his possession is killed, and the reel disappears. Now she has to try to recover the reel and solve the murder before becoming the killer’s next victim.

The Book Girls Say…

The first book in this series has a slightly lower rating than other books on this list. However, each subsequent book in the series has a higher rating than the next, so we decided to include it anyway.

Book Summary

This short, 168-page novella is the kick-off to the Ginger Gold series of 1920s cozy mysteries. Ginger is stylish, a war widow, and a former British Secret Service Agent.

As she travels from Boston to London with her dog and a good friend, the captain of their ship is found dead. Soon, she’s entangled in the case and must outwit the murderer before becoming a victim.

The Book Girls Say…

There are more than 20 additional books in the series if you get hooked on Ginger Gold!

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set on a Form of Transportation

1920s Mystery Books Based on Real Events

Broadway Butterfly book cover

Book Summary

In 1923, the scandalous flapper Dot King was found dead in her Midtown apartment. Her jewels were missing, and a bottle of chloroform was beside her. New York City reporters were enamored with the case, including Julia Harpman, who chased the story while navigating a male-dominated industry.

Julia uncovers twist after twist, involving everyone from socialites to a Harlem maid and bootleggers to Broadway dancers. The ramifications of Dot’s murder are eventually found to ripple from the gangster underworld all the way to the White House.

The Book Girls Say…

This Jazz Age thriller is based on the true unsolved murder of It Girl Dot King and the resulting investigation by police and reporters. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end!

Kindle Unlimited as of: 02/12/2024

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set in the 1920s

Ghosts of Eden Park book cover

Book Summary

George Remus was a lawyer before prohibition but quit law to begin trafficking whiskey. In two short years, he not only became a millionaire but owned 35% of all liquor in the United States. The press called him “King of the Bootleggers,” and routinely wrote about the lavish parties at his mansion. 

Prosecutor Mabel Walker Willebrandt makes it her mission to bring him down. Her bosses have a cozy relationship with Remus and assume that female, new grad Mabel wouldn’t pose a threat to Remus. But they were wrong. 

Things get even more complicated when her investigator, Franklin Dodge, begins an affair with Imogen, Remus’ wife. 

The Book Girls Say…

This award-winning non-fiction saga has some insane twists and turns along the way. Readers say it feels more like a literary, legal thriller than a work of non-fiction.

The Pilot's Daughter book cover

Book Summary

With the end of the second world war on the horizon, Ellie Morgan should be planning her wedding. Instead, the newspaper secretary who dreams of writing her own column is using her skills as a would-be-reporter to search for evidence of her father’s whereabouts.

Elli’s father, a pilot, is one of the many unaccounted for men from WWII, and she is determined to prove that he is still alive. Her search turns up a stack of love letters to her father, but they are not from her mother. She hopes her aunt Iris might know more about the letters and women who wrote them.

She’ll soon learn that her aunt’s secrets go much deeper than that, dating back to the 1920s Jazz age in New York City. In fact, Iris has spent the past two decades believing that her actions led to murder. Together Ellie and Iris travel to NYC to find the truth.

The Book Girls Say…

This novel is inspired by a true Jazz Age murder cold case and the 72,000 Americans who still remain unaccounted for since WWII.

Dreamland Burning book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

This YA dual timeline read is a fictionalized account of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Rowan is a present-day 17-year-old about to start her important summer internship when workers discover a skeleton on her property during the renovation of a building.

Her story alternates with William Tillman, a 17-year-old in 1921, whose misguided attempt to “protect” a girl he had a crush on triggers more death, destruction, and division than he could have predicted.

The Book Girls Say…

For decades, the story of what happened in Tulsa in 1921 was buried. Despite living 20 minutes from the site, Melissa was never taught about it in school. So she was horrified 10 years ago when she learned about what was then referred to by a less accurate name, the Tulsa Race Riot. She asked around at that time (~2010), and few locals knew about it. So Melissa turned to books to learn more and highly recommends Hannibal B. Johnson’s Black Wall Street if you’d like a well-researched non-fiction read, and we also suggest Black Birds in the Sky for a YA non-fiction option.

Johnson’s follow-up, Black Wall Street 100, covers what has happened since 1921.

Watch the sidewalk if you’re ever in Tulsa near the ballpark downtown. You’ll see location markers with the names of businesses and business owners who had their livelihood destroyed. The markers indicate who rebuilt and who never reopened and give a good sense of the impact to the formerly successful community members.

 Mystery of Mrs. Christie book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

92% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

On a frigid night in December of 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie went missing for 11 days. A more extensive search was launched after investigators found her car, which only contained her fur coat, near a pond. The only clues were some tire tracks nearby. Both her husband and daughter were questioned but claimed not to know her whereabouts.

The Book Girls Say…

The questions about where she went and what she was doing have persisted for nearly a century. In this historical fiction novel, Benedict imagines what may have occurred in a story filled with twists fitting of a Christie mystery. Author Nina de Gramont also wrote an alternative fictionalized account of this same time period titled, The Christie Affair.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 01/23/2024

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

96% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Killers of the Flower Moon is a non-fiction tale featuring a plot that seems like it has to be fiction.

Finding oil within their land, the Osage Indian Nation became the richest people per capita in the world. The wealth attracted a whole host of bad characters, leading to murders and other vicious crimes.

This tale also represents the first time we see J. Edgar Hoover show up in the history books, as a young FBI director leading the first major homicide investigation in the organization’s history.

The Book Girls Say…

This book is a great companion to the 2023 Martin Scorcese film by the same name, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Pacino, and Lily Gladstone. Scorcese worked closely with the Osage Tribe and filmed in Oklahoma to share this tragic piece of history authentically.

1920s Historical Fiction With a Mystery Sub-Plot

The Spanish Daughter book cover

Book Summary

Growing up in Spain, Puri always knew that she’d inherited her passion for chocolate from her father. What she was never expecting to inherited, however, was an actual cocoa estate in Vinces, Ecuador (a town known as “Paris Chquito” or Little Paris). Puri sees the estate as her chance to build a new life with her husband, but it soon becomes clear that someone is angry about her claim to the land.

While aboard a ship from Spain to Ecuador, a mercenary is set to murder her but unknowingly kills her husband instead. Puri dresses in her husband’s clothes and assumes his identity in hopes of staying safe while searching for the truth about her father’s legacy. Passing as a man frees Puri from the limiting rules placed on women in the 1920s, but it can’t sheild her from all the challenges that await her in Ecuador due to her father’s dark secrets.

The Book Girls Say…

Author Orena Hughes was born and raised in Quito, Ecuador. Readers say that this novels transports you to the lush, tropical landscape of Ecuador while providing fascinating insights into the real history of the coastal town known as the “birthplace of cacao.”

Kindle Unlimited as of: 02/22/2024
Shrines of Gaiety book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

This book will transport you to the Roaring Twenties in London. The year is 1926, and England is still recovering from the Great War. Each evening, London’s Soho plays host to a ruckus nightlife where starlets rub shoulders with foreign dignitaries and gangsters. 

Nellie Coker owns five successful nightclubs and is ruthless in getting exactly what she wants. Her ambition and shrewdness are driven by her desire to provide the very best for her six children, but it also gets her into trouble. The book opens as she’s being released from a six-month stint in prison due to a liquor license violation. Throughout the novel, she’s surrounded by her blissfully self-absobred adult children and a slew of policemen (some good and some bad).

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Books Set in the 1920s

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

96% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

The 1990s: Betty gave up a lot – universities, parties, boyfriends, and summer jobs – to care for her grandmother, Arlette. Arlette lives in a dilapidated yet charming home on the British isle of Guernsey. When her grandmother passes away, Betty discovers that the will includes a beneficiary named Clara, whom no one in the family knows. So Betty travels to London to seek out Clara.

The 1920s: In the years after WW1, Arlette is starting a new life in bohemian London when she gets drawn into the hedonistic world of the Bright Young People. A couple of years later, tragedy strikes and Arlette flees back to her home in Guernsey for good.

This rich detective story will transport you to London in both the 1920s and 1990s. As Betty investigates her grandmother’s life, she’ll uncover secrets that might also help her find happiness in her own life.

The Book Girls Say…

Readers say that this novel begins as a cozy historical mystery but soon reveals unexpected heart and depth.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set in the 1990s
Best Books From 2012

Masterpiece book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

97% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

For most New Yorkers, Grand Central Terminal is a masterpiece of architectural design, but for Clara and Virginia, it represents something entirely different.

For Clara, in 1928, teaching at the Grand Central School of Art was the stepping stone to her future. In a time when there was public disdain for a “woman artist,” Clara is determined to succeed in her dream of creating cover art for Vogue. But she and her friends will soon be blindsided by the looming Great Depression that may destroy the entire art scene.

By 1974, Grand Central had declined to a dangerous place full of pickpockets and drug dealers, and it was at the center of a lawsuit that would decide if the terminal should be preserved or demolished. Virginia, who had recently taken a job in the Grand Central information booth, stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor that opens her eyes to the elegance beneath the decay. She sets out to find the artist and finds herself drawn into the battle to save Grand Central.

The Book Girls Say…

We both LOVE New York City, the beauty of Grand Central Station, and art, so it’s like Fiona Davis wrote this book for us. We enjoyed the combination of history, mystery, and even a little romance. The characters are based on real people, and it was interesting to walk in the shoes of a female artist in the 1920s. We think those who enjoy reading about art history, 20s Manhattan, or women’s equality will all love this one.

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Angela & Melissa

The Book Girls are best friends who jointly read over 200 books per year. We started Book Girls' Guide in 2019 to help others de-stress and find joy through the power of a great book. We do in-depth research on thousands of novels and non-fiction titles each year to provide curated book lists covering a variety of genres.

Lane Johnson

Friday 26th of August 2022

The Dorothy Sayers books set the standard for detective stories. They are a must. Sadly, the Mehudi stories do not approach the standard. Her characters are boring as are the plots.

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