28 Best Science Fiction Detective Books

Detective fiction in the English-speaking world is considered to have begun in 1841 with the publication of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and have been extremely popular ever since, showing up in every single literary genre.

 

28
Memory
by Lois McMaster Bujold – 1996

Book 10 (or 11, depending how you count it) of 16 in the Miles Vorkosigan series.

Forced to abandon his undercover role as leader of the Dendarii Mercenaries, Miles Vorkosigan persuades Emperor Gregor to appoint him Imperial Auditor so he can penetrate Barrayar’s intelligence and security operations, AKA ImpSec.

Simon Illyan, head of ImpSec and Miles’s former boss, is failing physically and mentally—which poses a threat to the Barrayaran Empire itself—and Miles sets out to find out who or what hidden force is behind Illyan’s rapid decline.

“Bujold mixes quirky humor with action [and] superb character development … [E]normously satisfying.”
—Publishers Weekly

27
Redshift Rendezvous
by John E. Stith – 1990

In this underrated story, crewmembers of a spaceship are murdered one by one and First Officer Jason Kraft suspects that a band of mutineering pirates is determined to take over the ship.

“[S]tartlingly new, innovative, imaginative, original, wonder-inducing and gripping, all in one novel… A remarkable achievement.”
—Denver Post

26
The Real-Town Murders
by Adam Roberts – 2017

Alma is a private detective in a near-future England, a country desperately trying to tempt people away from the delights of Shine, the immersive successor to the internet. But most people are happy to spend their lives plugged in, and the country is decaying.

Alma’s partner is ill, and has to be treated without fail every 4 hours, a task that only Alma can do. If she misses the 5-minute window her lover will die. She is one of the few not to access the Shine.

So when Alma is called to an automated car factory to be shown an impossible death and finds herself caught up in a political coup, she knows that getting too deep may leave her unable to get home.

“A time-traveling nerd applies Kant with lethal results in this dazzling philosophical adventure…this is really walking the literary high wire, and Roberts not only keeps his balance, he makes the spectacle compelling.”
―The Guardian

25
Red Planet Blues
by Robert J. Sawyer – 2013

The name’s Lomax, Alex Lomax. I’m the one and only private eye working the mean streets of New Klondike, the Martian frontier town that sprang up forty years ago after Simon Weingarten and Denny O’Reilly discovered fossils on the Red Planet. Back on Earth, where anything can be synthesized, the remains of alien life are the most valuable of all collectibles, so shiploads of desperate treasure hunters stampeded here in the Great Martian Fossil Rush.

I’m trying to make an honest buck in a dishonest world, tracking down killers and kidnappers among the failed prospectors, the corrupt cops, and a growing population of transfers—lucky stiffs who, after striking paleontological gold, upload their minds into immortal android bodies. But when I uncover clues to solving the decades-old murders of Weingarten and O’Reilly, along with a journal that may lead to their legendary mother lode of Martian fossils, God only knows what I’ll dig up…

“[A] highly original and fun way to pay homage to the great hard-boiled detectives of the past.”
—seattlepi.com

24
Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
by Haruki Murakami – 1985

Across two parallel narratives, Murakami draws readers into a mind-bending universe in which Lauren Bacall, Bob Dylan, a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his shockingly undemure granddaughter, and various thugs, librarians, and subterranean monsters collide to dazzling effect. What emerges is a novel that is at once hilariously funny and a deeply serious meditation on the nature and uses of the mind.

“He has become the foremost representative of a new style of Japanese writing: hip, cynical, highly stylized, set at the juncture of cyberpunk, postmodernism, and hard-boiled detective fiction… Murakami [is] adept at deadpan wit, outrageous style.”
—Los Angeles Times Magazine

23
Marooned in Realtime
by Vernor Vinge – 1986

Fifty million years from now, nobody knows why there are only three hundred humans left alive on the Earth.

Opinion is fiercely divided on whether to settle in and plant the seed of mankind anew, or to continue using high-energy stasis fields, or “bobbles,” in venturing into the future. When somebody is murdered, it’s obvious someone has a secret he or she is willing to kill to preserve.

The murder intensifies the rift between the two factions, threatening the survival of the human race. It’s up to 21st century detective Wil Brierson, the only cop left in the world, to find the culprit, a diabolical fiend whose lust for power could cause the utter extinction of man.

“[C]ombines the expansive mode of hard SF with the narrow focus of the detective story, complete with a final orchestrated showdown. The result is exciting; you can hardly turn the pages fast enough.”
—Locus

22
The Last Policeman
by Ben H. Winters – 2012

What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?

Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No hope. Just six precious months until impact.

In this rare pre-apocalyptic book, the economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.

“Winters’s apocalyptic detective story contains an earth-shattering element of science fiction that lifts it beyond a typical procedural.”
—New York Times Book Review

21
Wrapt in Crystal
by Sharon Shinn – 1999

With the planet’s religious groups being victimized by a serial killer, an Interfed agent must go undercover among the ascetics to save the lives of two spiritually gifted women.

“Rich in detail and profound spiritual underpinnings…top-notch.”
—Library Journal

20
The Stainless Steel Rat
by Harry Harrison – 1961

The Stainless Steel Rat is not an actual metal space rodent, which disappointed me as a young reader. However, he is a futuristic con man, master thief, skilled liar, and all-round rascal.

Jim DiGriz is captured during one of his crimes and forced to work a boring, routine desk job as punishment. Unexpectedly, he discovers that someone is building a battleship, thinly disguised as an industrial vessel.

In the peaceful League, no one has battleships anymore, so the builder of this one would be unstoppable. DiGriz’s hunt for the guilty party becomes a personal battle between himself and the beautiful but deadly Angelina, who is planning a coup on one of the feudal worlds. DiGriz’s dilemma is whether he will turn Angelina over to the Special Corps, or join with her, since he has (of course) fallen in love with her.

19
The City and the City
by China Miéville – 2009

When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad.

To investigate, Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to its equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the vibrant city of Ul Qoma. But this is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a seeing of the unseen. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one.

As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them more than their lives. What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.

“Miéville offers an outstanding take on police procedurals…[and] skillfully examines the illusions people embrace to preserve their preferred social realities.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

18
Kiln People
by David Brin – 2002

In a future where disposable duplicate bodies fulfill every legal and illicit whim of their decadent masters, life is cheap. No one knows that better than Albert Morris, an investigator with a knack for trouble, who has sent his own duplicates into deadly peril more times than he cares to remember.

Dr. Yosil Maharal, a brilliant researcher in artificial intelligence, has suddenly vanished, just as he is on the verge of a revolutionary scientific breakthrough. Maharal’s daughter, Ritu, believes he has been kidnapped—or worse. Aeneas Polom, a reclusive trillionaire who appears in public only through his high-priced platinum duplicates, offers Morris unlimited resources to locate Dr. Maharal before his awesome discovery falls into the wrong hands.

To uncover the truth, Morris must enter a shadowy, nightmare world of ghosts and golems where nothing—and no one—is what they seem, memory itself is suspect, and the line between life and death may no longer exist.

“Intricate plotting, unflagging inventiveness, and a judicious sprinkling of puns and in-jokes: Brin keeps the pages feverishly turning.”
―Kirkus Reviews

17
Chasm City
by Alastair Reynolds – 2001

A strong follow-up to impressive debut Revelation Space, Chasm City is about a city overrun by a virus that attacks both man and machine, while an agent pursues a lowlife postmortal and uncovers a centuries-old atrocity that history would rather forget…

“Reynolds transmutes space opera into a noirish, baroque, picaresque mystery tale… Think of a combination of the movie Blade Runner and one of Jack Vance’s ironic SF adventure novels.”
—Publishers Weekly

16
The Disappeared
by Kristine Kathryn Rusch – 2002

In a universe where humans and aliens have formed a loose government, treaties guarantee that humans are subject to alien laws when on alien soil. But alien laws often make no sense, and the punishments vary from execution to loss of a first-born child. Now three cases have collided: a stolen space-yacht filled with dead bodies, two kidnapped human children, and a human woman on the run, trying to disappear to avoid alien prosecution. Private detective Flint must solve the crimes and then enforce the law—but how can he sacrifice innocents to a nonsensical system?

15
When Gravity Fails
by George Alec Effinger – 1987

In a decadent world of cheap pleasures and easy death, Marid Audrian has kept his independence the hard way. Still, like everything else in the Budayeen, he’s available for a price.

For a new kind of killer roams the streets of the Arab ghetto, a madman whose bootlegged personality cartridges range from a sinister James Bond to a sadistic disemboweler named Khan. And Marid Audrian has been made an offer he can’t refuse. The 200-year-old godfather of the Budayeen’s underworld has enlisted Marid as his instrument of vengeance. But first Marid must undergo the most sophisticated of surgical implants before he dares to confront a killer who carries the power of every psychopath since the beginning of time.

“[T]erse, direct, vivid and often laced with an enchanting sense of humor… gives you a real sense of what it’s like to be an old-fashioned gumshoe in the seedy backreaches of a futuristic Arab nation.”
―The Providence Sunday Journal

14
A Philosophical Investigation
by Philip Kerr – 1992

LONDON, 2013. Serial killings have reached epidemic proportions—even with the widespread government use of DNA detection, brain-imaging, and the “punitive coma.” Beautiful, whip-smart, and driven by demons of her own, Detective Isadora “Jake” Jacowicz must stop a murderer, code-named “Wittgenstein,” who has taken it upon himself to eliminate any man who has tested posi­tive for a tendency towards violent behavior—even if his victim has never committed a crime. He is a killer whose intellectual brilliance is matched only by his homicidal madness.

“Chilling…absorbing…part techno-thriller, part futuristic detective story, part diary of a serial killer.”
—The New York Times Book Review

13
Lock In
by John Scalzi – 2014

Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever, and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent—and nearly five million souls in the United States alone—the disease causes “Lock In”: Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.

A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what’s now known as “Haden’s syndrome,” rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an “integrator”: someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated.

But “complicated” doesn’t begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery—and the real crime—is bigger than anyone could have imagined. The world of the locked in is changing, and with the change comes opportunities that the ambitious will seize at any cost. The investigation that began as a murder case takes Shane and Vann from the halls of corporate power to the virtual spaces of the locked in, and to the very heart of an emerging, surprising new human culture. It’s nothing you could have expected.

“A smart, thoughtful near-future thriller… This powerful novel will intrigue and entertain both fans and newcomers.”
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

12
Bimbos of the Death Sun
by Sharyn McCrumb – 1987

Bimbos of the Death Sun is a clever, funny murder mystery that takes place during a science fiction/fantasy convention. So it’s not really a science fiction book, but I think most SF readers would enjoy it, given the large number of SF references. It features no actual bimbos.

The main character is a brand new author who wrote a book called Bimbos of the Death Sun, and this is his first convention. He meets the world-famous author Appin Dungannon, a deeply despicable person who hates his own books almost as much as he hates his fans. He ends up murdered, and despite the fact that the world is immediately better off for his absence, the new author tries to figure out who the murderer is, all while navigating roaming groups of cosplayers and panicking convention organizers.

11
Farthing
by Jo Walton – 2006

Eight years after they overthrew Churchill and led Britain into a separate peace with Hitler, the upper-crust families of the “Farthing set” are gathered for a weekend retreat. Among them is estranged Farthing scion Lucy Kahn, who can’t understand why her and her husband David’s presence was so forcefully requested. Then the country-house idyll is interrupted when the eminent Sir James Thirkie is found murdered―with a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest.

Lucy begins to realize that her Jewish husband is about to be framed for the crime―an outcome that would be convenient for altogether too many of the various political machinations underway in Parliament in the coming week. But whoever’s behind the murder, and the frame-up, didn’t reckon on the principal investigator from Scotland Yard being a man with very private reasons for sympathizing with outcasts and underdogs―and prone to look beyond the obvious as a result.

As the trap slowly shuts on Lucy and David, they begin to see a way out―a way fraught with peril in a darkening world.

“Stunningly powerful…While the whodunit plot is compelling, it’s the convincing portrait of a country’s incremental slide into fascism that makes this novel a standout. Mainstream readers should be enthralled as well.”
―Publishers Weekly, starred review

10
A Talent for War
by Jack McDevitt – 1989

As Alex Benedict investigates a mysterious project his uncle had been working on at the time of his death, he’s drawn deep into the history of a war between human civilization and a neighboring alien civilization. He uncovers secrets that challenge the foundation of the current human government.

A Talent for War is a mystery that happens to have a far-future setting. If you’re looking for a wild, spaceship-exploding adventure, this isn’t it. However, if you’re intrigued by what mysteries may appear in ten thousand years and enjoy getting into characters’ heads, give this book a try.

9
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
by Philip K. Dick – 1968

The inspiration for Blade Runner.

By 2021, the World War has killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remain covet any living creature, and for people who can’t afford one, companies build incredibly realistic simulacra: horses, birds, cats, sheep. They’ve even built humans. Immigrants to Mars receive androids so sophisticated they are indistinguishable from true men or women. Fearful of the havoc these artificial humans can wreak, the government bans them from Earth. Driven into hiding, unauthorized androids live among human beings, undetected. Rick Deckard, an officially sanctioned bounty hunter, is commissioned to find rogue androids and “retire” them. But when cornered, androids fight back—with lethal force.

“A kind of pulp-fiction Kafka, a prophet.”
—The New York Times

8
Altered Carbon
by Richard K. Morgan – 2002

In the twenty-fifth century, humankind has spread throughout the galaxy, monitored by the watchful eye of the U.N. While divisions in race, religion, and class still exist, advances in technology have redefined life itself. Now, assuming one can afford the expensive procedure, a person’s consciousness can be stored in a cortical stack at the base of the brain and easily downloaded into a new body (or “sleeve”), making death nothing more than a minor blip on a screen.

Ex-U.N. envoy Takeshi Kovacs has been killed before, but his last death was particularly painful. Dispatched one hundred eighty light-years from home, re-sleeved into a body in Bay City (formerly San Francisco, now with a rusted, dilapidated Golden Gate Bridge), Kovacs is thrown into the dark heart of a shady, far-reaching conspiracy that is vicious even by the standards of a society that treats “existence” as something that can be bought and sold.

“A fascinating trip… Pure high-octane science fiction mixes with the classic noir private-eye tale.”
—Orlando Sentinel

7
The Caves of Steel
by Isaac Asimov – 1953

The Caves of Steel took detective science fiction from pulp status to a real, workable novel. Asmiov maintained that science fiction is a flavor that can be applied to any literary genre, rather than a limited genre itself, and wrote this book in response to the assertion by editor John W. Campbell that mystery and science fiction were incompatible genres. Campbell thought it’d be too easy for authors to invent futuristic facts that the reader couldn’t know about, but would use them solve the crime. Fortunately, Asimov knew better.

Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions. But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to the Outer Worlds to help track down the killer. The relationship between Life and his Spacer superiors, who distrusted all Earthmen, was strained from the start. Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw. Worst of all was that the “R” stood for robot—and his positronic partner was made in the image and likeness of the murder victim!

6
The Automatic Detective
by A. Lee Martinez – 2008

Even in Empire City, a town where weird science is the hope for tomorrow, it’s hard for a robot to make his way. It’s even harder for a robot named Mack Megaton, a hulking machine designed to bring mankind to its knees. But Mack’s not interested in world domination. He’s just a bot trying to get by, trying to demonstrate that he isn’t just an automated smashing machine, and to earn his citizenship in the process. It should be as easy as crushing a tank for Mack, but some bots just can’t catch a break.

When Mack’s neighbors are kidnapped, Mack sets off on a journey through the dark alleys and gleaming skyscrapers of Empire City. Along the way, he runs afoul of a talking gorilla, a brainy dame, a mutant lowlife, a little green mob boss, and the secret conspiracy at the heart of Empire’s founders—not to mention more trouble than he bargained for. What started out as one missing family becomes a battle for the future of Empire and every citizen that calls her home.

“Martinez tickles the funny bone in this delightful, fast-paced mishmash of SF and hard-boiled detective story… A smart, rocket-fast read with a clever, twisty plot that comes to a satisfying conclusion.”
―Publishers Weekly, starred review

5
Tea From an Empty Cup
by Pat Cadigan – 1998

“How can you drink tea from an empty cup?”

That ancient Zen riddle holds the key to a baffling mystery: a young man found with his throat slashed while locked alone in a virtual reality parlor.

“[Pat] Cadigan… tells a gritty and downbeat tale of multiple murders, exchanged identities and cybernetic sadomasochism. Konstantin, the embittered cop, and Yuki, the rootless nisei, are effective protagonists, but, as is often the case in Cadigan’s work, the author’s pyrotechnic style and intensely detailed descriptions of cyberspace are the major attractions. This well-done example of cyberpunk noir detective fiction should especially appeal to fans of William Gibson.”
—Publishers Weekly

4
Leviathan Wakes
by James S. A. Corey – 2011

Space opera combined with noir. I love this book and the whole Expanse series.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for—and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations—and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

“This is the future the way it was supposed to be.”
—The Wall Street Journal

3
Great North Road
by Peter F. Hamilton – 2012

A century from now, thanks to a technology allowing instantaneous travel across light-years, humanity has solved its energy shortages, cleaned up the environment, and created far-flung colony worlds. The keys to this empire belong to the powerful North family—composed of successive generations of clones. Yet these clones are not identical. For one thing, genetic errors have crept in with each generation. For another, the original three clone “brothers” have gone their separate ways, and the branches of the family are now friendly rivals more than allies.

Or maybe not so friendly. At least that’s what the murder of a North clone in the English city of Newcastle suggests to Detective Sidney Hurst. Sid is a solid investigator who’d like nothing better than to hand off this hot potato of a case. The way he figures it, whether he solves the crime or not, he’ll make enough enemies to ruin his career.

This tome comes in at around 1,000 pages.

“A mesmerizing page-turner.”
—Publishers Weekly,starred review

2
Gun, with Occasional Music
by Jonathan Lethem – 1994

It’s easy to be a hero when you’re saving the entire world or galaxy or species. Which is why the hard-boiled detectives are the most heroic characters out there. They’re not out to ram the bad guy’s spaceship. More likely, they’re trying to find justice for a murdered little nobody, or get an intensely offensive (but innocent) man out of jail.

This dogged deathgrip on principle directs the actions of private detective Conrad Metcalfe in a bizarre future world populated by talking animals, drugs for all, and the most authoritative state I’ve ever come across. It’s dark, funny, fast-paced, clever, and chilling.

“Marvelous… Stylish, intelligent, darkly humorous and highly readable entertainment.”
—San Francisco Examiner

1
The Yiddish Policemen's Union
by Michael Chabon – 2007

For sixty years, Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a “temporary” safe haven created in the wake of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. The Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. But now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end.

“Should any other snobs mistake Chabon for anything less than a real writer, this book offers new evidence of his peerless storytelling and style.”
—Publishers Weekly

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