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Laura van den Berg's 6 favorite unconventional mystery novels

The award-winning writer recommends six books that redefined the mystery novel

Author

Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me by Javier Marías (Vintage, $15). In the opening pages, a woman dies a sudden and mysterious death in the arms of her lover. He in turn is forced to confront the dark and inscrutable corners of his soul.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (Vintage, $17). The mundane (a missing cat; spaghetti), the menacing (a missing wife), the bizarre (psychic sisters; a most unusual well), and the ghosts of Japan's military history all come together to form a sprawling, esoteric missing-person mystery and a singular meditation on identity and the tenuous nature of reality.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Vintage, $16). Tartt's beloved debut is part page-turner and part haunting exploration of what lurks just beneath the sleek landscape of civility and privilege — and of the moral costs of doing whatever it takes to save yourself.

Running Away by Jean-Philippe Toussaint (Dalkey Archive, $13). "Would it ever end with Marie?" the opening line reads. And so begins an exhilarating journey that starts in China, ends in Italy, and keeps our narrator occupied as he attempts to navigate a frenetic, confounding world that includes a mysterious man, the enigmatic Marie, and a cash-stuffed envelope.

The Naked Eye by Yoko Tawada (New Directions, $14). A young woman is abducted in Berlin. She is held hostage and escapes; time pushes on. From this premise, Tawada spins a strange and arresting tale of a woman adopting new identities as a means of escape while also trying to recover the self that was stolen from her all those years ago.

Big Machine by Victor LaValle (Spiegel & Grau, $15). Ricky Rice, the hero of this wild and wonderful novel, has one of the most intoxicating voices I've encountered. As we follow Ricky through California sewers, a mysterious Vermont compound, a supernatural impregnation, and his tormented memories of a youth spent in a religious cult, a twisty mystery — and a meditation on what it means to believe — take hold of the reader and won't let go.

Laura van den Berg's second story collection, The Isle of Youth, features various female protagonists who are each working out a puzzle.

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