If there’s one form of travel that’s seen a resurgence in lately, it’s road trips. Whether you’re riding solo or taking the whole family, road trips can be a fun and low-cost way to travel the country—especially those unique and hard-to-find places outside the range of major airports.
Of course, there’s also the unsexy part of road trips: long, protracted drives through the seemingly endless countryside separating you from your next destination. At first, there’s a welcome and relaxing novelty in this respite from the hyperstimulation of everyday life. But before long, you mind finds itself yearning for something—anything—interesting to happen.
It’s for this reason that I’ve always loved to use long car rides to work my way through audiobooks. Specifically, I find edge-of-your seat mysteries—with their twists, turns, and surprises—make the perfect backdrop for even the longest of hauls.
I’ve listened to a lot of mystery audiobooks in long car rides and have assembled my top 10 picks here. Of course, let me know in the comments if you think there’s any I’ve missed. I’m always looking for a good story!
10 Best Mystery Audiobooks for Road Trips
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on this list. TGWTDT (as I like to call it) is one of those novels you finish and find yourself wondering how an author can believably fit so much crazy sh*t into a single story (pardon my French). Larsson builds a rich, complex world with twisting plot lines that intermingle at a remarkable, yet completely consumable pace keeping you on the edge of your seat. Simon Vance’s narration is truly spellbinding. His voice has a whimsy that gently draws you in, closer and closer until you realize that you’ve been drawn into the mind of a serial killer. He channel the darkness of Larsson’s characters—and gratefully the pronunciations of the often complex Swedish names—with a mastery that’s sure to transport you out of your car and into the sleepy town of Hedestad on Hedeby Island.
The inspiration for the eponymous and award-winning HBO series, Big Little Lies follows the story of a group of mothers living in Sydney’s affluent Northern Beaches region and the alleged crime that brings them all together. This is another one of those novels that demand to be gulped down all at once. Moriarty’s masterful storytelling and Caroline Lee’s impeccable narration make this story one that is sure to make the freeway hours fly by.
Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is dark, so make sure you’re driving in the daytime so as not to freak yourself out. It follows a husband in the wake of his wife’s disappearance and the investigation that follows. Get ready, though, because there is a twisted truth waiting to be exposed as details of the crime come to life. Enthralling performances by Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne tell the stories of Amy and Nick, respectively, combine to provide a near perfect audiobook experience.
Dennis Lehane has long been known for crafting mind-bending mysteries like Mystic River. We are longtime Lehane fans, and the Tom Stechschulte’s reading of Shutter Island does not disappoint. Especially if you haven’t already seen Martin Scorsese’s outstanding film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the audiobook takes the story to a whole new level. You quickly learn that on Shutter Island, the home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, questions lead to more questions, and nothing is as it originally seems.
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling proves that she’s still got that magic touch, even when writing under a pen name. The Cuckoo’s Calling is an excellent, classical murder mystery set in London. The story begins when a model falls to her very public death from a hotel balcony in an apparent suicide. At just under 16 hours, it is the perfect length to see you through a two or three day road trip. As a bonus, Rowling’s succinct and direct prose makes this one easy to follow at 1.5x or 2x speed. Perfectly sized to keep you going through a long, single-day drive.
You can’t spell mystery without Sherlock Holmes. At just under 63 hours, this collection of Holmes’ astonishing deductive exploits provides an exceptional backdrop for the very longest of road trips. Even if you’re already familiar with the Holmes series, Stephen Fry’s reading is simply impeccable. A true performer, Fry is able to capture the suspense, intrigue, and even the humor in these timeless detective tales. Despite the long runtime, the episodic way in which Holmes was written means it can also be chipped away at in shorter driving sessions without having to carry too much of the storyline in your head from one sitting to the next.
Carr’s The Alienist is a classic, stylized mystery that sparks to life following the puzzling murder of a male prostitute. Set in New York City in the late 1800s—when psychiatrists were called “alienists”—the story follows an alienist selected to help the police department with their investigation into the young man’s murder. George Guidall provides the perfect narration to capture the grit and excess of the Gilded Age. It is a gripping psychological thriller with outstanding characters in a larger than life historical setting.
Tana French didn’t begin writing professionally until her 30s, but we’re so glad she did. She debuted with In the Woods in 2007, and since then, she’s followed up with hit after hit, making her one of the most exciting new mystery authors we’ve had the pleasure of reading. In the Woods is a crime mystery that follows a Dublin detective, with a mysterious childhood he likes to keep secret, through an intricate and brilliantly lain plot to help uncover the twisted murder of a young child in the woods. Make sure you’re driving with the lights on for this one.
Harlan Coben is one of our all-time favorite novelists for his sharp plotting and deep character development. And The Boy from the Woods is no exception. In just 10 hours, Steven Weber performs an extraordinary reading of the mystery, which follows the story of a man who was found in the woods living off the land like an animal. He has no memory of where he’d come from or why he was in the woods, but now it appears another child has gone missing. The storytelling is gripping and exceptionally done. This is the kind of audiobook that simply cannot be stopped until it’s over.
The “king” of terror has also published more than a few successful mysteries in his day, and The Outsider is arguably is best. The story follows the investigation of the murder of a young boy. At first, evidence appears to point to a man who appears to be a model citizen with an irrefutable alibi that explains his whereabouts at the time of the murder. If you’re familiar with King, we don’t need to tell you that what follows is a complex and exceptionally written adventure inching toward a dark and twisted truth.
We hope that one of these mysteries will make for the perfect audio backdrop for whatever road trip you have coming up next.
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