Monday, July 29, 2013

10 of the Best Free Classic Mysteries for Your Kindle

Amazon makes it difficult to find free books, and that’s understandable: they are, after all, a business. The lack of a browsable list of all free books, though, means that those who want a bargain have to know what they’re looking for in the first place. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that Amazon is also listing fewer and fewer free books in the “customers also bought …” recommendations.

I’ve come across quite a few classic mysteries in my own searches, and I’ve gathered some of the best here for you. These are all public domain books, so the free price isn’t part of a limited-time special.

Most of these are also available at Project Gutenberg, if you need them in alternate formats. Click the titles below to download the free copies at Amazon.

Last photo of Jacques Futrelle, taken on the Titanic.

Jacques Futrelle has been a favorite of mine since reading “The Problem of Cell 13” in one of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes anthologies. This short is a great introduction to Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, known as “The Thinking Machine” for his logical approach to crime. Futrelle’s writing career was unfortunately cut short at age 37 by his fatal trip on the Titanic.

Early edition of Orczy's The Old Man in the Corner.

Most people know Orczy’s name as the author of The Scarlet Pimpernel, but they don’t often know that she penned more than a dozen sequels to it, plus piles of other novels and short stories. Her stories featuring an old man who solves mysteries from his chair in a tea room while in conversation with a journalist may be the first example of a literal armchair detective.

Tommy and Tuppence, Christie's cool couple.

Most Christie fans fall into either the Miss Marple or the Hercule Poirot camps, but now and then you run into Tommy and Tuppence people. The Secret Adversary is the first book featuring the young and carefree couple (Thomas Beresford and Prudence Beresford), who seem to evoke the spirit of the ‘20s more than any of Christie’s other creations.

Rinehart's novel was revised as The Bat.

Rinehart isn’t for everyone, but her books are notable for several reasons. She’s credited with being the source of “the butler did it” (not from this book -- no spoilers!), and with The Circular Staircase began the trend that came to be known as the “Had I but known” style of writing. The book was turned into an immensely successful stage play with the addition of a character called “the Bat”, after which she rewrote the book as The Bat, incorporating the changes. Bob Kane cites it as the original source of Batman.

A later pulp edition of The Thirty-Nine Steps.

You’ve likely heard of The Thirty-Nine Steps even if you’re unfamiliar with the novel. It’s been filmed four times, including the famous Hitchcock version. Published in 1915, it’s credited with popularizing, if not inventing, the “man on the run” type of thriller that is now a Hollywood staple.

The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu, first in the series featuring the now-iconic villain.

The first of the Dr. Fu Manchu series (titled The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu in the UK), this book introduces the character that has become synonymous with evil criminal masterminds. He’s referred to as "the greatest genius which the powers of evil have put on the earth for centuries."

Philip Trent makes a mess of the case, but the end result is plenty entertaining.

E. C. Bentley supposedly wrote Trent’s Last Case in 1913 as an answer to Arthur Conan Doyle. Bentley was annoyed with Holmes’ perfection, so he created artist-cum-journalist Philip Trent, who is more notable for what he gets wrong. Agatha Christie called it one of the three best mystery novels of all time.

A Spanish version of Raffles' exploits.

Don’t think for a minute that the likeable bad guy is a modern invention. A. J. Raffles, “the gentleman thief”, was wooing Late Victorian-Era readers in 1899. Raffles moves in high society, plays cricket, and is also an ingenious burglar. In many ways, he’s the anti-Holmes.

One of the original illustrations for Mortmain.

This short was one of my favorite discoveries of last year, and the inspiration for the hand-with-a-mind-of-its-own that turns up in films like The Hands of Orlac and Mad Love. It’s the wacky surgeon rather than the victim that really steals the show, though, and his bizarre experiments make this a story to remember.

Frontispiece to the original French book.

While a few of the titles here were inspired by Sherlock Holmes, this one’s the opposite: the Holmes stories were at least partly inspired by Gaboriau’s Lecoq. (Holmes calls him a “miserable bungler” in A Study in Scarlet.) Lecoq himself was a spin-off character from Gaboriau’s earlier L'Affaire Lerouge, in which Lecoq is introduced as a young police officer.

Have you found any free classic mystery e-books worth noting? Please comment, so we can all share the book bounty.


  1. Although I’ve download some free ebooks from Amazon, I don’t like to do so because I can only store them on my Kindle and not in my ebook library on my computer.

    I’ve downloaded several mystery novels from Project Gutenberg among which are “The Mysteries of Udolpho,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” “The Grand Babylon Hotel,” and several of Dr. Thorndyke’s cases.

    1. Get the kindle app for your computer. Then you can store them, or also the free Caliber program