Let’s hear it for an idiosyncratic approach to well-established genres; a playful sense of freedom and creativity can reignite the passions of the most jaded SF, horror, or fantasy fan. For afficionados of mystery/thriller novels wearied by Chandler-esque gumshoes and other hard-boiled tropes, we recommend the following fresh takes on the form:

Alex Segura’s Kirkus-starred novel Secret Identity (Flatiron Books, 2022) sets a murder story in the unusual milieu of a 1970s comic book company. The story centers on Carmen Valdez, an aspiring comics writer fighting to get a foothold in an industry entrenched in sexism. Segura’s mystery (Carmen’s partner is murdered after the pair come up with a surefire hit idea) works brilliantly as both a detective story and a celebration of the comic book medium and was praised by our reviewer as “smart, perfectly paced, and wonderfully atmospheric.”

The Maid by Nita Prose (Ballantine, 2022) follows eccentric hotel cleaner Molly Gray, who is suspected of the murder of a prominent businessman that occurred in one of the rooms she tidies. Armed only with her knowledge of old Columbo reruns on TV, Molly, a marginalized misfit, must somehow find the real killer and clear her name. Our reviewer awarded the book a Kirkus star and called it “a compelling take on the classic whodunit.”

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn (Berkley, 2022) goes even further afield, featuring a hardened team of four female assassins reaching retirement age who uncover a plot by their employers to eliminate them permanently. Another recipient of the Kirkus star, Raybourn’s novel boasts an unusual premise and memorable lead character and was praised by our reviewer for being “witty and original.”

Arthur Smith is an Indie editor.