Selecting the 50 best mysteries of all time is an impossible task. There, I said it. Mysteries are narratives in which the who, why, or how of an event, usually a murder or some other type of crime, remains unknown until the end and drives the story forward. To write a successful mystery, authors must perform literary magic tricks—which is to say literary sleight of hand. They have to create a mystery, populate their story with believable characters, and then sustain the suspense while simultaneously giving readers clues and distracting them with the ever-so-tricky red herrings. In other words, mystery fiction is the art of juggling the unknown and all of its answers in front of readers, all while making sure they become obsessed with the latter and only see the former when the time is right.

A mystery can be almost anything if you have a crime, a question, and someone trying to find answers. It can be called by many names because the lines between crime fiction sub-genres are so tenuous, and because mysteries mix well with everything else. That’s why this is so hard. Add to that a long history (Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” considered the first modern detective story, was published in 1841), and you can see why a list like this is a conundrum.

Ah, but nothing is impossible in life and fiction, or however the saying goes, so we shall tackle this and get it done. How? Well, with a combination of elements. In order to create this list, which originally included almost 200 titles, I looked at things like the lingering impact of the novel on the genre, the way it influenced new writers, and whether it introduced a character that readers have loved for decades. Mysteries are wildly entertaining and play with our need to know that which we ignore. That’s what makes them so popular; we always want to crack the case, to find the answers, to get justice, to know the truth. Because of that, there are many books to celebrate, but we could only choose 50. So here, in an incomplete list that merely scratches the surface of what the genre has to offer, are the best 50 mysteries ever written, in ranked order…

(Find the 50 best mysteries of all time at ESQUIRE)