Top ten mystery or crime novels set in the country
I would like to talk about my top ten novels set in the country or in small towns surrounded by the country because I love the country, because I think country is the ideal setup for mystery. Most of my novels, including Boundary, take place in the woods or in small communities where people live according to the rhythm of nature, to the particularities of each season, and can’t ignore the fury of the wind, the darkness of the woods, or the melancholy of the rain.
Here are my choices (in no particular order):
- In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
I read Capote’s novel about twenty years ago, and I’m still haunted by the story of this family, the Clutters, murdered in cold blood by two young men, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, in the isolated village of Holcomb, Kansas. This book, as well as Crime by Meyer Levin, forced me to think about the nature of unmotivated crimes, of gratuitous violence, and about what can drive men to kill for no other reason than killing itself.
I also recommend the films inspired by this tragic and incomprehensible story and by the writing of Capote’s book: In Cold Blood (Richard Brooks, 1967), Capote (Bennett Miller, 2005) and Infamous (Douglas McGrath, 2006).
- Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane
Shutter Island is a harrowing, riveting, and suspenseful novel that will imprison you on a small island off the coast of Boston, where we find Ashecliffe Hospital, a psychiatric institution for people who have committed horrible murders. When Rachel Solando, a dangerous patient, disappears, two policemen are called to the island, where they will face the most complex enigma of their careers. That’s all I can say without spoiling the stunning conclusion of this brilliant novel. I also recommend the movie, but please, read the book first.
- Boy’s Life, by Robert McCammon
I read Boy’s Life many years ago, and all I can say is that I was completely fascinated by this story. It takes place in Zephyr, a small town in Alabama, where the young Corey Mackenson and his father witness a car plunging into the lake, driven by a man who was already dead. After this accident, Corey will have to struggle with the demons and the shadows hiding in the memory of Zephyr. A masterpiece!
- This Night’s Foul Work, by Fred Vargas
Please, read the unique Fred Vargas, who creates, with police chief Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his team, one of the most original, brilliant, and funny series I ever read.
- Drowned Hopes, by Donald Westlake
If you don’t know the universe of Donald Westlake, I highly recommend you start with Drowned Hopes, a hilarious and incredible novel starring John Dortmunder, a very inventive but clumsy and unlucky burglar, and his gang of dumb crooks. In this adventure of the Dortmunder series, the protagonist and his acolytes try to blow up a dam to recover the loot of a burglary. If you don’t laugh out loud while reading this book, you probably need some antidepressants.
- Winterkill, by C. J. Box
Of all the novels of Box featuring Joe Pickett, I chose Winterkill because it’s the first novel of Box’s I read, and because I was already conquered by the universe of Pickett, a game warden in the vast and savage territory of Wyoming. But all the novels of the Joe Pickett series are worth the detour. So, if you like stories set in savage lands, mysteries involving outlaws, characters larger than life, and plots constructed around ecological issues, you will love the adventures of Joe Pickett and his associates, including the incredible Nate Romanowski, Pickett’s best friend.
- Bitch Creek, Gray Ghost, and Dark Tiger, by William G. Tapply
I don’t know all of William G. Tapply’s work, but I took great pleasure in reading his Stoney Calhoun series, which takes place in Maine. Earning his living as a fishing guide, Calhoun, after a mysterious accident, tries to live peacefully with his dog, Ralph, in his cabin in the heart of the woods, but the ghosts of his past reappear and he has to cope with mysterious murders or disappearances.
- Sukkwan Island, by David Vann
David Vann is not what you can call a mystery writer but, in my opinion, he is one of the greatest contemporary novelists. All his novels are driven by the violence, the darker instincts of men, and plunge the reader into the rough waters of the human soul.
Sukkwan Island, David Vann’s first novel, is about the troubled and tragic relationship between a man and his thirteen-year-old son on a savage island in the south of Alaska. Not recommended for people of a nervous disposition.
- One Deadly Summer (L’été meurtrier), by Sébastien Japrisot
Set in a French mountain village, One Deadly Summer is a story of crime, passion, and revenge—the perfect combination for tragedy. The novel is split into six parts, each giving the point of view of a character during and after the events of the perfectly named “deadly summer.”
I also recommend the movie, directed by Jean Becker and giving star billing to Isabelle Adjani, Alain Souchon, and Michel Serreault.
- Stephen King: make your choice…
One can’t talk about mysteries set in the country without speaking about Stephen King, who is not only “the king of horror,” but also the master of Maine woods, of night fears, and of mysterious crimes. He also depicted childhood like no one else, except for McCammon in Boy’s Life. When I want to enjoy myself by spending a few hours in the darkness of the country, I open a Stephen King novel and I enter into the complex universe of this great writer.
I mainly recommend, in no particular order, Desperation, The Stand, Lisey’s Story, Duma Key, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Gerald’s Game, Dreamcatcher, Pet Sematary, Misery, The Shining (including the movie directed by Stanley Kubrick, even if King disowned it), the unforgettable It, and the short story titled Secret Window, Secret Garden.
One piece of advice: after Under the Dome, forget it; King lost his magic touch.