For the writer, there is nothing more attractive than setting a mystery in a small town. Whether it’s a character called back to their hometown to re-discover all the reasons they left in the first place or a newcomer who at first doesn’t understand the town rules but soon gets sucked into some dark mystery, there are many reasons for choosing a tight-knit community as a setting to our dastardly plots. For the reader, you get to enjoy a variety of settings: a frozen Swedish forest or the sweeping, dry heat of the outback. Small towns have plenty of murderous secrets, within the pages of crime fiction if nowhere else. Here are some of my favorites.
Tall Oaks, by Chris Whittaker
When three year old, Harry Monroe goes missing the eyes of America turn to the small town of Tall Oaks, California. This mesmerizing thriller is full of quirky characters and small town secrets all delivered with plenty of tension and a refreshing dose of humour.
The Dry, by Jane Harper
Set in the fictional town of Kiewarra, Aaron Falk returns to his hometown having left it under suspicious circumstances in his teens. His childhood best-friend is said to have murdered his wife and son before turning the gun on himself. The trauma of the family murder sears through the town, old wounds are opened and it seems that for Kiewarra loyalty is a scarce as rainfall.
Dark Pines, by Will Dean
Gavrik is situated on the edge of a large forest in Sweden and populated with generations of loyalties and grudges. Tuva Moodyson, a local journalist and a reluctant resident in the town is tired of reporting on small town crises. She experiences Gavrik’s dark drama to the fullest when an eyeless corpse is found in the forest, a murder that could be connected to the unsolved Medusa killings.
Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn
At the age of seven, Libby Day’s mother and sisters are brutally murdered in their home in the rural town of Kinakee, Kansas. Their murders appear to be that of a satanic cult killing. Her brother suspected of practicing satanic worship by both her and the town is arrested for murder. Twenty-five years later, Libby, desperate for cash trades her family secrets for money to a group of armchair detectives who are convinced of her brother’s innocence.
The Chalk Man, by CJ Tudor
The small town setting brings its trademark claustrophobic, curtain-twitching, someone-knows-something traits to the fictional town of Anderbury. In 1986 Eddie and his friends leave symbols in chalk as a fun way to communicate with one another. The fun stops when the chalk symbols begin to appear on their own and eventually lead them to the body of a murdered girl. Fast forward to 2016 and the town and Eddie are still dealing with the scars of the unsolved case. More so when the chalk figures begin to appear again.
Faithful Place, by Tana French
Frank Mackey is forced to return to the bosom of his sniping family when an old girlfriend’s remains are discovered. A girlfriend who disappeared the night of their elopement.
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
Yes, non-fiction but I couldn’t leave it off this list. Suspicion is cast on the residents of Holcomb when the Clutter family are found murdered in their home. Capote paints the geography of the small Kansas town in great detail from the school and the post office to the Clutter Farm where in the early hours of a November morning four gunshots ended the lives of the Clutter family. And from there “those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.”