What is it that draws suspense authors to Texas settings?
In a word: variety.
From the sunbaked desert to the shadowy piney woods, from the rugged Chisos Mountains out west, to the sugary sand beaches down south, authors of Texas-based stories have a wide variety of dramatic settings to choose from. As America’s second-largest state, Texas encompassing nearly 270,000 square miles, offering storytellers an array of interesting places to set their adventures. And the people are just as varied as the topography. Across the sprawling Lone Star State, many different people and worlds collide, creating conflict and tension—two key ingredients in suspense fiction.
The list of mystery and suspense novels set in Texas is long, but here is a look at some notable ones that you don’t want to miss.
Echo Burning by Lee Child
Lee Child’s nomadic crime solver, Jack Reacher, finds himself in the parched Texas desert in Echo Burning, the fifth installment in the beloved Jack Reacher series. While touring through dusty west Texas, Reacher gets pulled into the deadly domestic conflict of the mysterious Carmen Greer. Using his trademark brisk-pacing and vivid descriptions, Child brings his west Texas setting to life, surrounding the reader with blistering heat, endless highways, and crackling thunderstorms.
Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr
Like Jack Reacher, Anna Pigeon is a wandering sleuth with a penchant for getting caught up in a crime that needs solving. Throughout the Anna Pigeon series, the heroine’s job as a park ranger takes her to America’s most iconic parks. Barr’s first novel in the series, Track of the Cat, takes place in Texas’s Guadalupe Mountains National Park, where Barr once worked as a seasonal park ranger. The story, in which Pigeon investigates the death of a fellow ranger, won both the Anthony Award and the Agatha Award for Best First Novel.
In Borderline, Pigeon and her husband travel to Big Bend National Park, where they hope to find some R & R. When rafters on the Rio Grande discover a pregnant woman on the verge of death, Pigeon gets pulled into the investigation. Borderline shows off Nevada Barr’s talent for picking an interesting setting and going deep, and her descriptions of the brutal and beautiful Chihuahuan Desert add a layer of richness to her story.
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
Attica Locke’s novel Bluebird, Bluebird took the mystery world by storm, winning a slew of awards, including the 2018 Edgar for Best Novel. Set in east Texas, the novel features Darren Mathews, a Black Texas Ranger who is investigating two murders in the town of Lark. Bluebird, Bluebird is set against a backdrop of racial tensions and resentments that are as deep and dark as the east Texas woods. Locke’s “rural noir” novel, which addresses themes of racism and injustice, is the first book in her Highway 59 series.
A native Houstonian, Locke has won numerous accolades, including the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction for her novel Pleasantville.
No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy
Set near the Texas-Mexico border, Cormac McCarthy’s harrowing crime novel starts with a drug deal that goes horribly awry. The story introduces us to the disturbingly memorable hitman Anton Chigurh, who journeys across the border region on a ruthless quest to recover a cache of stolen drug money.
With his spare prose and eye for detail, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist McCarthy writes a haunting tale of hardened people in a harsh landscape. Originally published in 2005, No Country for Old Men became both a bestselling book and the basis for an Oscar-winning film.
The Color of Law by Mark Gimenez
Texas native Mark Gimenez takes readers inside the luxury world of high-society Dallas in his fast-paced legal thriller, The Color of Law. Drawing on his background as a Dallas attorney, Gimenez creates a lawyer hero who finds himself caught between the glittery world of Texas’s uber rich and the dark world of his client, a heroin-addicted prostitute who is accused of killing the son of a wealthy Texas politician. The Color of Law is book one in Gimenez’s Scott Fenney series.
Big Red Tequila by Rick Riordan
Perhaps best known for his hugely popular Percy Jackson series for children, Rick Riordan also pens the Tres Navarre series for adults. In the first book, Big Red Tequila, private investigator Tres Navarre returns to his hometown of San Antonio and embarks on a quest to unravel the unsolved mystery of his father’s death. A San Antonio native himself, Riordan adds a dash of local color to his Tres Navarro books by including urban settings such as the San Antonio Riverwalk and Austin’s South Congress Avenue. The series has won some of the biggest prizes in fiction, including the Shamus, the Anthony, and the Edgar Award.
Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
Julia Heaberlin’s psychological thriller depicts a sixteen-year-old heroine, dubbed “Black-eyed Susan” by the media, who survives a serial killer and wakes up in a Texas field surrounded by yellow wildflowers and human remains. Years later, after finding a patch of black-eyed Susans mysteriously planted in her yard, the adult victim is compelled to try to piece together the memory fragments from her traumatic past. Heaberlin uses her setting to reflect the dark, tense mood of her heroine.
Formerly a newspaper editor in Dallas and Ft. Worth, Heaberlin has written five psychological thrillers, all set in Texas.
Having spent most of my writing career in the Lone Star State, I understand the lure of Texas settings. I have set five different suspense series in various Texas locales, including the piney woods to the east, the desert near Big Bend out west, and the eclectic capital city of Austin, where I live. From a plotting perspective, there is never a shortage of dramatic backdrops for your characters’ adventures. And for me personally, the biggest appeal is that with so many different venues to choose from, I never get bored. When one story location feels tapped, I seek out a change of scenery.
For writers of suspense fiction, Texas offers a range of different destinations to satisfy a reader’s wanderlust.