Despite the fact that I read dozens of crime and thriller books every year, I’ve never done a top ten list, but as I started to remedy this, I realised it was going to be a really, really hard task! So instead I’ve broken it down to focus on different aspects of the genre – location, narrative, series, etc.
This first list focuses on crime/ thriller novels where the location is essential to, and has really enhanced, the story. I’ve mostly chosen locations I know myself (with one obvious exception) and these are all books I’ve read some time ago but where the location is still resonating with me. In most of these books if not all, the setting is the cause of death.
1. The Lost Man by Jane Harper I’ll probably return to books by Jane Harper later in this series because honestly she is one of the best crime/thriller writers I know. All her books to date are set in Australia and the setting is crucial, this one particularly so because the location is the actual cause of death. The victim, Cameron, dies of heat exhaustion in the outback. But did he choose this horrible death or did someone deliberately abandon him there?
(Pic below is me in the Outback near Alice Springs – luckily not abandoned)
2.The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. This was the first book JK wrote under this pseudonym. Another novel I guess where the location is cause of death, A model falls from a balcony in Mayfair. At first it is seen as an accident or suicide, until Cormoran Strike is employed to dig further. Anyone who has ever strayed into those exquisite Georgian streets can’t fail to picture the scene.
3. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. this is an historical novel based on a true event, and yet I feel that Northern Iceland’s scenery and sense of isolation has probably not changed that much in 200 years. Loved the slow burn, claustrophobic grind towards the inevitable conclusion of this gripping atmospheric story.
(Pic below is Haukadalur Geothermal field which is south west Iceland but hopefully gives you a sense of the place)
4. Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre. ok so this is the one location I’ve not visited, but then neither has anyone else, so we’re all equally able to judge whether it works or not. It’s a crime/thriller set on a space station, and of course the closed environment and the hostility of the dead space beyond really adds to the tension. But the story doesn’t just rely on that, it is full of unexpected twists and turns.
5. Follow the Dead by Lin Anderson. Had to include this one as it is set in the Cairngorms where I spent most of my youth. A plane crashes on Loch Avon (pronounced locally as Loch A’an) and a climbing party overnighting at the nearby Shelter Stone are found dead.
(Pic below is me and lovely Ben just above Loch Avon and the Shelter Stone)
6. Unravelling by Helen Forbes. This is set in the former psychiatric hospital in Inverness – Craig Dunain – which always loomed over my imagination growing up in the Highlands. Kate wants to find out why her mother disappeared from Craig Dunain when Kate was a child.
7. Across the Bridge by Morag Joss. A bridge in the Highlands of Scotland collapses, several people die, and others take the opportunity to start life anew. Even though it is never specified that this is the Kessock Bridge which leads northwards from Inverness, it is quite obvious this is the location and as someone who often shudders when crossing these huge structures, it just adds to the tension.
(Pic below is Kessock Bridge with Inverness, taken from Old Hill)
8. The Jump by Doug Johnstone. Ok so maybe it’s a bit of a theme here as this one involves the Forth Road Bridge. (not the new one, but the suspension bridge built in the 1960s and which was for a long time the largest in the world). If you wanted to die then jumping off this bridge would make it a certainty, which is what happened to Ellie’s son, and now she has to live in the shadow of this structure.
(Pic below is view of all three bridges from Cramond Island)
9. Fleshmarket Close by Ian Rankin. Could have picked any one of Rankin’s novels for this list, but I chose this one because Fleshmarket Close is a familiar route for me from Waverley to the High Street. I can’t actually understand why it took Rankin so long to use this as a location!
10. The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith. McCall Smith was already well into his Number One Ladies Detective Series featuring Mma Precious Ramotswe and set in Gabarone, Botswana, when he embarked on some crime novels closer to home – set in Edinburgh. This one involved a fall from the upper circle in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, and having sat in its heights many times, it gave me a bit of a shudder. Again, setting as death.
Look out for more in this series later in the year. Enjoy!