Ah, small towns: home to friendly neighbors, picturesque scenery…and death. Yes, if fiction is anything to go by, small towns around the world have jaw-droppingly high murder rates. Agatha Christie’s famed amateur detective Miss Marple encountered countless deaths in her tiny English village, and we all know how many killers Murder She Wrote’s Jessica Fletcher discovered in Cabot Cove. Small-town thrillers are basically their own genre of mystery.
There’s just something about a small town that creates the perfect setting for a thriller. Is it the claustrophobic conditions, the fact that everyone in town knows each other, the long-buried grudges and resentments? Whatever it is, it’s super fun to read. Here’s a list of ten small-town thrillers that will keep you on the edge of your seat this summer.
Small-Town Thrillers for Your TBR
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Reporter Camille Preaker is sent back to her small Missouri hometown to cover the shocking murders of two young girls. Camille doesn’t get along with her mother, feels uneasy around her much-younger half-sister, and has just been released from a hospital stay. So being back in her fading hometown, a place where where everyone seems to know something sinister but no one will talk, definitely messes with Camille’s head. As she begins to over-identify with the teen victims, she questions elements of her own past, uncovering secrets she must come to terms with in order to figure out who the killer is.
A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh
Golden Cove is a town on the remote coast of New Zealand, and Anahera Rawiri left at 21 without looking back. Now, though, she is back, and in her eight-year absence the town has changed thanks to a bump in tourism. Cop Will Gallagher is a new addition, too—after flaming out in Christchurch, he’s in this small town licking his wounds. But when local Miri Hinewai doesn’t come back from a run, it’s up to Will to figure out what happened to her and how it connects to several disappearances years ago. Anahera’s knowledge of the town just might help him figure out what these people are hiding.
Lakewood by Megan Giddings
To pay off her family’s debt, Lena Johnson drops out of college to take a job in rural Michigan. In Lakewood, Lena has a place to live, paid-for medical expenses, and a high salary. The catch? She can’t tell anyone about the strange things that happen there. Not a word about the eye drops, the world-changing medication in development, the treatments that could change millions of people’s lives. Lena is told that discoveries made in Lakewood could change the world—but for who? As she learns more about the program’s secrets, she’s forced to confront how much she is willing to sacrifice to keep her family safe.
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
The first book in Locke’s Highway 59 series introduces us to Darren Mathews, a Black Texas Ranger. Darren knows that East Texas has its own rules and that’s why he was eager to leave. But now, in the small town of Lark, he’s faced with two murders stirring up trouble. A local white woman and a Black lawyer from Chicago are dead. Tensions in Lark are high and ready to erupt along racial lines. Can Darren figure out what happened before it leads to more damage?
Still Life by Louise Penny
This is the first book in Louise Penny’s popular series of small-town thrillers set in Three Pines, Quebec. The town is idyllic, as pretty as a postcard. Nothing bad happens there. But when Jane Neal turns up dead in the woods, it’s clear that something sinister is afoot in Three Pines. Enter Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, an experienced detective who’s determined to make the town give up its secrets.
Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
In a small Anishinaabe community in northern Canada, it isn’t unusual for power or communications to fail. What is unusual is that the outage lasts…and lasts…with no word from the south. The community hunkers down and tries to maintain order, initiating a rationing system and making sure the most vulnerable people are protected. But when a few unexpected visitors arrive from the south, they threaten this fragile equilibrium. Soon, tensions are running high and the death toll is rising. In desperation, a group turns to living off the land in the old ways. But they must figure out how to stop the chaos threatening their entire way of life.
Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia
Hattie Hoffman always seemed untouchable. She was the perfect daughter, perfect girlfriend, perfect student. She always wanted more, though, and had plans she hoped would take her beyond her small town. When she is brutally murdered, her secrets all come to light. Could her mysterious online relationship have been the cause of her death? Or was she just in the wrong place at the wrong time? This twisty thriller recreates the last year of Hattie’s life, revealing more and more about her and the town even as her death looms.
Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
Beauregard “Bug” Montage is a former getaway driver turned honest mechanic and family man. He worked hard to get out of a life of crime, but some people aren’t willing to forget who he used to be. Bug is drawn back in when he’s offered the opportunity to help his struggling family. The job: a jewelry heist. It’ll be his last one. After this, he can walk away and pay off his debts. But the rush of driving reminds Bug of who he used to be, and he might be at risk of losing everything that matters to him.
The Distant Dead by Heather Young
The math teacher in a small Nevada town goes missing and his body is found burning in the desert hills. Although a newcomer to town, Adam seemed like a good, quiet man. His closest connection was with student Sal Prentiss, a fellow loner who is the one to find his body. Social studies teacher Nora Wheaton also found Adam to be a kindred spirit. As Nora investigates his death, she finds that Sal may know more than he’s saying—and that finding out what that is may lead Nora to a life she thought she’d lost long ago.
Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
This debut small-town thriller is set on a Native American reservation, where Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer. Virgil delivers punishment when the justice system or tribal council fails to. But Virgil’s mission turns personal when drugs find their way into the community, affecting his nephew. With the help of an ex-girlfriend, Virgil investigates the source of the drugs to Denver and back, raising uncomfortable questions about money and power on the reservation and forcing him to grapple with his identity.
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