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8 of the Best Southern Mysteries

P.N. Hinton

Contributing Editor

Born into a family of readers, P.N. gained a love reading as a sort of herd mentality. This love of reading has remained a life long passion, resulting in an English Degree from The University of Houston in Houston, Texas. She normally reads three to four books at any given time, in the futile Sisyphean hope of whittling down her ever growing to be read pile of no specific genre.

Forge Books

Joey Green has returned to Beaufort, South Carolina to look after his ailing father, who is succumbing to dementia. Marshall Green’s short-term memory has all but evaporated, but his oldest memories are vivid. His mind keeps retreating into long-ago yesterdays of growing up in Beaufort as a boy.

At first this seems like a blessing, with the past providing a refuge from a shrinking future, but Joey grows increasingly anxious as his father’s hallucinatory arguments with figures from his youth begin to hint at deadly secrets, long buried and forgotten.

I love a good mystery, especially southern mysteries. Cozy, murder, psychological…I’m all about them. One of the things that contribute to a good mystery is the atmosphere and location. Yes, I know that is true for most genres, but that doesn’t negate the importance of it in a mystery. Mysteries often take place in small towns. The general idea people have of small towns is that nothing bad happens there, which is why it’s appealing. 

However, if you go by cozies specifically, they’re full of hidden killers, bodies, and plucky armchair detectives. The small town setting helps to contribute to that. In those, people continue to be surprised when their neighbors are murdered. This is despite the fact that last month the local vicar, who was actually using the tithes to feed his gambling addiction, was murdered.

Not a real cozy plot by the way, at least as far as I know. 

A popular setting for mysteries is the southern U.S., especially in food-related cozies. I think that a lot of that has to do with how good the food down here can be. No disrespect intended to food from other areas of the United States, but southern home cookin’ just hits different. 

Then there are your less cozy southern mysteries and/or thrillers. The fact of the matter is that, while largely ugly, the history in the south is especially rich. So it gives rise to old money, ghosts, and family members willing to help push you closer to your meeting with the undertaker. Whatever the reason, southern mysteries are a staple of the genre.

Here are a some of the best books that really highlight this idea. They spread across various sub-genres too. So, you should be able to find one that fits your preference with no trouble and be able to curl up with it for your next extended reading sprint.  

Southern Mysteries/Thrillers

cover of My Darkest Prayer

My Darkest Prayer by S.A. Crosby

Location: Virginia

Due in part to his work at a funeral home and as a former Marine and Deputy, Nathan knows how to handle bodies. When an overly ambitious preacher is found dead, his parishioners approach Nathan to find out what happened. What initially seemed like an easy payday quickly escalated to a large murky pool for small-town corruption that may bring everyone’s dark secrets, including Nathan’s, floating to the surface.

Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke

Location: Texas 

Darren is a Black Texas Ranger who knows that the laws in East Texas play by its own rules. When the murder of a Black lawyer and white woman in Lark, a small town, threaten to be the catalyst in causing a race war, he heads up Highway 59 to help solve the mystery and hopefully prevent further tragedies from occurring.

cover of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Location: Mississippi 

On paper, Larry, child of a lower-middle class family, and Silas, son of a poor single Black mother, couldn’t be more different. Despite their differences, they become friends during childhood and remain close. That is, until a girl disappeared after a date with Larry, which sets off whispers throughout the town and a separation between the boys. When Silas returns to town as a constable, the two now men still have no reason to cross paths. Then another girl goes missing, and all eyes turn towards Larry. They find they need to confront the past to solve both disappearances.

Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely

Location: North Carolina

After being stiffed by her employee and having her checks bounce, Blanche has to hide out as a maid for a wealthy North Carolina family. Then, a murder happens and all fingers point to her as the culprit. Blanche must use her wits to solve the mystery of who really did the killing and save herself from a jail sentence.

Cozy Southern Mysteries

cover of Deep Fried Trouble

Deep Fried Trouble* by Tyora Moody

Location: South Carolina

After retiring, widow Eugeena throws herself into organizing the neighborhood association. She looks at it as a way of reconnecting with friends and neighbors. When she stumbles across a dead body, her missing daughter is pointed to as the primary suspect. Together with neighbor Amos, she sets out to both find her daughter and discover who the real culprit is.

*This is classified as a Christian cozy mystery, so be aware that will play a part in the story.

Murder Past Due by Miranda St. James

Location: Mississippi

Librarian Charlie and his cat Diesel are well known in the town of Athena. As well known there is former classmate and world famous best-selling novelist Godfrey. When someone decides that Godfrey has written his last word and takes him out, Charlie and Diesel dive into the mystery determined to figure out who killed the wordsmith.

cover of Pies and Prejudice

Pies and Prejudice by Ellery Adams

Location: Georgia

After Ella catches her husband cheating, she leaves New York to her hometown of Havenwood and opens up a pie shop. She is happy settling into her new single life, despite her high school nemesis showing up intent on causing trouble and her high school crush making nice. When said nemesis’s fiancé shows up dead, and Ella’s rolling pin is determined to be the murder weapon, she sets out to solve the mystery and clear her name.

The Puppy Who Knew Too Much* by V.M. Burns

Location: Tennessee

After solving the mystery of who really murdered her cheating ex, Lilly is happy to settle down with her best friend Dixie in Chattanooga, despite seeming to have the crankiest neighbor imaginable. When Lilly’s poodle unearths a dead body in said neighbor’s yard, it’s up to Lilly and Dixie to solve the mystery of who caused the victim to meet their early and untimely end. 

*Please note this is the second in this series. The first takes place in Indiana but after the events of that one, Lilly settles in Tennessee, which is why I’m including it here. 

And there you have it. A good spread of southern mysteries and thrillers that you’re sure to love. Let me know if I left off any of your personal favorites or let you know about one that you may not have been aware of. As always, I hope you found at least one book, if not more, to add to your TBR pile.

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