Top Ten Country Mysteries 06/12/2015

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Although it will never again have the impact it did when I was a teenager reading it for the first time (and innocent of the big twist), Rebecca has an insidious charm. Much like its narrator, who tells us so much when she herself seems to know so little. Gauche and engaging, we see the country “set” through her bedazzled eyes and begin to suspect the worst long before it lands.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Sex and violence—and banned in Boston on its publication. What more does a debut need? This tale of small-town self-destruction might push at the boundaries of “country mystery” but it has all the hothouse hubris of a community being corrupted from the inside out. Oh, and it influenced the work of Albert Camus. That’s not just noir—that’s cool.

A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell

The perfect country house needs the perfect housekeeper. And so Jacqueline Cloverdale hires Eunice Parchman—silent and stoic as a drystone wall. Only John Fowles in The Collector has managed to turn the mundane into a better nightmare. Eunice is one of crime fiction’s great villains, and the English countryside makes for a beguiling backdrop.

Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh

A quaint English village, amateur dramatics, an attractive curate…For a New Zealander, Ngaio Marsh writes a mean country “cozy,” Just throw in a death-dealing piano and a pair of village gossips (believed to be vicious caricatures of Dorothy L. Sayers), and you’re all set. No one writes dialogue quite like Marsh, whose intensity sets her apart from other Golden Age writers.

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas

When the French village of Ordebec falls under the thrall of a terrifying legend, it’s up to Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg to disentangle superstitions from the grim truth behind a series of murders. With a surfeit of suspects, can dreamy and distracted Adamsberg sort the clues from the red herrings? The setting and its hero are equally irresistible.

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

Marion Sharpe and her mother stand accused by sixteen-year-old Betty Kane of kidnap and domestic slavery (a very modern theme for a book written just after the Second World War). Solicitor Robert Blair must decide if the teenager is telling the truth, or whether the Sharpes’ bite is as bad as their bark.

Behold, Heres Poison by Georgette Heyer

Like a champagne cocktail with an arsenic twist, this bubbles and sparkles and bites you when you least expect it, with the rapier wit and lightness of touch that is Heyer’s trademark. The cast of characters is top-notch, especially “amiable snake” Randall, a young misanthrope so exquisitely turned-out he makes TV’s Hannibal look underdressed. Added to which, and at the risk of inviting a lynch mob, the plotting here puts Agatha Christie to shame.

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches by Arthur Conan Doyle

Any one of Conan Doyle’s stories could have made it onto this list, but The Adventure of the Copper Beeches is especially good at showing us the serpents lurking in England’s green and pleasant land. It’s one of Conan Doyle’s most brutal stories, too, about a controlling, bullying drunkard and his psychopathic son. As Grimm as any fairy tale (with stolen hanks of hair, an imprisoned lover, and a giant mastiff hound), this is Sherlock Holmes at his gothic greatest.

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

Another debut novel that hit the ground running, this one’s set in the bleakly beautiful landscape of Exmoor where twelve-year-old Stephen Lamb digs holes searching for the body of his uncle, murdered as a child. A perfect English crime novel, full of ghosts and longing, family tragedy, and deadly games with a dangerous killer.

The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb

Packs a hell of a punch in a handful of pages, as creepy Preacher Harry Powell brings the fear of God to Cresap’s Landing, which is already suffering in the grip of the Great Depression. Sinuous, sorrowful, and really rather insanely good.

SARAH HILARY is the author of the Detective Inspector Marnie Rome series. NO OTHER DARKNESS will be publishedAugust 18, 2015 by Penguin Books. She lives in Bath with her husband and daughter, where she writes quirky copy for a well-loved travel publisher. An award-winning short story writer, Sarah won the Cheshire Prize for Literature in 2012.

Find her on Twitter @sarah_hilary, Facebook, or her

Pre-Order No Other Darkness from the Strand!

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