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10 Evocative Southern Mysteries

By Brandon Miller

These beguiling reads are suffused with Southern charm.

We’re big fans of mystery books, especially those with a strong sense of time and place. And nothing evokes a haunting atmosphere quite like a novel set in the South. The following must-read Southern mysteries are steeped in history and lore — and are sure to keep you reading long into the night. 

The Kingdoms of Savannah

By George Dawes Green

George Dawes Green takes full advantage of the city’s mesmerizing presence in The Kingdoms of Savannah, his thrilling new literary mystery about murder, mayhem, and the secrets that lurk under the cobblestone streets. In the novel, Savannah socialite Morgana Musgrove calls on her adult children to help investigate a local murder and disappearance. Initially, the siblings are wary of their mother and hesitant to join her. Soon, however, the entire Musgrove family embarks on an investigation that stretches far beyond Savannah’s charming thoroughfares and into the city’s dark core — where they end up uncovering far more than they bargained for.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

By John Berendt

John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil became a national bestseller in 1994 and inspired a movie adaptation directed by Clint Eastwood. Like our previous title, it’s set in Savannah, Georgia, this time in the early 1980s. The book is about the murder — or was it self-defense? — of male sex worker Danny Hansford at the hands of his employer, antique dealer Jim Williams. Berendt blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction in his acclaimed narrative: While the book is based on real-life events, Berendt plays with the timeline and the portrayal of certain characters to heighten Midnight’s tension and mood. Crack it open, however, and you’ll swear this true-life murder mystery must be a full work of fiction given its suspenseful pacing, shocking plot twists, and bewitching Deep South setting.

Razorblade Tears

By S.A. Cosby

In his bestselling novel Razorblade Tears, S.A. Cosby presents an exhilarating modern thriller with a vivid Southern backdrop. The provocative novel centers on the murder of a married gay couple. The victims’ fathers — one Black, the other white, both ex-cons — are as desperate for answers as they are for vengeance. Together they embark on a violent quest for revenge through the criminal underworld of the South. Yet as the men seek justice for their murdered sons, they must also reckon with their troubled histories and the darkness they carry in their hearts.

The Cutting Season

By Attica Locke

In The Cutting Season, Attica Locke presents a searing Southern crime novel that probes the region’s ignoble past. The book interweaves two linked mysteries separated by a century and tackles themes of not just race but class, power, generational trauma, and the enduring record of place. The first mystery revolves around the present-day murder of a field worker at Belle Vie, an antebellum plantation and historic landmark in the heart of Louisiana’s Sugar Cane country. As Caren Gray, the novel’s protagonist, searches for answers about the brutal slaying, a second mystery surfaces: the disappearance of a slave more than 100 years ago.

The King of Lies

By John Hart

The King of Lies is an atmospheric murder mystery set in a tight-knit community in North Carolina. Author John Hart uses his novel’s Deep South setting as the backdrop to a gruesome family crime, when a modest Southern lawyer named Work Pickens finds his father dead. The characters — from Work’s gold-digging wife to his disturbed sister — are all as flawed as they are fascinating, and the swell of the murder at hand rocks not only the Pickens family but the surrounding community as a whole.

Sharp Objects

By Gillian Flynn

We could argue about whether Missouri is truly the South or just the lower Midwest, but given the vivid setting that Gillian Flynn conjures in her bestselling debut, the book definitely fits on our list. Sharp Objects revolves around a troubled journalist, Camille Preaker, who heads back home to the small town of Wind Gap, Missouri, to investigate the murders of two young girls. The town is deliciously eerie and draped in Southern Gothic charm, as is Camille’s own family, which includes an overbearing mother and a mysterious half sister she barely knows.

The Neon Rain

By James Lee Burke

Few cities have as distinctive a cultural footprint as New Orleans, Louisiana, which is where James Lee Burke sets his 1987 novel, The Neon Rain. The wonderfully engaging crime tale centers on homicide detective David Robicheaux, whose journey into the Big Easy’s dark side includes many enemies — from mobsters to drug dealers to other police officers. He hits the wrong notes while investigating a sex worker’s murder, though, leading his opponents to try and frame him. Robicheaux’s Cajun background and the novel’s bayou crime setting both draw on NOLA’s one-of-a-kind presence.

Moon Lake

By Joe R. Lansdale

Whether the ocean or a bayou, a winding river or a secluded lake, a lot of Southern-set novels tend to highlight bodies of water. In Joe R. Lansdale’s Moon Lake, the titular pool serves as the dark and watery heart of an East Texas mystery. The novel follows Daniel Russell as he reckons with his murky past. Many years ago, Daniel’s father tried to kill them both by plunging their family car into Moon Lake. Miraculously, young Daniel survived the traumatic incident. Now Daniel has returned to the lake in search of his father’s remains and some much-needed closure. Of course, what he uncovers is far more twisted and complex than anything he expected.

The Gates of Evangeline

By Hester Young

Hester Young’s The Gates of Evangeline draws on its eerie Louisiana setting to summon a chilling mystery novel where you can practically taste the enchanted Southern air. The book is about Charlotte “Charlie” Cates, a bereaved mother working as a journalist on the East Coast, who begins experiencing harrowing visions of injured and dead children. This leads her to investigate a decades-old missing-child case that takes her to Evangeline, an expansive estate owned by Louisiana’s prominent Deveau family, where she makes unexpected connections and dredges up shocking secrets.

A Land More Kind Than Home

By Wiley Cash

The final book on our list is A Land More Kind Than Home, Wiley Cash’s debut novel. The literary thriller, which centers on the lives of two young brothers in small-town Marshall, North Carolina, is presented through the eyes of three distinct characters. The first, Jess Hall, is fiercely protective of his older brother Christopher, an autistic boy known around town as “Stump.” The remaining narrators — midwife Adelaide Lyle and Sheriff Clem Barefield — help flesh out this haunting tale of faith, love, tragedy, and sin. All lives are altered when Christopher’s spying leads him to see something he shouldn’t have, sending shockwaves through the family and the surrounding community.

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