13 Unputdownable Small-Town Mysteries and Thrillers

By Joanne Camas
Six mystery novels are laid out on a dark surface with titles clearly visible. the books are by various authors, including megan miranda and gillian flynn, arranged in a slightly fanned out display.

Lock your doors before reading these captivating narratives set in small towns. 

When it comes to a good mystery novel, you can’t beat the curtain-twitching, secret-steeped setting of a small town. The sleepy hamlet might feel cozy at first — until you realize there’s always someone watching and nowhere to hide. The following small-town mysteries and thrillers summon those very thrills, ratcheting up the tension with settings that span the backroads of the American South to the arid outposts of the Australian outback to an icy northern settlement at the edge of the world.

Listen for the Lie by Amy Tintera with GMA Seal

Listen for the Lie

By Amy Tintera

Laced with wicked humor, switchback plot twists, and plenty of small-town suspense, Amy Tintera’s Listen for the Lie is not to be missed. When Lucy Chase escaped Plumpton, Texas, five years ago, it was under a cloud of suspicion after her best friend, Savvy, was murdered and Lucy was found covered in Savvy’s blood, with no memory of what happened. Now she’s reluctantly returning to her hometown, drawn back by her grandmother’s birthday celebration. But it’s not all candles and cake — Ben Owens, the devilishly handsome host of the hit true crime podcast Listen for the Lie, happens to be in town too, digging into Savvy’s unsolved murder case and interviewing Lucy’s friends and family. Will Ben judge Lucy guilty of murder, mirroring the way she was sentenced in the court of small-town opinion all those years ago? More importantly, will Lucy finally regain her memory of the terrible night Savvy died — even if it means revealing herself as the killer? Rumors, secrets, and drama both real and imagined collide in this gripping small-town thriller that’s “smart, edgy, and entertaining as heck” (Kirkus Reviews).

granite harbor cover alex michaelides quote

Granite Harbor

By Peter Nichols

A serene coastal village in Maine serves as the backdrop to this atmospheric thriller, which Kirkus Reviews deliciously describes as a “well-written, character-driven portrait of small-town New England meets Silence of the Lambs.” The days pass by at a tectonic pace in Granite Harbor — that is, until murder strikes the sleepy town. When a local teenager is found brutally murdered at a nearby archeological site, Granite Harbor is in shock. When a second body is discovered, the once tight-knit community completely unravels. Alex Brangwen, a single father, failed novelist, and Granite Harbor’s sole detective, scrambles to temper panic and expose the killer. Joining him is Isabel, a fellow single parent, who works at the archeological site. Alex’s daughter and Isabel’s son were best friends with the victim. They fear their children may be next, and they know that time is running out. 

Book cover of "sharp objects" by gillian flynn, featuring large black and green text on a white background, with a mention of it being a new york times bestseller and adapted into a limited series.

Sharp Objects

By Gillian Flynn

When reporter Camille Preaker returns home to Missouri after a stay in a psychiatric hospital, it’s as if she’s stumbled into a living ghost story. Her eccentric mother lives by her own rules, her teen half-sister is as strange as ever, and it quickly feels as if she’s never left. Her mission: to investigate the gruesome murder of a young girl and the disappearance of another. The dark tension in Wind Gap is palpable, but when you add layers of history, trauma, and spectral figures from the past, driving around with Camille will curl your toes. In Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn delivers “a deeply creepy exploration of small-town Midwestern values [that] boasts one of the most deliciously dysfunctional families to come along in a while...” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Book cover of "the dry" by jane harper, featuring a close-up of a woman's face partially obscured by tall, dry grass and text proclaiming it a motion picture and a new york times bestseller.

The Dry

By Jane Harper

We highly recommend checking out Jane Harper’s Gold Dagger Award–winning The Dry — just make sure you pour yourself a glass of water before disappearing into this sun-parched page-turner. Aaron Falk is a federal agent who was drummed out of Kiewarra, Australia, with his father 20 years ago. Now he’s back in the rural enclave to pay his last respects to his best friend, Luke Hadler, who was found dead with his wife and son in their farmhouse. The authorities claim Luke committed suicide after killing his family. There’s certainly a record-breaking drought that has decimated the area’s family farms — perhaps financial stress pushed Luke over the edge? Luke’s parents ask Aaron to investigate, and he unearths more than anyone bargained for. The scorching sun beats down and nerves are frayed in this isolated outpost in the Australian outback, adding an undercurrent of distrust and resentment as Aaron battles both the heat and secrets from his past. 

Book cover of "all the sinners bleed" by s.a. cosby. features an ominous, silhouette tree against an orange and blue gradient background with the title and author's name prominently displayed.

All the Sinners Bleed

By S.A. Cosby

Years ago, Titus Crown left home to work with the FBI. Now he’s back as the local lawman, the first Black sheriff of Charon County, Virginia. In an instant, he’s reminded of the mask small towns often wear; behind a friendly smile lurk secrets, suspicion, and barely concealed bigotry. But new threats emerge from the shadows of Charon County that compel Titus to act fast: including a shocking school shooting, a far-right group clamoring to march, and a ruthless killer stalking Charon’s country roads. Cosby unflinchingly examines tough topics in his acclaimed crime novel — racism, hatred, ugly politics, religious hypocrisy, and human cruelty are all on display. At the center of it all is a complex hero to guide us through. “All the Sinners Bleed is rough, smart, gritty, intricate, and Southern to the core” (The Guardian).

Book cover of "all the missing girls" by megan miranda, featuring a silhouette of a ferris wheel against a starry night background, with a quote from ruth ware praising the novel.

All the Missing Girls

By Megan Miranda

Small-town school cliques are probably the same everywhere: Mean kids, popular kids, mean popular kids, and the hangers-on who follow in their wake. Ten years ago, Nicolette — Nic, to her friends — was part of the in-crowd of Cooley Ridge, roaming the streets with her school pals. But everything changed when her best friend, Corrine, disappeared, and now there’s a new mystery in town, as local woman Annaleise Carter has gone missing. The police reopen the original case, and Nic, who’s home visiting her ailing father, is sucked back into the small-town mystery. “Missing girls” may be a familiar theme in mystery fiction, but Megan Miranda puts a fresh spin on things in All the Missing Girls, turning the chronology around and telling her narrative in reverse. 

Cover of the book "bluebird" by attica locke, featuring a large white star overlaying a road stretching into the distance. text includes critical praise and the author's other works.

Bluebird, Bluebird

By Attica Locke

Princeton alum Darren Mathews has two years of law school under his belt when he decides to become a Texas Ranger like his uncle before him. Darren’s wife, Lisa, just doesn’t understand why — he had been on track to be a successful lawyer, giving them what she thought would be a safe and respectable life. Now he’s investigating a racially charged double murder in the tiny East Texas town of Lark, and as a Black man with a badge, Darren’s viewed with suspicion by white and Black locals alike. It’s not easy being an outsider at the best of times. Add to the combustible mix an uncooperative sheriff and the white supremacist husband of one of the murder victims, and the situation in Lark looks ready to erupt. Attica Locke received both an Edgar Award and an Anthony Award for Bluebird, Bluebird. It’s rural noir at its finest.  

Book cover of "all good people here" by ashley flowers, featuring a large red barn against a green, brush-stroke style background with yellow text overlay.

All Good People Here

By Ashley Flowers

Wakarusa, Indiana, doesn’t have much to put it on the map, save for a brutal episode from its past. Twenty years ago, someone murdered 6-year-old January Jacobs. The killer was never found. Margot Davies lived next door to January as a child — they were the same age. She moved away to the city and became a respected reporter. When she returns to Wakarusa to visit her uncle, she hears that 5-year-old Natalie Clark has disappeared from the next town over, and she decides to investigate. Margot wants to find Natalie and also track down January’s killer. Strangely, she finds resistance — not just from the local police, but from her family, friends, and people in the town, too. Why is Wakarusa’s neighborly reputation not holding up under scrutiny? What is everyone hiding? True crime podcast fans will surely recognize Ashley Flowers as the host of Crime Junkie. In All Good People Here, Flowers delves into the sinister side of small-town America, revealing that, when it comes to Wakarusa, some folks are anything but good. 

Book cover of "still life" by louise penny featuring a picturesque landscape with a quaint village and a large, central house. the title and author's name are prominent at the top.

Still Life

By Louise Penny

Louise Penny collected a bevy of awards for Still Life, the first in Penny’s acclaimed Inspector Gamache mystery series. In it, we meet Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. The quietly steady detective is sent to the rural hamlet of Three Pines to investigate the death of Jane Neal, a popular artist in the village. At first glance, it seems that Jane is the victim of a hunting accident — she has an arrow in her chest and is found on a deer track. Gamache rushes to no conclusions, though. He takes his time, interviewing everyone and unraveling shared bonds, gradually revealing long-buried small-town secrets. While there’s undoubtedly tension, the calm inspector slows the story down to match the peaceful setting, proving that while a murderer may be on the prowl, there’s plenty of neighborly kindness and concern in the tight-knit community of Three Pines, too.

Book cover of "where the truth lies" by anna bailey featuring the title in bold white text, a small, distant fire at the bottom, and a starry sky backdrop.

Where the Truth Lies

By Anna Bailey

You probably wouldn’t want to visit Whistling Ridge. Even reading about the small town’s seething mess of narrow-mindedness, bigotry, hatred, gossip, and judgment will make your skin crawl. Where the Truth Lies is Anna Bailey’s dark debut and a story that brings this challenging community to life. The plot centers on young Abigail Blake, who goes missing after a party, and her friend Emma Alvarez, who left her that night and is now consumed with guilt and determined to find out what happened. Bailey’s mystery takes you on a dark, twisty, haunting, challenging journey, flipping between characters and multiple timelines. Keep the bedside light on as you read this one.

Book cover of "the girl who died" by ragnar jonasson, featuring a title against a stormy seascape with a solitary house on a rocky shore.

The Girl Who Died

By Ragnar Jónasson

When Una answers the ad teacher wanted at the edge of the world, she probably didn’t expect she’d be teaching just two children in a town of 10 people on the northern tip of Iceland. Isolation and local history give Una an education of her own. But the handful of residents of Skálar aren’t exactly open and welcoming, and Una begins to get visits from a girl called Thrá, who died 60 years ago. Award-winning crime writer Ragnar Jónasson takes small-town mystery to a whole new level in this chilling thriller, and the darkness of Icelandic winter adds to its icy appeal. The Girl Who Died is “an atmospheric, authentically shivery ghost story with criminal trimmings” (Kirkus Reviews).

Book cover for "dirt creek" by hayley scrivenor. the title is in bold yellow text over an image of a dried-up, desolate creek with barren trees and a cloudy sky.

Dirty Creek

By Hayley Scrivenor

Dubbed “outback noir,” Dirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenor is a hot, dusty, taut Australian mystery that drops the reader smack-dab in the middle of small-town Durton. Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels is in town to investigate the disappearance of 12-year-old Esther, and slowly but surely she teases apart all the intricate relationships and long-simmering secrets that keep the town ticking. Scrivenor delivers her small-town mystery through a chorus of voices, including all the children as one, which gives extra insight into the heart and soul of Durton. Dirt Creek is a remarkable debut, Hayley Scrivenor masterful in her deft handling of the tensions underpinning a small, regional town, and the complex characters that populate it” (internationally bestselling author Hannah Kent).

Book cover of "winter counts" by david heska wanbli weiden featuring bold white text against a red background, with an image of a bear in the center.

Winter Counts

By David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Virgil Wounded Horse sees himself as a righter of wrongs, a man of the people who earns a living by using his fists in the quest for justice. He’s the guardian of his nephew Nathan, and when the teen is tricked into a drug operation on the Lakota Nations reservation where he lives, Virgil knows he has to jump in to help him. But is his physical strength enough? He enlists the help of his ex, Marie Short Bear, who has her finger on the pulse of the community and, unlike Virgil, is a believer in their Native rituals. Together, they carefully weave their way into the dark underbelly of the reservation. David Heska Wanbli Weiden thrilled readers with this striking debut. Time magazine named Winter Counts one of “The 100 Best Mystery and Thriller Books of All Time.”

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