The best novels with beautifully drawn settings and characters that evoke mystery and a tinge of the supernatural

Who am I?

I am fascinated by the myth, legend, and the supernatural, and love to link them with a particular setting. The books listed all inspired my writing from their pace, elegant prose, great characterisation, and especially, descriptive settings and atmosphere evoked from those settings (something I strive to do as an author, using places I know really well). And I am lucky enough to have lived in Cornwall by the River Fal, a place so steeped in legend and natural beauty that Angel’s Blade almost wrote itself. 


I wrote...

Angel's Blade: A Jack Sangster Mystery

By Lewis Hinton,

Book cover of Angel's Blade: A Jack Sangster Mystery

What is my book about?

A profound secret that echoes down the centuries is uncovered by a uniquely gifted girl, who in doing so jeopardises her own life and that of the only person who can protect her…

Spring, 1970. A beautiful and precociously talented pupil goes missing from a residential school in Cornwall; special investigator Jack Sangster is assigned to help local police find her. And as Sangster digs deeper, despite initial scepticism, he wonders… Did events from two thousand years ago in this remote corner of Europe really have repercussions that might rock the very foundations of western society? Governments on both sides of the iron curtain, and even hallowed religious institutions, certainly seem to think so. It will take all of Sangster’s skill and determination to discover the truth before it’s too late...

The books I picked & why

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Midwinter of the Spirit

By Phil Rickman,

Book cover of Midwinter of the Spirit

Why this book?

In Midwinter of the Spirit, Rickman’s excellent prose superbly evokes Herefordshire settings as a backdrop to his protagonist’s, (parish priest, rooky exorcist, and single mum Merrily Watkins), foray into a twilight world. Merrily’s character is painted by Rickman as vulnerable but driven, qualities that eventually lead her into mortal danger, with evil pursuing her in the most personal way through her daughter, and also manifesting itself at the heart of the religious establishment that should be her ultimate protector. Midwinter of the Spirit was subsequently made into an excellent TV serial, and the cathedral scenes were coincidentally filmed at Chester Cathedral, which features in my novel (and is where I was standing when the mug shot shown on this page was taken!). 

Midwinter of the Spirit

By Phil Rickman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Midwinter of the Spirit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE SECOND INSTALMENT IN THE MERRILY WATKINS SERIES

'They'll follow you home... breathe down your phone at night... a prime target for every psychotic grinder of the dark satanic mills that ever sacrificed a chicken...'

Diocesan Exorcist: a job viewed by the Church of England with such extreme suspicion that they changed the name.

It's Deliverance Consultant now. Still, it seems, no job for a woman. But when the Bishop offers it to Merrily Watkins, parish priest and single mum, she's in no position to refuse.

It starts badly for Merrily and gets no easier. As an early winter slices…


The Woman in Black

By Susan Hill,

Book cover of The Woman in Black

Why this book?

Hill’s minimalist style, ability to evoke despair, and superb descriptions, combined with the most vivid of imaginations, make her a compelling writer of ghost stories. In The Woman in Black, she paints the superbly gothic Eel Marsh House, and its bleak surroundings with a deft touch that transports the reader into the narrative. You don’t read a Susan Hill book to come out feeling better afterward, but… if you like to be left with a feeling of disquiet, even though you know it’s only a story you just read, The Woman in Black is definitely for you.

The Woman in Black

By Susan Hill,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Woman in Black as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic ghost story from the author of The Mist in the Mirror: a chilling tale about a menacing spectre haunting a small English town.
 
Arthur Kipps is an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford—a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway—to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow’s house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip…


Not After Midnight, and Other Stories

By Daphne du Maurier,

Book cover of Not After Midnight, and Other Stories

Why this book?

No writer evokes atmosphere better than Daphne Du Maurier, and this collection of five short stories demonstrates her gifts superbly. Best known of these short stories is "Don’t Look Now," a tale of bereavement and despair with a wicked twist at the end, set in Venice and subsequently made into a superb horror movie. But the other stories within this anthology also immerse the reader in their settings, with each delivering an unexpected twist. 

Not After Midnight, and Other Stories

By Daphne du Maurier,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Not After Midnight, and Other Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Da Vinci Code

By Dan Brown,

Book cover of The Da Vinci Code

Why this book?

This best seller needs no introduction for most readers, and despite lacking originality and containing a number of inaccuracies masquerading as facts, is included on my list because Brown excels in several ways as a writer that I admire very much; he evokes settings really well, paints characters like protagonist Robert Langdon superbly, and is a master of the page-turner. You simply have to keep on reading a Dan Brown novel, you can’t put it down. I’m also including The Da Vinci Code here because there is some commonality between its plot and that of my latest novel, although The Da Vinci Code was never any kind of inspiration for my writing.

The Da Vinci Code

By Dan Brown,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Da Vinci Code as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Harvard professor Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call while on business in Paris: the elderly curator of the Louvre has been brutally murdered inside the museum. Alongside the body, police have found a series of baffling codes.

As Langdon and a gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, begin to sort through the bizarre riddles, they are stunned to find a trail that leads to the works of Leonardo Da Vinci - and suggests the answer to a mystery that stretches deep into the vault of history.

Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine code and quickly assemble the…


To the Devil a Daughter

By Dennis Wheatley,

Book cover of To the Devil a Daughter

Why this book?

The undisputed master of the Occult thriller, Wheatley sold over 50 million books, regularly topping best seller lists in the mid-20th Century. In To The Devil a Daughter, Wheatley contrasts the colour of the post-war French Riviera with the greyness of ration-book 1940’s Britain with a rare vividness, and atypically for the time, creates a ‘kick-ass’ middle-aged female protagonist. His descriptions of the Essex marshes, and the sinister Canon Copely-Syle who lives there, are superb. In another book, The Haunting of Toby Jugg, Wheatley describes a school (loosely based on the infamous Dartington Hall school), that partly inspired ‘The Academy’ in my own book. When reading Wheatley’s books, bear in mind he was a man of his time, as many of his views do not date well. I was massively flattered recently when a reader of my book said my style (not my views!) reminded him of Wheatley’s. 

To the Devil a Daughter

By Dennis Wheatley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To the Devil a Daughter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why did the solitary girl leave her rented house on the French Riviera only for short walks at night? Why was she so frightened? Why did animals shrink away from her? The girl herself didn't know, and was certainly not aware of the terrible appointment which had been made for her long ago and was now drawing close. Molly Fountain, the tough-minded Englishwoman living next door, was determined to find the answer. She sent for a wartime secret service colleague to come and help. What they discovered was horrifying beyond anything they could have imagined. Dennis Wheatley returned in this…


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