The best books that keep pace, with settings evoking mystery and a tinge of the supernatural

Who am I?

I am fascinated by the supernatural and love to link it with a particular setting. The books listed all inspired my writing from their pace, elegant prose, and especially, descriptive settings and atmosphere evoked from those settings (something I strive to do as an author, using places I know really well). I was lucky enough to spend my early years in southwest Wirral, with its red sandstone hills, heathland, and views across the Dee estuary to Wales. This was a perfect setting for The Face Stone, with the atmosphere of the local woodlands, especially at dusk, making it easy to imagine that ancient spirits still guarded rock and tree.

I wrote...

The Face Stone

By Lewis Hinton,

Book cover of The Face Stone

What is my book about?

Do ancient rocks and woodlands really harbour a secret that could bring about worldwide catastrophe? And can saving the health, life, and even mortal soul of one missing boy avert that catastrophe?

It is 1969. Special investigator Jack Sangster is sent to an elite school, where the son of a wealthy local family has disappeared. Follow as he navigates clues and red herrings, learning at every turn that if his eyes and ears are to be believed, the stakes linked to this case are rising at an alarming rate. Sangster tries to do the right thing even as his uncertainty rises; all the while a seemingly well-ordered and rational world is slowly revealed to perhaps be older, darker, and more chaotic than he ever imagined…

The books I picked & why

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The Essex Serpent

By Sarah Perry,

Book cover of The Essex Serpent

Why this book?

In The Essex Serpent, Perry’s prose marvelously evokes both the prejudices and ignorance of the times (late 19th century), and the settings (the bleak estuarine marshes of east Essex, as well as Victorian London). Her characterisation is also excellent (you don’t always like the main protagonist, but you relate to her and feel her pain, as you do with many of the more peripheral characters). Plus, the storyline includes fossils (I like fossils, but that’s just me!). Perry also successfully applies modern ideas to the Victorian world, something to be avoided by all but the most skilled writers. Then there’s the plot, always making you wonder—is it supernatural, is it not?  

The Man in the Picture

By Susan Hill,

Book cover of The Man in the Picture

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. Hill generally includes all my favourite elements in her ghost stories, starting in familiar surroundings, then moving to more exotic locations, often delivering a shocking twist at the end. In The Man in the Picture, a story set in Venice during Carnival is told to the narrator by an aging professor in his Cambridge rooms on a winter’s night. You don’t read a Susan Hill book to come out feeling better afterwards, 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 Man in the Picture’s definitely for you.

Frenchman's Creek

By Daphne du Maurier,

Book cover of Frenchman's Creek

Why this book?

No writer evokes atmosphere better than Daphne Du Maurier. Whilst some of her other works are better known and possess more gravitas, Frenchman’s Creek, set largely around the Helford River, captures the essence of this beautiful corner of Britain perfectly. Add to that Du Maurier’s ability to transport us back to Restoration England without it feeling like a history lesson, so we can identify with the characters despite them living hundreds of years ago, and you get a great read. There is a small tinge of the supernatural in Frenchman’s Creek, and an interesting love story, but it is the atmospheric prose and fast-paced plot that makes it stand out (both provided some inspiration for the sequel to my book which is set in the same location).

In the Teeth of the Evidence

By Dorothy L. Sayers,

Book cover of In the Teeth of the Evidence

Why this book?

This collection of short detective stories features Sayers’ most famous sleuth Lord Peter Whimsey, but also the lesser-known Montague Egg. Sayers was a marketing professional, and this comes out in the Egg stories, about a travelling salesman who gets involved in mysteries, the police allowing him to do so partly because of his quirky and unassuming personality. Egg frequently quotes useful maxims from his favourite book The Salesman’s Handbook, thinking laterally to solve puzzles that elude formal detectives. This book has no supernatural aspect but is included here as the idea of a ‘detective that is not a detective’ always intrigued me. I chose this device for my (very different to Egg) detective protagonist Jack Sangster, partly as a result of reading In the Teeth of the Evidence.  

The Devil Rides Out

By Dennis Wheatley,

Book cover of The Devil Rides Out

Why this book?

The undisputed master of the Occult thriller, Wheatley sold over 50 million books, regularly topping bestseller lists in the mid-20th Century. His ability to maintain a frantic pace without compromising meticulously researched detail is second to none, his dialogue is believable and snappy, and his characters vivid and interesting, never more so than in The Devil Rides Out. When reading it, bear in mind Wheatley 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. 

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