The best thrillers with a strong sense of place

Who am I?

I write Gothic novels and short ghost stories, nearly always with a very vivid setting. One reviewer observed of my debut novel that the German town where it was set, Bad Münstereifel, almost felt like one of the characters in the book. For the last ten years I have lived in Scotland and much of my recent work is set here. I love to explore the derelict mansions that are dotted about the countryside, walk along the old railway line, or swim in the river. I'm fascinated by the way that traces of Scotland's history are visible in the landscape, and I write this into my books. 

I wrote...

Too Near the Dead

By Helen Grant,

Book cover of Too Near the Dead

What is my book about?

For Fen Munro and her fiancé James, it is a dream come true: an escape from London to a beautiful house in the stunning Perthshire countryside. Barr Dubh house is modern, a building with no past at all. But someone walks the grounds, always dressed in lavender. Under a lichenous stone in an abandoned graveyard, a hideous secret lies buried. And at night, Fen is tormented by horrifying dreams. Someone wants Fen’s happiness, and nothing is going to stop them – not even death...

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Dark Matter

Helen Grant Why did I love this book?

I'm a great fan of ghost stories, especially the disturbing, subtly creepy sort, ones which rely on the gradual building-up of tension rather than gore. Dark Matter is one of the best I've ever read. Hero Jack, who is already on the back foot because he is poor and everyone else is privileged, is part of an expedition to the Arctic Circle. Undeterred by the apparent unease of the captain who drops them off, the team arrive in Gruhuken, on the coast of Svalbard – the scene of an appalling past tragedy. The crew members succumb to accidents and illness, and finally Jack is left all alone as the Arctic night begins – a darkness that will literally last for months. I think this is one of those stories that genuinely couldn't be set anywhere else. The Arctic location with its endless dark is frightening all by itself, even before the other stuff starts happening...

By Michelle Paver,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Dark Matter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'What is it? What does it want? Why is it angry with me?'

January 1937.

Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he's offered the chance to be the wireless operator on an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it.
Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year. Gruhuken.
But the Arctic…

Book cover of The Bone Jar

Helen Grant Why did I love this book?

I love this book because it features urbex (urban exploration) and I've done a bit of that myself; some of my previous books were about it. Much of the story is centred around the disused Blackwater Asylum, an enormous complex of wards and treatment rooms with only a skeleton staff of security guards. Everyone associated with Blackwater has their own secrets, from the former patient who lives within the grounds to the property developer with his eye on the land, and we follow Detective Lew Kirby and urban explorer Connie Darke as they try to unravel the crimes that have taken place there. There is mystery aplenty, but what really made this book for me were the locations. The bone jar itself  which I am not going to describe! Go and read the book!  is absolutely stunning and completely original. 

By S W Kane,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bone Jar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger Award

Two murders. An abandoned asylum. Will a mysterious former patient help untangle the dark truth?

The body of an elderly woman has been found in the bowels of a derelict asylum on the banks of the Thames. As Detective Lew Kirby and his partner begin their investigation, another body is discovered in the river nearby. How are the two murders connected?

Before long, the secrets of Blackwater Asylum begin to reveal themselves. There are rumours about underground bunkers and secret rooms, unspeakable psychological experimentation, and a dark force that haunts the ruins,…

Book cover of Boy of Fire and Earth

Helen Grant Why did I love this book?

I bought this book after reading Sami Shah's standout story "Reap" in the anthology The Djinn Falls In Love And Other Stories. It's set in Karachi, Pakistan, and follows the adventures of Wahid Hasain, as he attempts to recover the soul of the girl he loves, which was stolen by a djinn. It is a book full of horror and wonder, gore and lyricism, and I was glued to every single page. It brings Karachi to life in all its gritty glory: the traffic, the university, auto rickshaws, chai cafés, mithai shops, and lemon juice sellers. Shah peoples the city with characters like Badshah, the youthful 'King of Karachi', Kamran, the sadistic killer, and above all the djinn – many different types of them, from the vaguely pitiful to the outright terrifying. A read that will take you far from home. 

By Sami Shah,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Boy of Fire and Earth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

‘Sami Shah’s imagination is a place of wonder and terror’ Kamila Shamsie ‘Bold, compelling fantasy with a truly original setting’ Saladin Ahmed Born of a smokeless fire, and raised in Karachi, Wahid’s life comes apart when he loses the girl he loves to vengeful djinns. Setting out on a journey to recover her soul and find out the truth of his own origins, he is accompanied by Iblis, the Devil himself. Together, they traverse a city infested with corrupt cops and hustling beggars, and discover deathly creatures lurking under its sinister surface, even as the threat of Judgement Day looms…

Book cover of The Pendragon Legend

Helen Grant Why did I love this book?

First published in 1934, this extraordinary novel begins with a chance meeting between the Hungarian narrator, János Bátsky, and reclusive Welsh aristocrat the Earl of Gwynedd, who invites Bátsky to visit him in his castle in Wales. Our hero accepts the invitation, in spite of various warnings (his friend Fred describes the Earl as "Mad as a hatter!" and an anonymous phone call advises Bátsky that everyone who becomes involved with him "comes to a sticky end"). From this point on, the story becomes increasingly bizarre, involving ancient grudges, the Rosicrucians and a laboratory full of giant axolotls.

If someone were to ask me what I thought of this book, I would honestly have to say: "I don't know." The effect of reading it was rather like stuffing yourself with Christmas cake: too rich to manage all at one go. But what I did enjoy very much were the impressions of rural Wales seen through the eyes of a Hungarian. The setting has a wild, remote, marvelous feeling to it: you can imagine almost anything happening there, and in this book it does. 

By Antal Szerb, Len Rix (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Pendragon Legend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At an end-of-the London season soiree, the young Hungarian scholar-dilettante Janos Batky is introduced to the Earl of Gwynedd, a reclusive eccentric who is the subject of strange rumours. Invited to the family seat, Pendragon Castle in North Wales, Batky receives a mysterious phone-call warning him not to go. Antal Szerb's first novel The Pendragon Legend (1934), set in Wales is a gently satirical blend of gothic and romantic genres, crossed with the murder mystery format to produce a fast-moving and often hilarious romp. But beneath the surface, the reader becomes aware of a steely intelligence probing moral, psychological and…

Book cover of The City & the City

Helen Grant Why did I love this book?

I wanted to finish with this book, because this novel really is all about the location. The city and the city of the title are the twin cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma, which exist side by side, or perhaps even in the same space, somewhere on the edge of Europe. Besźel feels old, dowdy and run-down; Ul Qoma feels smart and shiny. Despite being virtually intertwined, the residents of each take no notice of each other – in fact, it is illegal to do so, and a good deal of everyone's headspace is taken up with managing not to see the other side. Then a woman apparently from Ul Qoma is found murdered in Besźel, and Inspector Tyador Borlú must investigate, even if it means seeing what is not supposed to be seen. The noirish plot is interesting, but what really remains with you after reading the book is the sense of having visited this most curious place, the city and the city. 

By China Miéville,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The City & the City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, the multi-award winning The City & The City by China Mieville is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.

'You can't talk about Mieville without using the word "brilliant".' - Ursula Le Guin, author of the Earthsea series.

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to…

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The Constant Tower

By Carole McDonnell,

Book cover of The Constant Tower

Carole McDonnell Author Of Wind Follower

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Armchair anthropologist Asian drama addict Christian Perseverer

Carole's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Plus, Carole's 10, and 12-year-old's favorite books.

What is my book about?

This is a multicultural epic fantasy with a diverse cast of characters. Sickly fifteen-year-old Prince Psal, the son of warrior-king Nahas, should have been named Crown Prince of all Wheel Clan lands. But his clan disdains the disabled.

When the mysterious self-moving towers that keep humans safe from the Creator's ancient curse rebel, Psal attempts to find the Constant Tower and break the power of the third moon. Psal must risk losing the little respect his father has for him and face the dangers of the unmaking night to find the Constant Tower and save all of humanity.

The Constant Tower

By Carole McDonnell,

What is this book about?

Sickly fifteen year old Prince Psal, the son of the nature-blessed warrior-king Nahas, should have been named Crown Prince of all Wheel Clan lands. A priest-physician like his friend Ephan, Psal lacks a warrior's heart, yet he desires to earn Nahas's respect and become a clan chief. If he cannot do this, he must escape his clan altogether. But his love for Cassia, the daughter of his father's enemy, and his own weaknesses work against him. When war comes, Psal defends Ktwala and her daughter Mahari, wronged by Nahas, and speaks out against the atrocities his clan commits, further jeopardizing…

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