The best books with an isolated setting

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a crime writer from New Zealand and have set all of my books either in small towns or isolated settings. The appeal of isolated settings, for me, is that social norms are lacking, people are often making their own rules in which to live by and they have chosen to live this life for particular reasons. The physical environment of isolated settings holds power and danger, but also beauty. In the five books I’ve chosen, all settings are stunning in their own way but with the introduction of characters with their own stories and histories, the beauty often contradicts the dark events going on and the secrets being kept.


I wrote...

To the Sea

By Nikki Crutchley,

Book cover of To the Sea

What is my book about?

To the Sea tells the story of eighteen-year-old Ana who lives at Iluka, a secluded pine plantation overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with her domineering grandfather, her mother, aunt, and uncle. Iluka is the only home Ana has ever known and she knows little of the outside world. But when a stranger comes to stay at the artists’ retreat run by her aunt, Ana discovers that Iluka and the people who live there hold violent secrets. Ana needs to make a choice: protect everything – and everyone – she holds dear or tell the truth and destroy it all. Long listed for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best novel.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Lost Man

Nikki Crutchley Why did I love this book?

You can’t get more isolated than the Australian outback. Or more brutal. And it’s here that stockman Cameron Bright is found dead, on the border of two cattle properties, at an old stockman’s grave.

The Lost Man goes on to tell the story of the Bright family, who live in this harsh environment, making a living off the land. Nathan, Cameron’s older brother, especially, needs answers about his brother’s death and starts questioning the family’s finances, along with his family’s past and begins to wonder if something more sinister is at play.

I loved the way Jane Harper portrayed this vast, unforgiving landscape and the way it has total control over the people who choose to make their homes there.

By Jane Harper,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Two brothers meet in the remote Australian outback when the third brother is found dead, in this stunning new standalone novel from Jane Harper

Brothers Nathan and Bub Bright meet for the first time in months at the remote fence line separating their cattle ranches in the lonely outback.

Their third brother, Cameron, lies dead at their feet.

In an isolated belt of Australia, their homes a three-hour drive apart, the brothers were one another’s nearest neighbors. Cameron was the middle child, the one who ran the family homestead. But something made him head out…


Book cover of The Last Thing to Burn

Nikki Crutchley Why did I love this book?

In The Last Thing to Burn, Will Dean is very clever in his choice of location and how it’s become a prison for Jane.

Jane lives in a small cottage with her farmer husband surrounded by paddocks. The whole book is set in the cramped confines of the small cottage, where Jane’s husband rules over her and punishes her if she does anything wrong. Jane’s completely cut off from the rest of the world. Her whole world is the cottage.

I love the way Jane slowly realises that she may have a way out, and we join her, heart in mouth, as she plans her escape. I’ve never raced through the last forty pages of a book so fast!

By Will Dean,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Thing to Burn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Outstanding. The best thriller in years' MARTINA COLE
'One of the best thrillers I have read in years' THE OBSERVER
'I couldn't put it down. A visceral nightmare of a book with one of the most evil villains I've come across in a long time. Powerful writing' STEVE CAVANAGH
'Short, sharp shocker' THE TIMES
'an early contender for one of the best books of the year' S MAGAZINE

He is her husband. She is his captive.

Her husband calls her Jane. That is not her name.

She lives in a small farm cottage, surrounded by vast, open fields. Everywhere she…


Book cover of The Axeman's Carnival

Nikki Crutchley Why did I love this book?

Tama is a helpless magpie chick when he’s rescued by Marnie and taken into her home that she shares with her husband Rob.

As Tama thrives and grows under Marnie’s care he begins to talk, and so begins The Axeman’s Carnival, a story told through the eyes of a magpie. I think the best thing about this book (apart from a very entertaining Tama) is the huge disparity between Tama and Marnie’s social media fame and the physical and emotional isolation Marnie experiences.

The book is set on a sheep station in the South Island of New Zealand. And while Marnie occasionally sees her mother and sister and drives into town, her life is very isolated, made worse by her violent and erratic husband, but made better with her newfound love for Tama.

By Catherine Chidgey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Axeman's Carnival as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Everywhere, the birds: sparrows and skylarks and thrushes, starlings and bellbirds, fantails and pipits - but above them all and louder, the magpies. We are here and this is our tree and we're staying and it is ours and you need to leave and now.

Tama is just a helpless chick when he is rescued by Marnie, and this is where his story might have ended. 'If it keeps me awake,' says Marnie's husband Rob, a farmer, 'I'll have to wring its neck.' But with Tama come new possibilities for the couple's future. Tama can speak, and his fame is…


Book cover of See You in September

Nikki Crutchley Why did I love this book?

After breaking up with her boyfriend during a trip to New Zealand, Cassy meets a group of people who invite her to stay with them at their farming collective.

This book perfectly portrays the way someone is drawn into a cult, slowly giving themselves up to the beliefs of the leader; in this case, Justin and his prophecy about the Last Day. When Cassy finally agrees to stay with the group, she is taken further and further into rural New Zealand, eventually ending up on a jetty, where a boat is waiting to take her to the farm.

Through Cassy’s eyes we first see only wild beauty, and happy, content people but that gradually changes and she eventually sees the valley for what it is, a hidden place for Justin to preach to his people and plan for the Last Day, safe from prying eyes. 

By Charity Norman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked See You in September as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cassy smiled, blew them a kiss.
'See you in September,' she said.
It was a throwaway line. Just words uttered casually by a young woman in a hurry. And then she'd gone.

It was supposed to be a short trip - a break in New Zealand before her best friend's wedding. But when Cassy waved goodbye to her parents, they never dreamed that it would be years before they'd see her again.

Having broken up with her boyfriend, Cassy accepts an invitation to stay in an idyllic farming collective. Overcome by the peace and beauty of the valley and swept…


Book cover of In the Clearing

Nikki Crutchley Why did I love this book?

In the Clearing is told from the POV of Amy and Freya, and while Freya’s chapters have her living in small-town Australia, it’s teenager Amy’s chapters that are the most chilling.

Amy lives with her ‘family’ in the Clearing, a place far away from anything and anyone. She has a regimented life where she’s expected to work and go to school. There are also specific rules to keep the family running as it should and the threat of punishment is always present.

The isolated location of the Clearing, surrounded by harsh Australian bush, means safety and a place to hide dark secrets for some, but to others it is a prison. With the disappearance of a child, Amy and Freya’s stories combine as the past is exposed.

By J.P. Pomare,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Set against a ticking clock, this "haunting" and "atmospheric" thriller that inspired the Hulu miniseries "The Clearing" pits a ruthless cult against a mother's love, revealing that our darkest secrets are the hardest ones to leave behind (Sally Hepworth, New York Times bestselling author of The Good Sister).

Four days to go
Amy has only ever known life in the Clearing, amidst her brothers and sisters--until a newcomer, a younger girl, joins the "family" and offers a glimpse of the outside world.
 

Three days to go

Freya is going to great lengths to seem like an "everyday mum," even as…


You might also like...

The Blue Prussian

By Eve Penrose,

Book cover of The Blue Prussian

Eve Penrose

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The Blue Prussian is a spellbinding story told by Blake O’Brien, a beautiful, young executive with a globetrotting career. Blake returns to her native Manhattan from San Francisco after escaping—or so she thinks—her marriage to a dashing man who turned out to be a prince of darkness. She had been hoping for a fresh start but learns that she has been poisoned with thallium—a deadly neurotoxin referred to as the poisoner’s poison.

Blake is treated with the only known antidote—Prussian blue—the same synthetic pigment with the deeply saturated hue used in dazzling masterpieces like The Starry Night and The Great…

The Blue Prussian

By Eve Penrose,

What is this book about?

"A modern-day Gaslight"

The Blue Prussian is a spellbinding story told by Blake O'Brien, a beautiful, young executive with a globetrotting career. Blake returns to her native Manhattan from San Francisco after escaping—or so she thinks—her marriage to a dashing man who turned out to be a prince of darkness. She had been hoping for a fresh start but learns that she has been poisoned with thallium—a deadly neurotoxin referred to as the poisoner's poison.

Blake is treated with the only known antidote—Prussian blue—the same synthetic pigment with the deeply saturated hue used in dazzling masterpieces like The Starry Night…


Topics
  • Coming soon!

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in family secrets, cults, and farms?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about family secrets, cults, and farms.

Family Secrets Explore 182 books about family secrets
Cults Explore 58 books about cults
Farms Explore 64 books about farms