10 Atmospheric Mystery Novels Set in the South
There’s nothing quite like a great Southern setting—the lush nature, the Southern hospitality, the great food. But the South also has a long, complicated, and dark history, and more than a few secrets as well. If you’re looking for a mystery and suspense novel set in an interesting place that weaves together current events, history, and unique regional culture, pick up any of these thrillers set in the South.
In the hurricane-ravaged bottomlands of South Mississippi, where stores are closing and jobs are few, a fierce zealot has gained a foothold, capitalizing on the vulnerability of a dwindling population and a burning need for hope. As she preaches and promises salvation from the light of the pulpit, in the shadows she sows the seeds of violence.
Elsewhere, Jessie and her toddler, Jace, are on the run across the Mississippi/Louisiana line, in a resentful return to her childhood home and her desolate father. Holt, Jace's father, is missing and hunted by a brutish crowd, and an old man witnesses the wrong thing in the depths of night. In only a matter of days, all of their lives will collide, and be altered, in the maelstrom of the changing world.
Charlie Garner has a bad feeling. His ex-wife, Meg, has been missing for over a week and one quick peek into her home shows all her possessions packed up in boxes. Neighbors claim she’s running from bill collectors, but Charlie suspects something more sinister is afoot. Meg was last seen working at the local donut shop, a business run by a shadow group most refer to as ‘The Saucer People’; a space-age, evangelist cult who believe their compound to be the site of an extraterrestrial Second Coming.
Along with his brother, Felix, and beautiful, randy journalist Amelia “Scrappy” Moon, Charlie uncovers strange and frightening details about the compound (read: a massive, doomsday storehouse of weapons, a leashed chimpanzee!) When the body of their key informer is found dead with his arms ripped out of their sockets, Charlie knows he’s in danger but remains dogged in his quest to rescue Meg.
One early morning on a Norfolk beach in Virginia, a dead body is discovered by a man taking his daily swim—Arman Bajalan, formerly an interpreter in Iraq. After narrowly surviving an assassination attempt that killed his wife and child, Arman has been given lonely sanctuary in the US as a maintenance worker at the Sea Breeze Motel. Now, convinced that the body is connected to his past, he knows he is still not safe.
Seasoned detective Catherine Wheel and her newly minted partner have little to go on beyond a bus ticket in the dead man’s pocket. It leads them to Sally Ewell, a local journalist as grief-stricken as Arman is by the Iraq War, who is investigating a corporation on the cusp of landing a multi-billion-dollar government defense contract.
As victims mount around Arman, taking the team down wrong turns and towards startling evidence, they find themselves in a race, committed to unraveling the truth and keeping Arman alive—even if it costs them absolutely everything.
It's 1920, and Thatcher Hutton has returned home from the war looking for a new start. Unfortunately for him, he lands in Foley, Texas on the same day that a local woman goes missing and the coincidence is too much for local authorities to ignore. Thatcher finds himself in a tight spot, but a missing woman is just the beginning of the town's secrets. And when Thatcher's path crosses with Laurel Plummer's, the two find themselves in a cutthroat situation that could be deadly for them both.
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In Bloodless, the latest Pendergast novel, Agent Pendergast finds himself in Savannah, GA investigating a series of crimes that are stirring up rumors about the notorious Savannah Vampire—bodies are abandoned, drained of blood. Savannah is haunted by secrets and ghosts of the past, but the connection that Pendergast and his partner dig up is to a car seemingly far removed from the South: a decades-old hijacking case thousands of miles away.
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Set in East Texas, Moon Lake follows Daniel Russell, a man haunted by a traumatic past. When he was just thirteen years old, he and his father were driving along when his father tried to kill them both by driving into the lake. Now, Daniel returns to the scene of that horrific moment hoping to recover his father's body and find closure. What he instead discovers are repressed memories and new twists that have him reconsidering everything he thought about his father's death and motives.
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Lila is an up and coming prosecutor who is more than happy with her life. She's recovered from a traumatic incident in her past, she has a great boyfriend, and her career is flourishing. But when a woman is attacked and dumped in the Mississippi River, Lila's life takes a turn. The police identify a local photographer as the woman's assailant but no matter what Lila does, she can't get the charges to stick. It appears this man planned this attack, and he's always one step ahead of Lila...and he reminds her too much about the past she's worked hard to move on from.
Ten years ago, Nina Morgan's car was found in Florida, covered in her blood. Her body was never recovered, but police declared her dead nonetheless. In reality, Nina staged her death in order to save her family, as they were all targets after she witnessed a brutal crime. Now, she's reinvented herself on the other side of the country, but she misses her children, who have grown up thinking their mother is dead and that she's their distant aunt. Until her husband dies, and Nina gets custody of her kids...but she's not convinced this isn't a plot for her old enemy to flush her out.
Darren Matthews, a Texas Ranger, finds his career in a precarious position after a previous investigation got complicated, but he's hoping for a little distraction and redemption when a nine-year-old boy goes missing in a small lakeside town. The town is like a time capsule into the past, racial attitudes included, and Matthews is intrigued and disturbed to find that the missing boy's family is a bit more interested in protecting their business than finding their missing child.
Erva, Alabama is the quintessential Southern town, and crime isn't really very serious...or so it would seem. Despite the fact that most of the people in the local jailhouse are in for petty crime and misdemeanors, for some reason people aren't getting out of jail as easily as they are going in. So when a young lawyer decides to take on the judge that is slowly and insidiously ruining her hometown, she finds herself behind bars and decides to take on the system from within.