The Ozarks is a region in the U.S. states of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and a bit of southeastern Kansas. It’s a great place to set a crime novel, with tons of forest, some of the oldest rocks in America, and two mountain ranges to hide in (or hide someone in). And the Ozarks itself is a bit of a mystery. The top question about the Ozarks in Google’s search is “Is the Ozarks a real place?”
Much of the attention brought to the Ozarks these days comes from the Netflix show Ozark, about a financial advisor who relocates his family to a small resort community in Missouri after a money-laundering scheme goes wrong. But of course, not only does trouble follow, but the family also finds themselves surrounded by criminals.
And this is not a stretch–crime is on the rise in that region of the country. Springfield, Missouri reported a 40% increase in crime in the last five years. So it’s easy to see why it is a popular setting for a show about crime. And books about it, too.
But long before there was Ozark, there was Daniel Woodrell, the most famous author of the Ozarks, who writes gritty, rural noir novels full of bad deals, criminals, and violence. And he’s not the only one! Here are 9 great mysteries set in the Ozarks for when you just can’t get enough of rural crime. (Spoiler: There’s a lot of Daniel Woodrell.)
Boady Sanden is a high school freshman longing to leave the Ozarks for bright lights and big cities. His life changes when an African American family moves in across the street and he befriends the son, Thomas. Boady begins to gain a deeper understanding of the world, and all its injustices and sorrows. And as he grows to see his surroundings in a different light, he realizes that he may know more about a missing factory worker than he first thought.
Seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly is searching for her father in their small, poverty-stricken town after he skipped bail. Ree's family is going to lose their house if he doesn't reappear, but she gets the sense something bad has happened when she runs up against the town's most dangerous criminal element. But she's determined to find him, dead or alive, to save their home.
The Ozarks play a part in one of the biggest mysteries of the century when a down-on-their-luck couple moves to his hometown in Missouri. Nick and Amy appear to have it all, but when she disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, is it possible that Nick is responsible?
Missouri prosecutor Elsie Arnold is determined to help more cases of abuse get prosecuted. To start, she swears to help three girls who are being abused by their father. But then the lead witness disappears, the girls are too scared to talk, and Elsie begins receiving threats. Can she put aside her fears to help the girls?
Writer Doyle Redmond's life is going to pieces. He's on the lam, headed to the Ozarks, to try and talk his criminal big brother, Smoke, into giving himself up. But Doyle arrives just as a big crop of marijuana is being harvested, and it looks like a far more tempting offer to join Smoke's farm than turn him in, even if it means dealing with dangerous criminals and the law.
This is the fun first book in a cozy mystery series! Dev Sinclair is the new owner of a five-and-dime in her small Missouri town. But she may be doing five-to-life if she can't find the killer of her ex's fiancée and clear her name.
Daniel Woodrell; Megan Abbott (Foreword by)
Jamalee Merridew desperately wants to leave the tiny town of Venus Holler, and she thinks her handsome brother, Jason, might be her solution. Plus, she's pretty sure Jason is gay, which is a dangerous thing in their backwoods town... But then ex-con Sammy shows up, and Jamalee decides he's the right kind of wrong to get them both the hell out of Dodge. Er, Venus Holler.
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Liberty Hardy is a Book Riot senior contributing editor, co-host of All the Books, a Book of the Month judge, and above all else, a ravenous reader. She resides in Maine with her cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon. You can see pictures of her cats and book hauls on Twitter @MissLiberty and Instagram @franzencomesalive.