When you imagine a small town, what comes to mind? You might think of a tight-knit community, where everyone knows each other and people take care of one another. Perhaps you think of safety, things like trusting your neighbors enough to sleep with your front door unlocked.
While small towns can be insulated against the troubles of the greater world, that insulation can work both ways. As much as a small town may keep things out…what are they keeping in?
Sometimes taking care of your neighbor means burying everyone’s secrets. And if you want answers, kindness can turn cold, and neighbors can become dangerous.
In a small town, there are fewer eyes to witness wrong-doing—and even fewer voices to try and stop it. They’re the kind of places where sunny facades can hide dark shadows.
This darker side of small town environments also makes them an incredible setting for the best thriller books. Everyone knows everyone—but how much can you truly know someone when it comes to life and death?
Here are nine small town thrillers guaranteed to keep you reading all night long.
The Woman Inside
When Bill Olsen needs to make ends meet to care for his daughter after being suddenly widowed, he takes in a young law student as his tenant. Karla is a quiet young woman. An aspiring judge, she works as a housekeeper for the wealthy Rytters.
But things aren’t all that they seem in that house. The wife is chronically ill and hasn’t been outside in months. And the husband? It’s impossible to tell if his control is out of worry or something darker. As things worsen for Bill and then the Rytters end up dead, Karla’s own secrets threaten to surface. Everyone has something to hide. But could any of them have been driven to murder?
Small Town Sins
Locksburg, Pennsylvania has seen better days. A former coal and steel town, it’s dwindled to 5,000 residents barely hanging on. And as the town struggles to find renewal, decay threatens to overtake it every day. For three people, things are about to get worse. A firefighter, a nurse, and a recovering addict all face very different paths. Each of them has a choice. One that might lead to damnation or salvation. But to escape their past, they have to confront the darker secrets buried in their Rust Belt town.
All the Sinners Bleed
Charon County, Virginia has only had two murders in its history. But Titus Crown knows better. His years of experience in the FBI prepared him for the possible buried secrets of the small town. And he’ll need all his skills as the first elected Black sheriff. It only takes a year. That’s when a student kills a school teacher and then is shot by one of his deputies. Ashe investigates the murder, the more secrets bubble to the surface. There’s been a serial killer hiding in plain sight. One with connections to the church and the town’s history. But exposing the truth will dig up more than the town’s secrets. It threatens to expose his own.
Daren Matthews knows that East Texas plays by its own rules when it comes to law and order. He was the first in his family to escape the state. But duty called him back. Now, a Black Texas Ranger with his job on the line, he heads to the small town of Lark to investigate the murder of a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman. Tension simmers beneath barely concealed racial lines as Matthews struggles to solve the crime. Because there’s more than the truth on the line. It may be the thing he needs to save himself.
In the middle of the worst drought in history, the tiny farming community of Kiewarra reels when three members of a local family are found brutally murdered. Aaron Falk left 20 years ago. He never thought he would be coming back. But the Federal Police investigator won’t miss his childhood friend’s funeral. Even if it means facing the people who turned their backs on him all those years ago. But the deaths leave more questions than answers. And as the police dig, the closer they get to a secret Falk shared with his childhood friend. One he never thought would surface. One that threatens to destroy not just Falk, but the small Australian town.
All the Missing Girls
Ten years ago, Nicolette Farrell’s best friend disappeared and she left her small town. Now, her father is dying and she’s back, unprepared for the shocking drama that reopens the long-dormant cold case. Back then, Nic and her friends were at the center of the investigation. And within days of her returning, another girl disappears. Told backwards, from day 15 to day 1, Nic tries to unravel the truth of what happened that night all those years ago. Except she may not be prepared for the shocking truths about her friends, neighbors, and what really happened to her best friend.
Camille Preaker's newest journalism assignment couldn’t come at a worst time. She’s just out of a psychiatric hospital stay and now she has to return to her hometown to investigate an unsolved murder and disappearance of two preteen girls. But home means going back to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother and her half-sister—one she barely speaks to and the other she hardly knows. To make matters worse, living in her childhood bedroom is drawing connections with the two young victims. Connections that are far closer than they should be. And if she can’t get past the demons in her own past, she may not survive long enough to get the story.
When Ghosts Come Home
When a plane crashes on the tiny runway in the middle of the night, Sheriff Winston Barnes isn’t prepared for what he finds. The pilot is gone, and so is the cargo. And when a local black man is found shot dead in the grass near the runway, Sheriff Barnes opens a murder investigation that could change not just his life, but the future of the entire community.
The Sun Down Motel
Every small town has a place like the Sun Down Motel. And Fell, New York is no exception. Some people are passing through, some are locals trying to hide their secrets. In fact, if there’s one thing the Sun Down is good at, it’s housing secrets. Viv Delaney works the night shift to pay for her move to New York. But something is wrong with the motel. And Viv is determined to find out what. Thirty-five years later, her niece Karly finds herself at the Sun Down following the same whispers as her aunt, trying to find out what happened to her all those years ago.