We’ve visited Cornwall several times, and are always dazzled by its beauty. We own a collection of books set there, including mysteries.

Janie Bolitho’s Buried in Cornwall, 1991, one of several novels the author sets in Cornwall, is not entirely satisfactory as a mystery, but her writing about the artists in the art colony at St. Ives is fascinating. As for the setting:

Rose had to admit that [the village of St. Ives] was a beautiful place.  The sand was fine, the color of clotted cream, and the sea, beloved by surfers, was bluer than the Aegean.  If you arrived by train the breathtaking view was framed by a fringe of palm trees.

A favorite mystery set in Cornwall is Elizabeth George’s A Suitable Vengeance, 1991:

It was a wild part of the country, comprising desolate moors, stony hillsides, sandy coves whose hidden caves had long been used as smuggler’s caches, sudden lush woodlands where the countryside dipped into a combe, and everywhere tangles of celandine, poppy and periwinkle that dominated the narrow lanes.

Other good mysteries set in Cornwall include Robert Goddard’s Days Without Number, 2003, which contains enough surprises, twists, and suspense to keep the most blasé mystery reader guessing, as well as expert uses of location and atmosphere to heighten the sense of impending doom.  Goddard’s use of the weather as a constant presence is especially well-done.

Ngaio Marsh’s Dead Water, 1963, is a grim story about the exploitation of a local beauty spot, and the conflict between those who want to preserve its beauty, and those who’re willing to sacrifice it for money.

The plot of Graham Thomas’s Malice in Cornwall, 1998, is gruesome, but the setting is cheerful and bright.  A gloomy and forbidding setting might have been expected, but skillful writers sometimes use this type of contrast for its shock value, and in this book, it works.

Rosamunde Pilcher set many of her books in Cornwall, and wrote beautiful descriptions of her settings, like this one in The Empty House:

…a great picture-window framed, like some lovely painting, the whole jumbled, charming panorama of the old part of the town. Roofs of houses, faded slate and whitewashed chimneys, tumbled without pattern or order down the hill. Here a blue door, there a yellow window; here a window-sill bright with geraniums, a line of washing gay as flags…Beyond the roofs and far below them was the harbour, at full tide and sparkling with sunshine. Boats rocked at anchor and a white sail sped out beyond the shelter of the harbour wall…The air was clamorous with the sound of gulls, the sky patterned with their great gliding wings…the church bells from the Normal tower struck up a simple carillon and clock chimes range out eleven o’clock. (The Empty House, 25)

Works Cited

Bolitho, Janie. Buried in Cornwall, 1991.

George, Elizabeth. A Suitable Vengeance, 1991.

—. Writing Away, 2004.

Goddard, Robert. Days Without Number, 2003.

Marsh, Ngaio. Dead Water, 1963.

Pilcher, Rosamunde, The Empty House, 1973

Thomas, Graham. Malice in Cornwall, 1998.

The writer who made Cornwall her own is Daphne du Maurier.

The story of her long relationship with Cornwall follows.