Stories (and/or mysteries) about extremely small towns?
August 4, 2022 3:57 AM   Subscribe

Can you help recommend stories that take place in very small towns—as in, small enough that every resident winds up in the story somehow? Mysteries within spaces that constrained would be ideal, but I'm just looking to read compelling stories that take place within such a small, relatively-isolated kind of place.

  • Nothing post-apocalyptic, please.
  • I'm not opposed to SF/F, but "isolated space colony" and kin is probably a bridge too far.
  • I'm thinking fiction, but if there's gripping non-fiction about spaces like that, I'm all ears!
posted by Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The Hemlock Cure by Joanne Burn. Historical fiction based on how the real-life English village of Eyam self-quarantined during the Great Plague of 1665-6. As a former C17th historical re-enactor, I really enjoyed it.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 4:17 AM on August 4

How small is too small? The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jonasson is a crime novel set in a remote Icelandic village of 10 people.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:27 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]

The fourth book in the Pendergast series, Still Life With Crows, is the smallest town mystery of the bunch. It's part of a series but can stand alone.

Sharp Objects

Twin Peaks

Edited to add I somehow misread "every resident" as "other residents". These three sweep several, but not nearly all, unconnected residents into the story.
posted by phunniemee at 4:34 AM on August 4

P. D. James wrote several novels concerning people in places that are communities in the sense that a monastery is a community. The Black Tower. Devices and Desires. Death in Holy Orders.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:44 AM on August 4

Just to check, are you specifically interested in towns? I can think of at least one crime novel set in a research station (The Day Is Dark by Yrsa Sigurdardottir), and at least one set in a hotel (1222 by Anne Holt).
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:10 AM on August 4

Tana French's The Searcher, a mystery set in a small Irish village.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 5:24 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]

"Devolution" by Max Brooks takes place in a very isolated community in the PNW
posted by alchemist at 5:29 AM on August 4

Several of Louise Penny’s Gamache series of mysteries are set in the small town of Three Pines, but there are usually also some outside people. One of the books in this series, The Beautiful Mystery, is set in a monastery (no Three Pines involvement at all).
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 5:32 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]

A classic that I just re-read is Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, published in 1919. It is a collection of short stories based on Anderson's young adulthood in a small Ohio town. The stories touch on a number of residents in a small town who cope with the isolation and loneliness of modern life. I highly recommend it.

Plus which, by reading this you can better appreciate one of the most brilliant satires the Onion ever published: Wal-Mart Opens Store in Winesburg, Ohio.
posted by fortitude25 at 5:51 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]

I think that Shirley Jackson's classic short story The Lottery falls into this category (link is to The New Yorker, where it was originally published).
posted by FencingGal at 6:21 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]

I've never actually read it, but someone wrote a trilogy of murder mysteries set in the tiny (<3000 people at publication date, one hour from anything) town that I grew up in.
posted by Gortuk at 7:02 AM on August 4

Peyton Place is a classic. It was written in the 1950s about a small town in New England and went on to spawn sequels, movies, even TV shows. I somehow got the impression that it was mainstream pablum but it's really not. Try to avoid spoilers if you're going to read it. I was gobsmacked when I finally read it as an adult.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:40 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]

Broadchurch season 1 is pretty close to that. Of course, the story is kind of terrible, but the scenery is good.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:48 AM on August 4

If Winesburg, Ohio works for you, check out Olive Kitteridge, another collection of linked stories about a small town. The TV miniseries was exclusively about Olive and her interactions with the people in the town, but I found the book to be more about the town and its people.
posted by booth at 8:12 AM on August 4

Ann Cleeves writes the Shetland series of mysteries which all take place in Shetland. It's not quite entirely cozy but one novel, Blue Lightning, takes place on a tiny island with a bird observatory on it and a population of about 75 people.
posted by jessamyn at 9:47 AM on August 4 [3 favorites]

If you're into Western romance novels, most of Debra Holt's work is centered around the small towns of Farris and McKenna, Texas.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 3:37 PM on August 4

Maybe too big, but the most recent episode of This American Life features a story about Croydon, NH, population 800. It's not about everyone, but more than a quarter of them feature in it (only a few by name, of course). Non-fiction! Gripping storytelling.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Quorum
posted by Glinn at 6:27 PM on August 4

If you'd consider poetry, maybe Spoon River Anthology (published in 1915). It's a collection of poems that are all the epitaphs of the residents of the fictional town Spoon River (maybe not exactly epitaphs - they are poems about the lives of residents who have died). A lot of the poems refer to people who are the subjects of other poems, so you get a sense of community. Wikipedia says there are 212 separate characters.
posted by FencingGal at 6:17 PM on August 5

Three of Christopher Moore's older books take place in the small (fictional) town of Pine Cove, CA: Practical Demonkeeping, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, and The Stupidest Angel. They all have some element of mystery to them, though I don't know if I'd call them Mysteries.
posted by rhiannonstone at 3:10 PM on August 6

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