Best Wilderness Mysteries

Brent Mccoy
• Saturday, 19 December, 2020
• 8 min read

Three film students vanish after traveling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their footage behind. Three childhood friends set aside their personal issues and reunite for a girls' weekend on a remote island off the coast of Maine.

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One wrong move turns their weekend getaway into a deadly fight for survival. A group of mountaineers in the Scottish Highlands discover a kidnapped girl and are pursued by her captors.

A group of friends on vacation decide to venture onto a trail high up in the mountains that has been closed for repairs. The climb proves more perilous than planned, especially as they soon... See full summary ».

An anesthesiologist must awaken her animal instincts when she, her husband and her brother-in-law become the quarry of unseen hunters who want to turn them all into trophies. A group of students goes the location of the infamous Dalton pass incident to make a documentary, but things take a turn for the worse as the secret of what happened there is revealed.

A young couple moves to the woods and soon finds their nightmares and reality colliding. A caving expedition goes horribly wrong, as the explorers become trapped and ultimately pursued by a strange breed of predators.

A film crew ventures into the forest in search of the mythical 'Jersey Devil'. A group of students investigates a series of mysterious bear killings, but learns that there are much more dangerous things going on.

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A man and his girlfriend camp in the woods to capture firsthand evidence of Bigfoot. After discovering a video showing what he believes to be his vanished sister Heather, James and a group of friends head to the forest believed to be inhabited by the Blair Witch.

As a 25-year war between Russia and Sweden concludes, two brothers who are part of an effort to outline new border accords become undone by their actions, and their mistreatment of a young woman during their journey. Each duo illuminates one way in which the wilderness puts characters to the test, and why it may exert a similar grasp on the reader.

But Smith places the reader far outside the confines of everyday life, at which point a completely alien occurrence becomes utterly, chillingly possible. As seen through the eyes of his son, father Allie Fox becomes increasingly obsessed with the need to discard society and live off the land in isolated splendor.

And when the temperature dips to 70 below, when one’s spit freezes in midair before it hits the ground, the slightest mishap can spell disaster. The journey on which the main character and his dog embark, resisting all warnings, is a powerful exemplar of how the hubris of ordinary life can trigger a slow and inevitable spiral.

Still, the resulting encounter with a mountain woman and her strange son shows that the worst dangers reside in people. It’s tough when your parents get divorced, especially when you’re too young not to get dragged along on compensatory activities like a hiking trip in the woods.

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Visit Thrillers That Give You Shivers and enter to win a $1,000 gift card and other items from your favorite Sourcebooks authors. When I find myself wishing for some vaguely imagined nonexistent book I’d like to read, I’m almost always pining for a novel of the wild outdoors.

I love urbane social comedies and absurd novels about office work and many kinds of fiction set mostly indoors and in town. Lots of outdoor fiction offers straight faced realism written as if literature hasn’t changed in a century, or the didactic ism of characters each standing in for a position on some environmental issue and making sure you know it whenever they open their mouths.

There don’t ever seem to be enough of those books to keep me sated, but here are a few of my favorites (though I’ve left off a couple that are better known, for the sake of sharing some overlooked blooms in the scrub). Presented as the early 1900s diary of a proto-feminist, single mother author of pulp fictions who goes into an Oregon forest in search of a missing girl, only to get lost herself and discover mysterious creatures beyond what her insistent rationalism allows for, Gloss’s novel delves into myths of the “Wildman” and myths of gender and does it all with a magnificent narrative voice as wild as the surrounding forest.

M, who goes by the name Martin though it isn’t his, gets hired by a pharmaceutical company to hunt and harvest DNA from the world’s last living Tasmanian tiger, long after the species is thought extinct. Somehow, in a very short novel, Leigh weaves together the shadowy reach of modern business, the tragic colonial and ecological histories of her setting, a classic story of exploration stripped of its celebratory machismo, and a mother and children left behind broken by the blinkered desires of men.

The nameless middle-aged narrator visits friends at their remote mountain hunting lodge, only to be left alone by the inexplicable appearance of an invisible barrier at the edge of the valley it occupies. Left to fend for herself, she breaks restraints built up over years spent sublimating her individual identity into that of a mother and wife, allowing a wilder self to emerge.

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I could have picked any one of Minimal’s novels to put on this list, because it’s hard to think of a writer consistently doing more exciting things in fiction about the natural world. Alternating between their accounts of events we’re privy to the relationship’s tensions and strains as the couple are stripped of pretenses and niceties by their time in the wild, but we’re also aware of an eerier presence in the surrounding forest.

It’s an account of a Scottish couple fleeing the city for a wild home in the hills ahead of the imminent threats of perpetual war, disease, and disaster. The Blue Fox moves between a hunter, his vulpine quarry, a boy with Down’s syndrome, and other characters in mysterious tandem, woven together as any place is with threads of history and folklore and transformation.

Sometimes when I read literature in translation I suspect I’m missing so much that the power of the work is lost to me, but with The Blue Fox that opacity is one of the qualities I most enjoy: I know there are allusions and echoes I’m not attuned to, but that misunderstanding feels like wandering a landscape I only half understand and just makes me want to return. There are plenty of novels offering sentimental accounts of characters giving up their fast city lives at the inspiration of some noble animal; perhaps some of those are imitations of this.

When the world collapses in ways and for reasons they don’t quite understand, sisters Eva and Nell are left alone at the remote cabin their family retreated to in preparation. Into the Forest is as gripping as any thriller or rural horror, but there’s a thoughtfulness to the novel perfectly balanced with details of the pragmatic, often painful means by which the sisters survive.

I’ve read that Kivirähk’s novel is so popular in his native Estonia there’s a board game based on it, and I can only hope it, too, is available in English someday, so I can play and return to its remarkable world. Riddle Walker is Hogan’s best -known novel (and maybe his best), and Turtle Diary is the one most recently restored to print and public acclaim, but The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz has to go down as my favorite.

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A domesticated English garden hardly seems wild, but Klinkenborg’s novel narrated by the titular Timothy, a female tortoise kept by eighteenth-century naturalist Gilbert White, makes it so. Power is the story of a Taiga teenager pulled into a maelstrom of media and politics after she watches her aunt kill a tribally sacred and legally protected panther.

That’s a dual-awareness I often long for in fiction, and Myers delivers whether in the realist mode of novels like Beatings or in his novella Sorry & Frost, a treat of absurdist minimalism about a pair of woodcutters. McInnes’ debut is a detective novel, following an inspector whose search for a missing man takes him deep into a strange jungle.

And it’s also a story about the literal and figurative breakdown of identity, whether as a result of the daily grind of work or of sharing the landscape of our own skins with millions of microorganisms. Explorers have scaled the world’s tallest mountains and taken samples from Antarctica’s deepest subglacial lakes.

And yet, some hidden corners of the Earth still remain essentially uncharted, home to very few people and investigated by only the most daring travelers. Vale do Bavaria, Brazil This region, home to at least 14 of the Amazon’s contacted tribes, is one of the most isolated places in the world, in part by design.

An estimated 2,000 indigenous people live autonomously from the Brazilian government in an area about the size of Austria. The tribes’ right to live in isolation is protected by a federal agency charged with preventing outsiders from invading indigenous territories.

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Home to temperate rainforests, glaciers, fjords, and hot springs, northern Patagonia is one of Chile’s wildest landscapes. Russia’s eastern peninsula is home to some of the most spectacular volcanic activity on Earth, with more than 300 volcanoes, including one that has been erupting continuously since 1996.

It’s home to the most diverse range of salmon species and is the most densely populated brown bear habitat in the world. However, the region was closed to Westerners until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and even before that, only 400,000 people (all with military clearances) were allowed to live in the territory, which is around the size of California.

Deep within the forests in Myanmar’s Keychain State lies the largest tiger preserve in the world. Thingy de Bemaraha National Park, Madagascar Named for the unique, massive limestone formations known as stingy (Malagasy for “walking on tiptoes”), this 600-square-mile national park and wilderness preserve is located on Madagascar’s western edge.

The labyrinth of jagged, needle-shaped limestone was formed by erosion over a period of millions of years, and the resulting habitat of gorges, canyons, and forests is a natural fortress. A huge number of species of plants and animals are endemic to the region, meaning they’re not found anywhere else on Earth, and there are plenty that haven’t even been discovered yet.

A recent biological survey of the area found 1,109 animal and plant species, almost 100 of which were new to science. Its climate is one of the world’s most extreme: Average temperatures in January are as low as -46 degrees Fahrenheit, and most of the land is covered by permafrost.

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Though mining has taken its toll on the region’s pristine wilderness, parts of it remain untouched, like the Lena River Delta, a gorgeous refuge and breeding ground for wildlife. Six new, untouched islands off the coast were discovered as recently as 1999, and much of the inland part of the country is still uninhabited.

Virtually inaccessible except by helicopter, scientists discovered three completely new species of animals in the area in 2013. The first expedition set off to explore this underground world in 2009 before being stymied by a 200-foot-tall wall of calcite inside.

North Sentinel Island, India Located in the middle of the Bay of Bengal off the southernmost tip of Myanmar, North Sentinel Island technically belongs to India, but few outsiders have made contact with the Sentinels people. The locals’ hostile reactions to outsiders’ attempts at contact have left much of the island unexplored.

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