This has been a year of covid restrictions and lots of us are holidaying at home in the UK. Later this year I’m going to Suffolk – a county I’ve hardly explored at all. There’s so much to explore here, I’m not bothered at all about not being able to go abroad.
I started to look for some fiction set in Suffolk and Norfolk and found this brilliant selection, some of which I’ve read, some new to me. Now I want to read ALL the books and I can’t wait to explore both the counties.
Here are 14 books set in East Anglia, across the genres.
Classic Novels set in East Anglia
David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens (Norfolk)
One of my favourite Dickens novels (among many!)
In David Copperfield – the novel he described as his ‘favourite child’ – Dickens drew on his own experiences to create one of his most moving and enduringly popular works, filled with tragedy and comedy in equal measure. It is the story of a young man’s adventures on his journey from an unhappy childhood to the discovery of his vocation as a novelist.
Among the gloriously vivid cast of characters he encounters are his tyrannical stepfather, Mr Murdstone; his brilliant but unworthy school-friend Steerforth; his formidable aunt, Betsey Trotwood; the eternally humble yet treacherous Uriah Heep; frivolous, enchanting Dora; and the magnificently impecunious Micawber, one of literature’s great comic creations.
The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley (Norfolk)
This novel starts with one of the most famous opening lines in fiction:
‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’
When one long, hot summer, young Leo is staying with a school-friend at Brandham Hall, he begins to act as a messenger between Ted, the farmer, and Marian, the beautiful young woman up at the hall.
He becomes drawn deeper and deeper into their dangerous game of deceit and desire, until his role brings him to a shocking and premature revelation. The haunting story of a young boy’s awakening into the secrets of the adult world, The Go-Between is also an unforgettable evocation of the boundaries of Edwardian society.
I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith (Suffolk)
One of my favourite novels of all time has another famous opening line: ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’ is the first line of this timeless, witty and enchanting novel about growing up.
Cassandra Mortmain lives with her bohemian and impoverished family in a crumbling castle in the middle of nowhere. Her journal records her life with her beautiful, bored sister, Rose, her fading glamorous stepmother, Topaz, her little brother Thomas and her eccentric novelist father who suffers from a financially crippling writer’s block. However, all their lives are turned upside down when the American heirs to the castle arrive and Cassandra finds herself falling in love for the first time.
Crime and Mystery set in East Anglia
The Crossing Places, by Elly Griffiths (Norfolk)
Dr Ruth Galloway is called in when a child’s bones are discovered near the site of a prehistoric henge on the north Norfolk salt marshes. Are they the remains of a local girl who disappeared ten years earlier – or are the bones much older?
DCI Harry Nelson refuses to give up the hunt for the missing girl. Since she vanished, someone has been sending him bizarre anonymous notes about ritual sacrifice, quoting Shakespeare and the Bible. He knows that Ruth’s expertise and experience could help him finally to put this case to rest.
But when a second child goes missing, Ruth finds herself in danger from a killer who knows she’s getting ever closer to the truth…
Devices and Desires, by P.D. James (Norfolk)
When Commander Adam Dalgliesh visits Larksoken, a remote headland community on the Norfolk coast in the shadow of a nuclear power station, he expects to be engaged only in the sad business of tying up his aunt’s estate. But the peace of Larksoken is illusory. A serial killer known as the Whistler is terrorising the neighbourhood and Dalgliesh is drawn into the lives of the headlanders when it quickly becomes apparent that the Whistler isn’t the only murderer at work under the sinister shadow of the power station.
In Devices and Desires, award-winning P.D. James (author of Death Comes to Pemberley, The Murder Room and Children of Men) plots a chilling investigation into the motives of a cold-hearted serial killer.
Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz
Editor Susan Ryland has worked with bestselling crime writer Alan Conway for years. Readers love his detective, Atticus Pünd, a celebrated solver of crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s.
But Conway’s latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.
River of Destiny, Barbara Erskine (Suffolk)
On the banks of the River Deben in Suffolk are ancient barns dating back to Anglo Saxon times – within these walls lie secrets that have been buried for centuries.
New arrivals Zoe and Ken move into one of the converted barns, ready to start a life away from the hustle and bustle of the city. To the outside world they seem happy, but they are growing further apart by the day. Meanwhile the strange presence Zoe feels within their home and the ghostly shapes she sees through the cloying mists on the river are getting harder to ignore.
Nearby, farmers are ploughing the land beside the river and human bones are found. Are they linked to the Victorian tragedy the locals whisper about? The secret of the grassy mound has remained untouched through history, but now that it’s been disturbed, will there be devastating consequences?
Family Saga/Romance set in East Anglia
A Summer to Remember, Sue Moorcroft (Norfolk)
COME AND SPEND SUMMER BY THE SEA!
WANTED! A caretaker for Roundhouse Row holiday cottages.
WHERE? Nelson’s Bar is the perfect little village. Nestled away on the Norfolk coast we can offer you no signal, no Wi-Fi and – most importantly – no problems!
WHO? The ideal candidate will be looking for an escape from their cheating scumbag ex-fiancé, a diversion from their entitled cousin, and a break from their traitorous friends.
WHAT YOU’LL GET! Accommodation in a chocolate-box cottage, plus a summer filled with blue skies and beachside walks. Oh, and a reunion with the man of your dreams.
PLEASE NOTE: We take no responsibility for any of the above scumbags, passengers and/or traitors walking back into your life…
GET IN TOUCH NOW TO MAKE THIS A SUMMER TO REMEMBER!
La’s Orchestra Saves the World, Alexander McCall Smith (Suffolk)
With a failed marriage behnd her, La — short for Lavender — moves to the Suffolk countryside to nurse her broken heart on the eve of the Second World War. Lonely and at a loss, a friend encourages her to bring the villagers and the men from the local airbase together by forming an amateur orchestra. One of her musician recruits is Feliks, a handsome and enigmatic Polish refugee. A friendship begins to blossom between the two, and La finds her feelings stirring to life again.
Poignant, tender and inspiring, La’s Orchestra Saves the World celebrates the power of love and friendship in the collective tragedy of war, as well as the extraordinary healing power of music.
The Butterfly Room, Lucinda Riley (Suffolk)
Posy Montague is approaching her seventieth birthday. Still living in her beautiful family home, Admiral House, set in the glorious Suffolk countryside where she spent her own idyllic childhood catching butterflies with her beloved father, and raised her own children, Posy knows she must make an agonizing decision. Despite the memories the house holds, and the exquisite garden she has spent twenty-five years creating, the house is crumbling around her, and Posy knows the time has come to sell it.
Then a face appears from the past – Freddie, her first love, who abandoned her and left her heartbroken fifty years ago. Already struggling to cope with her son Sam’s inept business dealings, and the sudden reappearance of her younger son after ten years in Australia, Posy is reluctant to trust in Freddie’s renewed affection. And unbeknown to Posy, Freddie – and Admiral House – have a devastating secret to reveal . . .
The Dandelion Years, by Erica James (Suffolk)
Ashcombe was the most beautiful house Saskia had ever seen as a little girl. A rambling cottage on the edge of a Suffolk village, it provided a perfect sanctuary to hide from the tragedy which shattered her childhood.
Now an adult, Saskia is still living at Ashcombe and as a book restorer devotes her days tending to broken and battered books, daydreaming about the people who had once turned their pages.
When she discovers a hidden notebook – and realises someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to hide a story of their own – Saskia finds herself drawn into a heart-rending tale of wartime love.
22 Britannia Road, Amanda Hodgkinson (Suffolk)
It is 1946 and Silvana and eight-year-old Aurek board a ship that will take them from Poland to England. Silvana has not seen her husband Janusz in six years, but, they are assured, he has made them a home in Ipswich.
However, after living wild in the forests for years, carrying a terrible secret, all Silvana knows is that she and Aurek are survivors. Everything else is lost. While Janusz, a Polish soldier who has criss-crossed Europe during the war, hopes his family will help put his own dark past behind him.
But the war and the years apart will always haunt each of them unless they together confront what they were compelled to do to survive.
Historical novels set in East Anglia
I haven’t read either of these books, but they’ve both been made into films, which I really enjoyed. Looking forward to reading them!
The Dig, by John Preston (Suffolk)
In the long hot summer of 1939 Britain is preparing for war. But on a riverside farm in Suffolk there is excitement of another kind: Mrs Pretty, the widowed farmer, has had her hunch proved correct that the strange mounds on her land hold buried treasure. As the dig proceeds against a background of mounting national anxiety, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary find…
John Preston’s recreation of the Sutton Hoo dig – the greatest Anglo-Saxon discovery ever in Britain – brilliantly and comically dramatizes three months of intense activity when locals fought outsiders, professionals thwarted amateurs, and love and rivalry flourished in equal measure.
The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald
This, Penelope Fitzgerald’s second novel, was her first to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It is set in a small East Anglian coastal town, where Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop. ‘She had a kind heart, but that is not much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation.’
Hardborough becomes a battleground, as small towns so easily do. Florence has tried to change the way things have always been done, and as a result, she has to take on not only the people who have made themselves important, but natural and even supernatural forces too. This is a story for anyone who knows that life has treated them with less than justice.
It was a real delight to find so many brilliant books set in these counties. I’m looking forward to my break and to exploring.
If you have any more recommendations for novels set in Suffolk or Norfolk, please let me know. I’d love to add them to my list!
8 thoughts on “Classics, crime and romance: 14 books set in Norfolk and Suffolk”
Hey, Helena. Oh, my goodness. It looks to me like you’re get little sightseeing done with this great list of books. But not a bad way to while away some down time. Enjoy. I shared. :)
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Thanks for sharing, Marsha. I might even get to see some of these places in real life this year!
I would have been very disappointed had I Capture The Castle not been on this list!
You mentioned Arthur Ransome a couple of posts back – several of the Swallows and Amazons books are set in Norfolk.
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Hi Kathleen, I was thinking of adding Arthur Ransome to the list, but since I’d mentioned him last time, I left him off. There were a few more that looked great reads that didn’t make it. I’m ashamed to say that being a northerner, and rarely having visited East Anglia, I’ve had the impression that it’s mainly flat and probably quite dull. (I feel embarrassed just admitting this.) In writing this post I’ve realised there’s a whole wealth of gripping literature that’s come out of these two counties. I’m really looking forward to my holiday, and all the reading.
Thanks for the intro to so many intriguing novels. I found some for me to read. I imagine every reader will find at least one to enjoy. Excited to hear you will explore these places! Enjoy.
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Thanks very much, JQ. I hope you enjoy the reads and the fictional travel!
My first reaction was too predictable – ( too Coward ?)
Reading your impressive list, I realised how many I’d read, inspired by great writing, rather than distracted by my preference for hills. 22 Britannia Road is a must – especially as the parents and grandparents of school lriends were Polish, some arriving in the North in the late 1930’s.
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I have a preference for hills, too, Esther, and somehow don’t associate these counties with anything dramatic, but the literature that’s come from them tells a different story – literally! 22 Britannia Rd is one I haven’t read, but it’s now on my reading list for going away. Thanks for your comment!