The Beauty and Value of Nature-Based Fiction

Nature has driven and elevated many successful novels, especially mysteries and thrillers. Readers love wilderness- and nature-based fiction because it takes them to an exciting, exotic location, whether it be an island in the Florida Everglades, a rugged landscape in the Rockies, a New England river raft trip, or a tangled and muddy Maine swamp. A wild, exotic location shapes character and plot in ways that make the narrative sizzle.

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Some of my favorite authors of nature-based fiction:

  • Louise Penny: her Brigadoon-like town and the woods, waters, and wildlife that define it are always a thematic corrective to bad human behavior.
  • Nevada Barr: her novels celebrate the wilderness of National Parks, even as the terrain amplifies everything from a dying groan echoed off dripping cave walls to a baby’s first cry on a river raft trip gone horribly wrong. And while Barr’s landscapes instigate greed and mayhem, ultimately they also work to heal her characters’ deepest wounds.
  • Carl Hiaasen: his "out there" mysteries include a protagonist willing to murder to save Florida's natural beauty from a tourist industy gone berserk.
  • C.J. Box: his best-selling life-and-death dramas over competing land values infuse plots and characters with raw, rugged landscapes.
  • Paul Doiron: a favorite in Maine, Doiran's famous game warden Mike Bowditch struggles with storms, mud, carcasses, and wild mountain terrain to solve crimes, while putting front and center animal-rights activists, national park controversies, and even the fear of coyotes run amok.

Please CONTACT ME with some of your favorite nature-based fiction, and help me grow this list!

In the meantime, I plan to keep writing about what one Deadly Trespass reviewer called "Maine's mythical woods."

Learn more about the Value of Nature; view my VALUING NATURE presentation.

Book List

"Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Authors who write (or wrote) nature-themed fiction might be true and trusted voices in the wilderness of modern life. Please help grow this list of stories that are eye-opening discoveries of our natural world. —S. Neily

Memorable Quotes:

“A choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. I am the forest's conscience, but remember, the forest eats itself and lives forever.” —Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
“The desert could not be claimed or owned — it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names . . . " —Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
"The sigh of all the seas breaking in measure round the isles soothed them; the night wrapped them; nothing broke their sleep, until, the birds beginning and the dawn weaving their thin voices in to its whiteness." —Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
“Soft moose muzzle brushed my lips when I leaned into the truck’s cab. I pressed my weight into the animal’s neck, closed my eyes, and imagined him alive. Four hours ago, he’d been knee-deep in Tomhegan Bog, flesh rippling with urgency, nostrils squeezed back to suck in female-scented air. He must have heard the hunters stop and open their doors, but maybe a cow grazed upwind.” —Sandra Neily, Deadly Trespass
“Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge into the forest, and on and on, he knew not where or why; nor did he wonder where or why, the call sounding imperiously, deep in the forest.” —Jack London, The Call of the Wild
“The clouds were building up now for the trade wind and he looked ahead and saw a flight of wild ducks etching themselves against the sky over the water, then blurring, then etching again and he knew no man was ever alone on the sea.” Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
“As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.” Willa Cather, My Ántonia
“When he says ‘Skins or blankets?’ it will take you a moment to realized that he's asking which you want to sleep under. And in your hesitation he'll decide that he wants to see your skin wrapped in the big black moose hide. He carried it, he'll say, soaking wet and heavier than a dead man, across the tundra for two—was it hours or days or weeks? . . .  It's December, and your skin is never really warm, so you will pull the bulk of it around you and pose for him, pose for his camera, without having to narrate this moose's death.” —Pam Houston, Cowboys Are My Weakness

More Reading Suggestions

  • Heat and Light, Jennifer Haigh. “ . . . characters whose lives are increasingly bound by the opposing interests that underpin the national debate, it depicts a community blessed and cursed by its natural resources.” And “. . .. when an author can tell a beautiful and compelling story about fracking, well, you know you are in the presence of something special.”
  • Breaking Point, C.J. Box. Two EPA employees are murdered. Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett thinks it might be Butch Roberson whose dreams of retirement income are shredded when the EPA declares his lands a wetland. NY Times best-selling author Box has won every major mystery award going: Anthony, Macavity, Gumshoe, Barry, Western Heritage, and scores more.
  • Winter Study, Nevada Barr. “Soon after Anna Pigeon joins the famed wolf study team of Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior, the wolf packs begin to behave in peculiar ways.” All of her mysteries (over 20 in the ranger Anna Pigeon series), are set in vivid and various National Parks. All rip nature onto the page.
  • The Nature of the Beast, Louise Penny. “Hardly a day goes by when nine year old Laurent Lepage doesn't cry wolf. From alien invasions, to walking trees, to winged beasts in the woods, his tales are so extraordinary no one can possibly believe him. ... And so begins a frantic search for the boy and the truth. What they uncover deep in the forest sets off a sequence of events that leads to murder ...” Penny’s award-winning mysteries feature a Quebec village and its woods.
  • Skinny Dip, Carl Hiaasen. About “a young, handsome marine biologist whose expertise is marginal and whose insatiable greed drives him to collude with a crooked farm tycoon who owns large vegetable fields adjacent to the Everglades, which he relentlessly pollutes with fertilizer run-off.” All of Hiaasen’s best-selling satires pit Florida’s outdoors against relentless stupidity.
  • The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, Christopher Scotton. “The events of this fateful summer will affect the entire town of Medgar, Kentucky, beset by a massive mountaintop removal operation that is blowing up the hills and back filling the hollows.” NY Times raves: “a page turner.”
  • The Quality of Silence, Rosamund Lupton. “In Alaska, Yasmin and her deaf daughter Ruby are driving alone across a frozen wilderness where nothing grows. Where no one lives. Where tears freeze . . . looking for Ruby's father. Night will last for another 54 days and someone is watching them in the dark.”
  • Trespasser, Paul Doiron. “. . . descriptions of Maine’s midcoast are incredibly evocative of the sights, sounds, and smells of early spring, and the heart-pounding account of Mike’s four-wheeling chase through the woods is a masterpiece of high-octane narrative.” Maine’s own Doiron has a successful series where a game wardens struggles with storms, mud, carcasses, or wild mountain terrain. Nature is his petri dish and his character development, plotting, death, and drama grow out of the natural world he creates.
  • A Night Too Dark, and also Killing Grounds, Dana Stabenow. Alaska’s many natural resources provide conflict in most all her novels from mineral wars to fishing turf battles, to big oil up against native tribes. “Her over 17 novels about the Aleut PI Kate Shugak are an outstanding series. She's 5 foot 1 inch tall, carries a scar that runs from ear to ear, owns a wolf/husky dog named Mutt and tries to survive the worst Alaskan wilds throw at her. Once you've read Shugak novels, Sarah Palin’s easier to comprehend.”
  • Deadly Trespass, Sandra Neily. “Reviewed as “. . . a beautiful book that brilliantly captures the battle to conserve Maine’s mythical woods . . .” and a story that “propels you across the wildest of Maine’s terrain and into its coldest waters—in search of whispered wolves, possible murderers, odd bedfellows, greedy sons of bitches, and reasons for it all.” To solve a friend’s deep-woods murder, Patton and her dog must find and trust wolves illegally reintroduced to Maine’s woods — find them before they are murdered, too.
  • The Monkey Wrench Gang, Edward Abbey. In it, Hayduke says “No one knows precisely how sentient is a pinyon pine, for example, or to what degree such woody organisms can feel pain or fear, and in any case the road builders had more important things to worry about, but this much is clearly established as scientific fact: a living tree, once uprooted, takes many days to wholly die.” (Note: Abbey visits Deadly Trespass when Patton says: “In the mail I received a bug-splattered, beer-stained paperback copy of The Monkey Wrench Gang. No message and postmarked from Santarém, a steamy Brazilian city hacked from jungle. The book’s hero is an irreverent vet bent on saving wild deserts, and apparently it’s the classic hymn to lawbreaking on behalf of the natural world. Trust Gordon to sink his teeth into my most sensitive tissues.”
  • Barkskins, Annie Prouix
  • Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories, Sarah Orne Jewett
  • Watership Down, Richard Adams
  • ? Your suggestions?

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