Best books about Cornwall

The Best Books About Cornwall

A good book evokes the atmosphere of the location in which it’s set.  Whether you read books about Cornwall before you visit, during your visit to Cornwall or afterwards, reading can transport you to the location instantly.   Cornwall is a location that inspires all types of authors and it has done for centuries, so there’s no shortage of great books about Cornwall that should whet your appetite for visiting this most southerly county of England.   I have always read and I’ve always read quickly, through the night, through the day, on buses and trains.  I’ve scoured charity shops for book bargains, haunted libraries so you can safely say that writing about Cornwall’s best books wasn’t a hardship.  So here are some of my favourite books set in Cornwall, from Cornish fiction to Cornish fact and the most comprehensive list of Cornwall’s best books for you to get your teeth into!  Enjoy!

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There are a lot of books written about Cornwall – England’s most southerly county has a magical feel to it, and more than its fair share of myths and legends that contribute to Cornwall being a superb location for literature.  So in selecting the best books set in Cornwall I’ve tried to include a good mix of Cornish fiction and non-fiction books about Cornwall too.   Cornwall is a great location for classic literature too – and you’ll find a specific section on this in my guide to the best Cornish books.  And, as crime is a particular favourite genre of mine, there are my favourite Cornish detective novels too. 

The Best Books about Cornwall

While I’ve tried to group these best fictional books set in Cornwall into particular genres I’m fully aware that some of them fit into multiple genres, so I’ll try and reference them in all of them, but give a synopsis in the main one.  Here we go…

The Best Fiction Books Set in Cornwall

Whether it’s murder on Bodmin Moor, romances on Cornish beaches and in glorious woodland, or missing people in Penzance, Cornwall has a host of fictional books that will invoke the memories of this glorious county long after your visit has finished.  Here’s some of the best Cornish fiction around.

The Shell Seekers – Rosamunde Pilcher

Rosamunde Pilcher – born Rosamunde Scott – was born in Cornwall in 1924 and began writing at the age of 7, writing her first short story at 15.  Writing under the pseudonym, Jane Fraser, she published 11 books for Mills and Boon before she began writing under her own name.  The Shell Seekers was her breakthrough and her fourteenth novel.  This family saga is written from the perspective of the family matriarch, Penelope Keeling, an elderly British woman.  The book tells of life during World War II in Britain and was nominated as one of the top 100 novels of the UK’s Big Read in 2003.   Cornwall features heavily with Penelope’s bohemian upbringing, the painting of beach landscapes and the tending of Cornish gardens.  Drift away into the past in Cornwall with the Shell Seekers here.

The Rembrandt Affair – Daniel Silva

The Gabriel Allon series from Daniel Silva is a personal favourite, and I recently re-read the entire series about the Israeli spy-assassin-artist.  The Rembrandt Affair brings the mystery and thrill of Allon to Cornwall – he’ll return again, but the atmospheric Port Navas where the book starts is where Allon retreated to in an earlier novel in the series.   If you like thrills, action and descriptions of Cornish cliffs, then this is for you.  Even on my second read I couldn’t put it down and read through the night.  Pick up the Rembrandt Affair from Daniel Silva here.  

Zennor in Darkness – Helen Dunmore

This is the first novel from Dunmore, who sets it in the coastal village of Zennor, between St Ives and St Just in North West Cornwall.  It’s 1917, spring and D.H. Lawrence comes, along with his German wife, Frieda, to hide out in Zennor, to escape the war-fever, gripping London.   Into the small vill age they – at a time when the papers are filled with spy stories and all strangers seem suspicious.  Gossip and innuendo follows them as they befriend Clare Coyne, a local artist, caring for her cousin who’s on leave from the front and suffering from shell-shock.  It’s a passionate, descriptive read that you’ll find difficult to put down. Buy Zennor in Darkness from Helen Dunmore here.

Crime Thrillers Set in Cornwall

There are rather a lot of detective novels set in Cornwall – some with famous fictional detectives simply heading to Cornwall for a one-off, but there are also a couple of Cornish crime series that are well worth a visit.

The DCI Claire Cornish Mysteries – FG Laycy

Fiona G Lacy is the author behind the DCI Claire Cornish series of thrillers.    I always find it best to start with the first in a series, and Carrick Roads begins on atmospheric Bodmin Moor, Cornwall’s largest Area of Natural Beauty (AONB).   There are mutilated animals, devil worshippers and then the human deaths start.  Carrick Roads is the first in the CDI Claire Cornish series of books, published in 2019, followed by Highcliff and then 13 Falmouth Road.    Buy the DCI Claire Cornish series here.

The Cove LJ Ross

I am a BIG LJ Ross fan – her DCI Ryan series, set in England’s northeast is fabulous, and her descriptions of the countryside in Northumberland makes me shiver.   Her ability to create atmospheric mystery is continued in “The Cove” – it’s the first book in her new Summer Mysteries series and is set in Cornwall.  It’s definitely a combo of mystery meets chick-lit meets drama and if you’re looking for perfectly crafted Cornish descriptions then you won’t go far wrong with this.  Buy The Cove from LJ Ross here. 

Book Series Set in Cornwall

You won’t want for series of books set in Cornwall – the landscape here lends itself to sweeping historical sagas and to murder mystery series – here’s some of my favourite series of books based in Cornwall.

The Poldark Series – Winston Graham

Set in the 18th and early 19th century, the Poldark series of 12 books follows the life of mine owner, Ross Poldark and his family.   Dramatized into the 1975 and more recent incredibly popular 2015+ TV series’ these books or rather the TV series have created a whole new type of visitor for Cornwall – those searching for TV and movie locations!  As with every sweeping odyssey, there is drama, suspense and romance.  Start with the first book, “Ross Poldark”, which finds him returning home from fighting in the American War of Independence to find his father dead, his mining estate in ruins and his former fiancée engaged to his cousin.    Buy the Poldark Series of books here.

The Cornwall Mysteries – Janie Bolitho

Rose Trevelyan is an amateur sleuth, a widow and a resident of Cornwall.  She’s an artist who gets caught up in the centre of a police investigation into the disappearance of a local woman.    This series, the Cornwall Mysteries, which starts with Buried in Cornwall, comes from Falmouth local, Janie Bolitho.   There are seven in the series, which culminates with Caught out in Cornwall, published posthumously, as Bolitho died in 2002.    This is a great series for its descriptions of locations in Cornwall, which will make you want to visit, and which, after your visit will reinforce your memories of where you’ve been!  You can find Janie Bolitho’s Cornwall Mysteries here.

Romance Novels Set in Cornwall

Cornwall was made for romance novels.  Whether that’s historical romance, contemporary romance, or chick-lit Cornwall.  Here’s a selection of the best romantic fiction set in Cornwall.

The Rose Garden – Susanna Kearsley

Historical fiction meats romantic fiction meets sci-fi and all in a Cornish setting.  What more can you ask for?  Canadian novelist Kearsley brings Cornwall to life with a story of Eva, who leaves California to return to Cornwall to scatter her dead sister’s ashes.  In Cornwall she finds memories and intrigue and, that tried and tested favourite, time travel.  If you’re a Diana Gabaldon fan, then you’ll love The Rose Garden – buy it here.

Little Beach Street Bakery – Jenny Colgan (romance)

If you’re heading to Cornwall for a beach holiday and want some easy reading chick-lit, then you can’t go far wrong with Jenny Colgan.  You’ll find yourself looking around for the abandoned shop above which Polly’s rented flat to find the inspiration for the fictional Cornish village of Polbearne.  Set in and amongst the stunning Mount St Michael, there’s a widowed friend, a love interest and the smell of freshly baked bread.  Colgan doesn’t disappoint and this is an easy read with more than a passing reference to the local areaPick up the Little Beach Street Bakery here.

The Best Classical Literature Set in Cornwall

Cornwall has been a favourite location for authors for a long time.  Writers such as Daphne du Maurier, Agatha Christie and Mary Wesley found inspiration here – and wrote about it with Cornwall as both a backdrop and a leading character.

Jamaica Inn – Daphne Du Maurier

Born in London in 1907, du Maurier spent most of her life in Cornwall, publishing her first book in 1931 at the age of 24.   Jamaica Inn, published in 1936 was set at the real-life coaching inn of the same name on Bodmin Moor (yes you can still stay there – book a room here ).   Jamaica Inn was inspired by du Maurier’s 1930 stay at the Inn and is based in 1820’s Cornwall.  The book was later made into an Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name and followed the life of Mary Yellan, who following the death of her mother, moves from Helford, Cornwall to live at the Jamaica Inn with her aunt and uncle.   This is classic Cornish literature – there’s Bodmin Moor, shipwreckers, Druids and Cornish cliffs. This is a great combo from Du Maurier – a three-book set of Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and Frenchman’s Creek – pick it up here.

Peril at End House – Agatha Christie

Iconic literary detective Hercule Poirot’s holiday in Cornwall comes complete with a murder mystery.  Peril at End House was first published in the USA and is Christie’s sixth novel featuring Poirot.   The book contains Christie’s usual clever plotlines with an excellent finish.  If you’ve not read Agatha Christie before,  then this is a good introduction (and it won’t spoil the rest of the Poirot books for you either!).  Buy Peril at End House here.

Biographical Books About Cornwall

Life in Cornwall isn’t always sunshine, beaches and ice cream – understanding more about the county sometimes comes from the gritty reality – here’s a few favourite biographical books based in Cornwall.

Dark, Salt, Clear – Lamorna Ash

The writing style of Ash belies her age.   Relocating from London to Newlyn, Cornwall’s largest working fishing port, Dark, Salt, Clear is her tale of reality about living in Cornwall as an outsider.   Newlyn is famous for the crab landed here. Read more on Traditional Cornish Food here. Ash’s book won the Somerset Maugham Award in 2021 and was a BBC Radio Four Book of the Week.   Dark, Salt, Clear is based on a month she spent in Newlyn, staying with a local couple and working on a fishing trawler, the Filadelfia.  It is a gritty look at the realities of the Cornish fishing industry that will make you want to visit.  Buy Dark, Salt Clear – Life in a Cornish Fishing Town here.

The Salt Path –  Raynor Winn

Following a critical illness diagnosis for her husband, the couple were made homeless losing their home, farm and livelihood.  They decided to set off and walk the 630 South West Coast Path.     They have a tent and very little by way of funds.  The Salt Path was a Sunday Times Bestseller for 80 weeks and is a truly glorious read of how uplifting the human spirit can be.  It’s also a gritty read about homelessness, about terminal illness, about carrying all that you own on your back and camping in the rain.  Some will find this a tough read for other reasons though – questioning some of the decisions that Winn and her husband took when it comes to how they treated Cornish locals.  You’ll have to make your own mind up.  Buy the Salt Path here.  If you like Raynor’s style, then her second book, The Wild Silence continues her story and follows up on life after the Salt Path.  Buy the Wild Silence here.

Travel Tips for Exploring Cornwall

Final Words on the Best books About Cornwall

Phew!  This was a labour of love!  Some of these books took me back to a miserably wet day in Penzance, others to a blustery walk along the South West Coast Path to Cape Cornwall, others still to Frenchman’s Creek.  No matter your reading style or your preferred genre, there’s a book set in Cornwall for you.  Well, at least one, I suspect there are more!  I hope you’ve enjoyed my foray into my favourite books about Cornwall – I’m always on the lookout for more, so let me know in the comments your favourite Cornish books or authors I’d love to find more!

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