Books Set in Cornwall: Cornish Novels
Placed on England’s rugged southwestern tip, Cornwall boasts the longest coastline in Great Britain. This incredible natural landscape is filled with dramatic cliffs and iconic beaches, drawing visitors and inspiring authors. This list of books set in Cornwall will take you through the unique scenery and culture of the region, and makes the perfect travel accompaniment if you’re planning to visit!
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Books Set in Cornwall: Introduction
This list of books set in Cornwall includes many notable works of Cornish literature, some of which have also been adapted for television. Daphne du Maurier spent much of her life in Cornwall and set many of her paranormal romance novels there, such as Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and Frenchman’s Creek.
Winston Graham authored the historical novels of the popular Poldark series (starting with Ross Poldark) set in and around Perranporth. Crime writer W.J. Burley was a Cornwall native and author of the Wycliffe detective series, which includes an impressive 22 books set in Cornwall and its surrounding areas.
There are also multiple books set in Cornwall from authors like Rosamunde Pilcher (romance fiction such as The Shell Seekers), Patrick Gale (novels like Notes from an Exhibition) and Liz Fenwick (romance fiction such as The Cornish House).
Books Set in Cornwall: Shortlist
If you’re short on time, these are my personal picks for books set in Cornwall:
- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
- Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
- Penmarric by Susan Howatch
- The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley
- The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
- Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale
Books Set in Cornwall
1. The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins, 1856
The Dead Secret explores the relationship between a fallen woman, her illegitimate daughter, and buried secrets in a superb blend of romance and Gothic drama. Moments from death, Mrs Treverton tells a secret, never to be passed to her husband. Years later, when her daughter Rosamond returns with her blind husband, she is warned not to enter the Myrtle Room. Strong-minded and ingenious, Rosamond’s determined detective work uncovers a shocking truth.
2. The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier, 1931
Plyn Boat Yard is a hive of activity, and Janet Coombe, born in turn of the 20th century Cornwall, longs to share in the excitement of seafaring: to travel, to have adventures, to know freedom. But constrained by the times, instead she marries her cousin Thomas, a boat builder, and settles down to raise a family.
3. Peril at End House (Hercule Poirot #8) by Agatha Christie, 1932
Hercule Poirot is vacationing on the Cornish coast when he meets Nick Buckly. Nick is the young and reckless mistress of End House, an imposing structure perched on the rocky cliffs of St. Loo. Poirot has taken a particular interest in the young woman who has recently narrowly escaped a series of life-threatening accidents. Something tells the Belgian sleuth that these so-called accidents are more than just mere coincidences or a spate of bad luck. It seems all too clear to him that someone is trying to do away with poor Nick, but who?
4. Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, 1935
The coachman tried to warn her away from the ruined, forbidding place on the rainswept Cornish coast. But young Mary Yellan chose instead to honor her mother’s dying request that she join her frightened Aunt Patience and huge, hulking Uncle Joss Merlyn at Jamaica Inn. From her first glimpse on that raw November eve, she could sense the inn’s dark power.
5. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, 1938
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” So the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter remembered the chilling events that led her down the turning drive past the beeches, white and naked, to the isolated gray stone manse on the windswept Cornish coast. With a husband she barely knew, the young bride arrived at this immense estate, only to be inexorably drawn into the life of the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca, dead but never forgotten…
6. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier, 1941
Bored and restless in London’s Restoration Court, Lady Dona escapes into the British countryside with her restlessness and thirst for adventure as her only guides. Eventually Dona lands in remote Navron, looking for peace of mind in its solitary woods and hidden creeks. She finds the passion her spirit craves in the love of a daring French pirate who is being hunted by all of Cornwall.
7. Ross Poldark (The Poldark Saga #1) by Winston Graham, 1945
In the first novel in Winston Graham’s hit series, a weary Ross Poldark returns to England from the American War of Independence (1783), looking forward to a joyful homecoming with his beloved Elizabeth. But instead he discovers his father has died, his home is overrun by livestock and drunken servants, and Elizabeth – believing Ross to be dead – is now engaged to his cousin. Ross has no choice but to start his life anew. Note: this is the first in a 12 book series.
8. The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier, 1946
Honor Harris is only eighteen when she first meets Richard Grenvile, proud, reckless – and utterly captivating. But following a riding accident, Honor must reconcile herself to a life alone. As the English Civil war is waged across the country, Richard rises through the ranks of the army, marries and makes enemies, and Honor remains true to him.
9. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier, 1951
Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries – and there he dies suddenly. Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose’s letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin’s widow with hatred in his heart. Note: this is set between Florence and Cornwall.
10. Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt, 1960
Mount Mellyn stood as proud and magnificent as she had envisioned… But what about its master – Connan TreMellyn? Was Martha Leigh’s new employer as romantic as his name sounded? As she approached the sprawling mansion towering above the cliffs of Cornwall, an odd chill of apprehension overcame her.
11. China Court by Rumer Godden, 1961
For nearly one hundred and fifty years the Quin family has lived at China Court, their magnificent estate in the Welsh countryside. The land, gardens, and breathtaking home have been maintained, cherished, and ultimately passed along – from Eustace and Adza in the early nineteenth century to village-girl-turned-lady-of-the-manor Ripsie Quin, her children, and her granddaughter, Tracy, in the twentieth.
12. A Gull on the Roof (Minack #1) by Derek Tangye, 1961
This is the original get away from it all book. Before people started writing about their tedious years in Provence or Tuscany or wherever, Derek Tangye and his wife gave up their urbane sophisticated life in London to move to a run down roofless cottage in Cornwall (that they could only lease, not buy) to earn a living from the land farming flowers – daffodils and violets – and potatoes in the 1950s.
13. Wycliffe and the Three Toed Pussy (Wycliffe #1) by W.J. Burley, 1968
The peace of the village of Kergwyns has been shattered by a bizarre murder. A young woman has been shot. The only thing taken from a scene is the shoe and stocking from her left leg… exposing her deformed foot. Wycliffe uncovers evidence of an unhappy woman who routinely manipulated the men in her life. As half the men in the village have been known to visit her, and most have reason to lie about it, finding the murderer will not be easy. Note: this is the first in a 22 book series.
14. The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier, 1969
Dick Young is lent a house in Cornwall by his friend Professor Magnus Lane. During his stay he agrees to serve as a guinea pig for a new drug that Magnus has discovered in his scientific research. When Dick samples Magnus’s potion, he finds himself doing the impossible: traveling through time while staying in place, thrown all the way back into Medieval Cornwall.
15. Penmarric by Susan Howatch, 1971
Set against the starkly beautiful landscape of Cornwall, Penmarric is the totally enthralling saga of a family divided against itself. At the center of the novel is the great mansion called Penmarric. It is to Penmarric that Mark Castallack, a proud, strange, and sensitive man, brings his bride Janna – the first act in a tempestuous drama that was to span three generations.
16. The Carousel by Rosamunde Pilcher, 1982
Prue is intelligent, artistic, independent – and bored. Pressurised by her mother to make a conventional and dull marriage, she is delighted to escape London and seek retreat with her eccentric and bohemian aunt in Cornwall. A chance encounter with an attractive young artist on the sea shore leads to day after idyllic summer’s day of exploring the Cornish countryside and coast. But there is something troubling Daniel and Prue, now deeply entangled.
17. The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley, 1984
Behind the large house, the fragrant camomile lawn stretches down to the Cornish cliffs. Here, in the dizzying heat of August 1939, five cousins have gathered at their aunt’s house for their annual ritual of a holiday. For most of them it is the last summer of their youth, with the heady exhilarations and freedoms of lost innocence, as well as the fears of the coming war.
18. The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, 1987
Artist’s daughter Penelope Keeling can look back on a full and varied life: a Bohemian childhood in London and Cornwall, an unhappy wartime marriage, and the one man she truly loved. She has brought up three children – and learned to accept them as they are. Yet she is far too energetic and independent to settle sweetly into pensioned-off old-age.
19. A Suitable Vengeance (Inspector Lynley #4) by Elizabeth George, 1991
Award-winning author Elizabeth George gives us an early glimpse into the lives of Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, forensic scientist Simon Allcourt-St. James, and Lady Helen Clyde in a superlative mystery that is also a fascinating inquiry into the crimes of the heart. Lynley, the eighth earl of Asherton, has brought to Howenstow, his family home, the young woman he has asked to be his bride. But the savage murder of a local journalist is the catalyst for a lethal series of events that shatters the calm of a picturesque Cornwall village. Note: This is part of a 19 book series.
20. Zennor In Darkness by Helen Dunmore, 1994
In her prize-winning first novel, Zennor in Darkness, Helen Dunmore reimagines the plight of D.H. Lawrence and his German wife hiding out in Cornwall during the First World War. Spring, 1917, and war haunts the Cornish coastal village of Zennor: ships are being sunk by U-boats, strangers are treated with suspicion, and newspapers are full of spy stories. Into this turmoil come D. H Lawrence and his German wife, Frieda hoping to escape the war-fever that grips London.
21. Summer in February by Jonathan Smith, 1995
Sir Alfred Munnings, retiring President of the Royal Academy, chooses the 1949 Annual Banquet to launch a savage attack on Modern Art. The effect of his diatribe is doubly shocking, leaving not only his distinguished audience gasping but also many people tuning in to the BBC’s live radio broadcast. But as he approaches the end of his assault, the speech suddenly dissolves into incoherence when he stumbles over a name – a name he normally takes such pains to avoid – that takes him back forty years to a special time and a special place. Note: this is set in Lamorna, Cornwall.
22. Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher, 1995
Against the backdrop of an elegant Cornwall mansion before World War II and a vast continent-spanning canvas during the turbulent war years, this involving story tells of an extraordinary young woman’s coming of age, coming to grips with love and sadness, and in every sense of the term, coming home. In 1935, Judith Dunbar is left behind at a British boarding school when her mother and baby sister go off to join her father in Singapore. At Saint Ursula’s, her friendship with Loveday Carey-Lewis sweeps her into the privileged, madcap world of the British aristocracy, teaching her about values, friendship, and wealth.
23. A Cottage by the Sea by Ciji Ware, 1996
Some might call it running away. But after a scandalous Hollywood divorce, Blythe Stowe considered it damage control for body and soul. The pain, the humiliation, the daily tabloids shouting details as her famous husband dumped her for her own sister demanded a serious getaway: to the wild coast of Cornwall and a cottage by the sea that her Wyoming grandmother claimed had been home to her ancestors.
24. Rough Music by Patrick Gale, 2000
Will Pagett receives an unexpected gift on his fortieth birthday, two weeks at a perfect beach house in Cornwall. Seeking some distance from the married man with whom he’s having an affair, he invites his aging mother and father to share his holiday, knowing the sun and sea will be a welcome change. But the cottage and the stretch of sand before it seem somehow familiar and memories of a summer long ago begin to surface.
25. A Week in Winter by Marcia Willett, 2001
Moorgate is an enchanting old country house that belongs to Maudie Todhunter, a spirited widow who has been holding on to the place for the sake of her beloved granddaughter. But Maudie can no longer afford a second home, so she reluctantly puts it up for sale. Moorgate immediately attracts more buyers than Maudie knows what to do with.
26. Sea Music by Sara MacDonald, 2003
A beautifully written novel with great emotional appeal, of family secrets and wartime heritage, set in Cornwall, London and Warsaw. The house and the cottage overlooking the sea, on the corner of the big estate, was home to three generations of the Tremain family. Fred Tremain, the country doctor who – with his wife, Martha, came first to this beloved corner of England: Anna, the difficult, determined older child, now a highly successful solicitor; and Barnaby, the easy-going second child, now a vicar to the parish: and the beloved granddaughter, Lucy.
27. The Promise of Happiness by Justin Cartwright, 2004
A powerful elegy to the intimacies and idiocies of family, The Promise of Happiness tells the story of an apparently ordinary family on the cusp of an extraordinary moment: the return of the family’s prodigal daughter, Juliet. Her release from an upstate New York prison throws the Judds, formerly of London but now scattered, back together. Note: this is set across London, Cornwall and New York.
28. The Lighthouse (Adam Dalgliesh #13) by P.D. James, 2005
A secure and secluded retreat for the rich and powerful becomes the setting for an unsettling series of murders. Combe Island off the Cornish coast is a restful haven for the elite. But when one of its distinguished visitors is found hanging from the island’s famous lighthouse in what appears to have been a murder, the peace is shattered. Commander Adam Dalgliesh is called in to handle the sensitive case, but at a difficult time for him and his depleted team. Note: this is part of a 14 book series.
29. Crossed Bones by Jane Johnson, 2006
In an expensive London restaurant Julia Lovat receives a gift that will change her life. It appears to be a book of exquisite 17th-century embroidery patterns but on closer examination Julia finds it also contains faint diary entries. In these, Cat Tregenna, an embroideress, tells how she and others were stolen out of a Cornish church in 1625 by Muslim pirates and taken on a brutal voyage to Morocco to be auctioned off as slaves.
30. Name To A Face by Robert Goddard, 2007
When Tim Harding is sent by his employer to buy an antique ring at auction, little does he realize that he is about to restart a chain of events which began many years before. The ring was first lost in a sinking off the isles of Scilly in 1707. When centuries later it is rediscovered in 1999, once again its appearance coincides with a terrible tragedy. But before it can be sold, the ring is stolen and looks set to disappear forever. Note: this novel is set in The Isles of Scilly and Cornwall.
31. Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale, 2007
When troubled artist Rachel Kelly dies painting obsessively in her attic studio in Penzance, her saintly husband and adult children have more than the usual mess to clear up. She leaves behind an extraordinary and acclaimed body of work – but she also leaves a legacy of secrets and emotional damage that will take months to unravel. Note: set in Penzance, Cornwall.
32. Touchstone (Harris Stuyvesant #1) by Laurie R. King, 2007
Hailed for her rich and powerful works of psychological suspense as well as her New York Times bestselling mysteries, Laurie R. King now takes us to a remote cottage in Cornwall where a gripping tale of intrigue, terrorism, and explosive passions begins with a visit to a recluse upon whom the fate of an entire nation may rest – a man code-named Touchstone.
33. Careless in Red (Inspector Lynley #15) by Elizabeth George, 2008
After the senseless murder of his wife, Detective Superintendent Thomas Lynley retreated to Cornwall, where he has spent six solitary weeks hiking the bleak and rugged coastline. But no matter how far he walks, no matter how exhausting his days, the painful memories of Helen’s death do not diminish. On the forty-third day of his walk, at the base of a cliff, Lynley discovers the body of a young man who appears to have fallen to his death. Note: This is part of a 19 book series.
34. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, 2008
A foundling, an old book of dark fairy tales, a secret garden, an aristocratic family, a love denied, and a mystery. Cassandra is lost, alone and grieving. Her much loved grandmother, Nell, has just died and Cassandra, her life already shaken by a tragic accident ten years ago, feels like she has lost everything dear to her. But an unexpected and mysterious bequest from Nell turns Cassandra’s life upside down and ends up challenging everything she thought she knew about herself and her family. Note: this novel is set between Cornwall and Australia.
35. The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley, 2011
When Eva’s film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Cornwall, where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina’s ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs. But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own.
36. The Beach Café (The Beach Café #1) by Lucy Diamond, 2011
Evie Flynn has always been the black sheep of her family – a dreamer and a drifter, unlike her over-achieving elder sisters. She’s tried making a name for herself as an actress, a photographer and a singer, but nothing has ever worked out. Now she’s stuck in temp hell, with a sensible, pension-planning boyfriend. Somehow life seems to be passing her by. Then her beloved aunt Jo dies suddenly in a car crash, leaving Evie an unusual legacy – her precious beach cafe in Cornwall.
37. The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick, 2012
When Maddie inherits a house in Cornwall shortly after the death of her husband, she hopes it will mean a fresh start. Maddie is enchanted by it and is keen to learn as much as she can about its past. As she discovers stories of generations of women who’ve lived there before, she feels her life is somehow intertwined within its walls.
38. The Long Weekend by Veronica Henry, 2012
In a gorgeous quay-side hotel in Cornwall, the long weekend is just beginning. Claire Marlowe owns ‘The Townhouse by the Sea’ with Luca, the hotel’s charismatic chef. She ensures everything runs smoothly – until an unexpected arrival checks in and turns her whole world upside down. And the rest of the guests arrive with their own baggage.
39. Diving Belles by Lucy Wood, 2012
Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Magpies whisper to lonely drivers late at night. Trees can make wishes come true – provided you know how to wish properly first. Houses creak, fill with water and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants, straightening shower curtains and worrying about frayed carpets. A teenager’s growing pains are sometimes even bigger than him. And, on a windy beach, a small boy and his grandmother keep despair at bay with an old white door. In these stories, Cornish folklore slips into everyday life.
40. A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale, 2012
On a clear, crisp summer’s day in Cornwall, a young man carefully prepares to take his own life, and asks family friend, John Barnaby, to pray with him. Barnaby – priest, husband and father – has always tried to do good, though life hasn’t always been rosy. Lenny’s request poses problems, not just for Barnaby, but for his wife and family, and the wider community, as the secrets of the past push themselves forcefully into the present for all to see.
41. An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James, 2013
After her ghost-hunting uncle Toby dies, Oxford student Jillian must drive to the seaside village of Rothewell to pack up his belongings. Almost immediately, terrifying events convince Jillian that an angry spirit is trying to enter the house. Is it Walking John, the two-hundred-year-old ghost that haunts the bay? Note: this is set between Oxford and Cornwall.
42. A Cornish Affair by Liz Fenwick, 2013
Running out on your wedding day never goes down well. When the pressure of her forthcoming marriage becomes too much, Jude bolts from the church, leaving a good man at the altar, her mother in a fury, and the guests with enough gossip to last a year.
43. Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery #1) by Jenny Colgan, 2014
Amid the ruins of her latest relationship, Polly Waterford moves far away to the sleepy seaside resort of Polbearne, where she lives in a small, lonely flat above an abandoned shop. To distract her from her troubles, Polly throws herself into her favorite hobby: making bread. But her relaxing weekend diversion quickly develops into a passion. As she pours her emotions into kneading and pounding the dough, each loaf becomes better than the last.
44. Under A Cornish Sky by Liz Fenwick, 2015
Demi desperately needs her luck to change. On the sleeper train down to Cornwall, she can’t help wondering why everything always goes wrong for her. Having missed out on her dream job, and left with nowhere to stay following her boyfriend’s betrayal, pitching up at her grandfather’s cottage is her only option.
45. Summer at the Cornish Café (The Penwith Trilogy #1) by Phillipa Ashley, 2016
Demi doesn’t expect her summer in Cornwall to hold anything out of the ordinary. As a waitress, working all hours to make ends meet, washing dishes and serving ice creams seems to be as exciting as the holiday season is about to get. That’s until she meets Cal Penwith. An outsider, like herself, Cal is persuaded to let Demi help him renovate his holiday resort, Kilhallon Park. Set above an idyllic Cornish cove, the once popular destination for tourists has now gone to rack and ruin.
46. False Lights by K.J. Whittaker, 2017
Wellington is in secret captivity in the Scilly Isles and the Cornish are threatening to join forces with France against the English. Against this tumultuous backdrop, Hester Harewood manages to escape from the French soldiers who have killed her black sea captain father. Her rescuer – Jack ‘Crow’ Crowlas – takes her to shelter with his aristocratic family in London.
47. The Letter by Ruth Saberton, 2017
On the eve of the First World War aspiring poet Kit Rivers looks forward to a bright future. As the Lord of the Manor’s heir, Kit’s duty is to the family estate but when he falls passionately in love he knows a hard choice must be made. Yet before the golden days of summer can fade into autumn, war comes and changes his world forever. One century later young widow Chloe exchanges London for an isolated Cornish house.
48. A Cornish Secret (Tremarnock #4) by Emma Burstall, 2018
Esme Posorsky is an enigma. For as long as people can remember, she has been part of community life in the quaint Cornish fishing village of Tremarnock, but does anyone really know her? She is usually to be found working in her pottery studio or at home with her beloved cat, Rasputin. But when an old school friend turns up with a secret from the past, nothing will ever be the same again. Note: this is part of a 5 book series.
49. The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware, 2018
On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person – but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.
What do you think of these books set in Cornwall?
Have some great books set in Cornwall that you think should be included? Are you planning a trip to Cornwall soon? Have any travel or bookstore tips for readers visiting? I’d love to hear about more about your own travels and tips for books set in Cornwall in the comments below!
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