South Africa has landscapes of every type. For a medium sized country the variety of settings for a novel is astonishing.

In romantic stories and rural epics the landscape often plays an important role. We have all seen Gerald O’Hara looking across his cotton fields and telling us that “Land is the only thing worth living for, it’s the only thing worth dying for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.”

Fine, but what about the thriller writer? Can landscapes play a role in building  up the tension in a thriller. If used well, I think they can. Many years ago I tried to set the scene that way in A Lonely Place To Die. By night train Yudel Gordon approaches the town and monastery where the action takes place: “In a moonlight made clear by the highveld’s moistureless air…the pine forest rose up higher and closer until he could see only the tops of the main domes and their crosses still etched in the white light, then the track twisted in behind a spur, and buildings and forest were all gone.”

If my memory serves me well, in the Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris succeeds very well with his description of the river where Buffalo Bill has left the bodies of his victims.

So landscape can be used to compelling effect in a thriller. Whether you are describing a forbidding sea before the storm, a gentle flower-filled meadow that no one would guess conceals the body of a murder victim or the cloudy crags of a mountain range in which some of the action takes place: all of it can be used to build the tension and draw the reader deeper into the story.

South Africa’s landscapes of forests, deserts, savannah, mountains, bushveld and tropical vegetation are a range of wonderful panorama for the writer to draw on.

Landscape and the thriller