Lexie Elliott’s new book, How to Kill Your Best Friend, is perhaps the ideal escapist thriller: a possible murder, a friend group practically bursting at the seams with drama and some very twisted secrets, all against the backdrop of a luxury resort on a gorgeous, isolated island in Southeast Asia. We asked Elliott to share more suspenseful novels with stunning settings.
Writers: We’re a strange breed, and none more so than crime writers. Give us a beautiful villa overlooking a secluded beach and we immediately wonder what might be buried under the palm tree or weighted down at the bottom of the ocean. A sun-dappled European city has us looking past the landmarks and museums for what might be lurking in the narrow alleys. The contrast between the light and shade of human nature is never so stark as when played out in the most seductive of settings, the kind of places where people come to relax and forget their cares. Two of my novels (my debut, The French Girl, and my most recent novel, How To Kill Your Best Friend) feature exactly that delicious contrast, and with that in mind, I bring you some suggestions for thrillers where the gorgeous settings almost steal the scene.
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Mongibello, San Remo, Rome, Venice, Greece: The locations in this novel read like a travel agent’s advertisement (though the first is admittedly fictional—Highsmith took inspiration for it from Positano, Italy). Readers will be captivated as the young, wealthy American trust fund socialites of the 1950s frolic through the radiant Italian Riviera, unaware of the twisted obsession growing in the heart of Tom Ripley. I discovered this novel in my teens and it awoke in me a longing (never quite lost) to travel to these beguiling destinations, where surely I would dress most fabulously to drink cocktails in the warm summer evenings at the bars of the most fashionable hotels and restaurants. . . . Highsmith unerringly captures the details of both the time and place, and it’s her depiction of the juxtaposition of the glorious sun-drenched locations with the darkness of the conniving, murder and betrayal carried out by our extraordinarily creepy antihero Tom that truly sets this novel apart. (Oh, and the 1999 movie, with Matt Damon as Tom and Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf, is excellent too.)
Pompeii by Robert Harris
The weather. The landscape. The opulent villas. The togas. Harris’ tautly accurate prose transports the reader to the heart of ancient Italy in the heat of late summer, with a tale of sleazy urban corruption, 79 A.D.-style, with a rigorously intelligent hydraulic engineer to guide us through it—all while trying to keep hold of both his integrity and his life. I defy any reader to finish this novel without a burning desire to immediately visit the ruins of Pompeii (though preferably without Vesuvius erupting at the time).
The Chalet by Catherine Cooper
Glamourous locales aren’t always warm: A luxury ski chalet in the snow-covered Alps also ticks the box (Champagne in front of the log fire, anyone?). Cooper’s descriptions of the beautiful, glacial landscape place the reader squarely inside a dual-timeline tale of twisted revenge spanning two decades.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
The queen of crime and the original luxury train experience: It's a match made in exotically located thriller heaven that spans both hot and cold climes. The opening chapters are set in bustling Istanbul, before the action steams along to snow-covered Yugoslavia. With Poirot aboard, and the train itself providing the “locked room” setting, you know you are in for a treat.
Author photo © Nick James Photography.