Books

How to Choose a Book Based on Your Vacation Destination

The season’s most appealing destinations-and the books to pair with them.
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The best mysteries and thrillers use setting as a character in itself. Choose the right location, capture its essence, and a degree of alchemy results. And there are few greater pleasures for a reader than to see a landscape reimagined by a novelist so that the familiar is transformed, and the unfamiliar made real.

I chose to colonize Maine for my Charlie Parker novels, of which A Game of Ghosts is the latest. I was fascinated by the state’s early violent history, the contrast between the tourist-friendly east coast and the rather more hostile interior, the dramatic changes of its seasons. Perhaps, being Irish, I looked upon it with an outsider’s eye, because that is another thing writers do: we create our own versions of the landscapes we love, and we people them with specters of our own creation.

The best mysteries and thrillers use setting as a character in itself.

Of course, mysteries and thrillers are not the same beasts. A mystery requires containment, a single environment from which the characters cannot escape. The greatest practitioner of this form of entertainment was Agatha Christie—think of the snowbound train in Murder on the Orient Express, the cruise ship of Death on the Nile, or the island house in And Then There Were None. Thrillers, by contrast, are freer to roam, in the manner of Terry Hayes’ I Am Pilgrim, or Jason Matthews’ Red Sparrow, to name but two recent works that have kept me turning the pages.

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Here, then, is a selection of books with an international flavor, suitable both for those who may be planning trips by land, sea or air or for readers who are quite content to travel from the comfort of their own favorite chair.

IF YOU’RE VISITING: ITALY

READ: CONCLAVE BY ROBERT HARRIS


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The cardinals of the Catholic Church gather in Rome to elect a new leader, but the leading contenders may have secrets to hide. And who, exactly, is the mysterious Cardinal Benítez, elevated in secret by the late pope? It’s a novel designed around its ending, but the momentum is irresistible.

IF YOU’RE VISITING: ENGLAND

READ: LOVE LIKE BLOOD BY MARK BILLINGHAM


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One of the best mysteries of the year may also be one of the most fearless, as Billingham pits his London police detective, Tom Thorne, against a pair of murderers hired by ultra-religious families to kill sons and daughters who have the temerity to fall in love against their parents’ wishes.

IF YOU’RE VISITING: AUSTRALIA

READ: THE DRY BY JANE HARPER


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Harper’s accomplished debut is set in the drought-ravaged Australian town of Kiewarra, all flies and dust. Three members of the Halder family are slain in their home, and police investigator Aaron Falk, who fled Kiewarra as a boy, must now confront a hostile community in an effort to discover the truth about the killings.

IF YOU’RE VISITING: THE CZECH REPUBLIC

READ: HHHH BY LAURENT BINET


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Prague is one of the most atmospheric cities in Europe, and Binet’s novel—based on the real-life effort to assassinate Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich in the city in 1942—is the perfect companion. One of the best historical thrillers of the century.

IF YOU’RE VISITING: SOUTH AFRICA

READ: FEVER BY DEON MEYER


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“I want to tell you about my father’s murder” begins the latest novel by one of South Africa’s leading crime writers, but this is a most unusual thriller, set in the aftermath of a contagion that has killed millions around the world. I was enthralled.

IF YOU’RE VISITING: IRELAND

READ: POLICE AT THE STATION AND THEY DON’T LOOK FRIENDLY BY ADRIAN MCKINTY


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McKinty is one of the best Irish crime writers, and this is a gripping yet witty evocation of Belfast at the end of the 1980s, as his Catholic policeman Sean Duffy is forced to contend with terrorists, a crossbow-wielding killer, and the hostile father of his Protestant girlfriend.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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John Connolly
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