What is it about a cruise ship that inspires mystery writers? Maybe it’s the prospect of a boat loaded with adventure-seeking people steaming toward the horizon. Or maybe it’s the promise of an escape. It might be the irresistible premise of secretive strangers trapped together with no way out but overboard. Whatever the reason, ocean liners have been inspiring suspense fiction since before Agatha Christie first picked up a pen. If you plan to spend your next vacation on the high seas (or at the beach), here are some pulse-pounding suspense books to download to your e-reader or toss into your beach tote.
Set against the backdrop of a world teetering on the edge of war, this intriguing mystery lures you in on page one. It’s 1939 and tensions are running high in England as Lily Shepherd steps aboard an ocean liner to Australia. She soon meets an array of interesting people, but no one is quite who they seem, and everyone, including Lily herself, is harboring a secret. As one of Lily’s newfound friends observes, “On a boat like this, everyone is running away from something.” Rhys’s vivid characters and rich description pull you along with the story until its surprise ending.
This twisty psychological thriller follows Lo Blalock, a travel writer aboard a luxury cruise ship in the North Sea. Lo believes she hears a woman murdered in the cabin next door, but all of Lo’s shipmates think she’s crazy. Ware’s atmospheric descriptions and deft plotting keep the reader off balance throughout the story. If you haven’t read a thriller by Ware, THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10—chosen as a LibraryReads #1 Favorite for 2016—is a great place to dive in.
I borrowed this book from my cousin, a devoted Agatha Christie fan, who says it is her favorite of Christie’s many novels. The story follows legendary detective Hercule Poirot, who is cruising the Nile when he meets newlyweds Linnet and Simon Doyle. The couple’s blissful honeymoon is shattered when Linnet is found murdered, and Poirot turns his attention to an array of suspects, all conveniently trapped aboard the boat together (much like the train passengers in Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS). With more than 80 novels and story collections to her credit, Dame Agatha Christie is one of the most widely read authors of all time.
Retired Seattle homicide cop J. P. Beaumont is on the Starfire Breeze bound for Alaska when his vacation is interrupted by a murder case. Surveillance video reveals one of the ship’s passengers falling to her death in the icy water, and a witness believes the passenger’s mouth was taped when she went overboard. Beaumont promptly gets pulled into the investigation. The most obvious suspect is the victim’s ex-husband, who just happens to be on board, but Beaumont comes to realize the case is more complicated than it first appeared.
Another mystery set on the Nile, NIGHT TRAIN TO MEMPHIS is one of the bestselling books by Elizabeth Peters. The story features museum curator Vicky Bliss, who is offered a free luxury cruise if she’ll help stop a potential theft of Egyptian antiquities. The slightly campy story line combines ingredients Peters is known for—fast pacing, plot twists, and a dash of Egyptology.
This novel by Florida-based author Carl Hiaasen opens with Joey Perrone falling off the deck of a luxury cruise ship while cursing her husband. Joey survives her elaborately planned murder and goes on a quest for revenge that takes her to the Florida Everglades. Hiaasen’s trademark dry humor and ecological story turns make this the perfect book to read on a beach towel facing the ocean with an umbrella drink in your hand.