When I was in my twenties, I traveled the world as if nothing could ever go wrong. I slept in an African beach hut for six months with twenty total strangers, took a crew job in Australia on some boat with a dad and two random male backpackers. I don’t say this proudly; it’s astonishing I even survived. What I will say, though, is that it’s given me a sharp eye into the world of travel thrillers. I’m now basing my writing career on my lifetime’s disastrous choices, and there’s limitless material to be had.
It’s a glorious primetime, too, for stories of adventure. We’re all craving a little travel as we emerge from the dark, tight enclosure of the pandemic. We’re renewing our passports and booking our flights, but with a thriller writer’s wry smile, I’m here today to simply ask this: Are you sure your exotic destination will be the paradise of your dreams?
Here’s a list of Top Ten Travel Thrillers that’ll make you pause, consider journeying vicariously from the safety of your own home, or at least put your Embassy Consulate on speed dial before you go.
Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
My favorite book of 2021, this thriller has all the ingredients of a beautifully crafted nightmare overseas. With a lead character, Florence, who’s feeling undervalued in New York, the story will draw you into the rich, lavish backdrop of Morocco, where Florence’s ‘exciting opportunity’ becomes a deadly game of cat-and-mouse.
The Blue by Lucy Clarke
Set on a yacht in the warm, azure waters of the Pacific Ocean, this spine-tingler is about a group of backpackers who charter a yacht, heading from the Philippines toward New Zealand. It’s all stargazing, night swimming, and rum. What could possibly go wrong? Of course, not everyone on the boat is quite who they seem, and when crewmates start disappearing, this thriller turns predatory fast.
We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz
It’s so great to have a best friend to go traveling with. Such a fun tradition to meet up for a yearly vacation. But in this eerie psychological thriller, Emily finds out that her bestie, Kristen, might not be the uncomplicated travel buddy she first thought. How many of the terrifying ‘accidents’ that befall them abroad will Emily assist with and cover up?
The Island by Adrian McKinty
How about a bonding family trip to Australia, and a quick visit to an isolated island so the kids can see some koalas? Sounds like the perfect day out, except in this relentless throat-grip of a travel thriller, the family jaunt descends into a hellish fight for survival when the island residents prove to be the world’s most terrifying hosts.
The Guest List by Lucy Foley
Everyone loves a wedding, especially one set on a soulful, stormy island off the west coast of Ireland. As friends and family gather in this tightly plotted thriller, there’s a medley of guests with terrible secrets, shocking pasts, and definite axes to grind. Amidst the festivities and good cheer, will you spot the killer in the crowd?
The Swell by Allie Reynolds
Set on an idyllic beach in Australia, this pacy travel thriller delivers a secret community, a cast of hot surfers, and a classic dystopian sting in the tail. As with every perfect surf spot, there might be a few predators lurking—but when new visitor Kenna dares to question that notion, the backlash is swift and horrific.
Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins
This sinister story follows the adventure of young couple, Lux and Nico, who think they’ve finally hit the jackpot when they’re hired to sail two rich women to remote Meroe Island in the tropical waters of the South Pacific. But who are these women, really? What is their history? And why is there another boat moored at Meroe when they arrive?
The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish
Okay, so it’s a London commute in this story, but I’m a huge Candlish fan, and aren’t daily commuters still traveling?! This thriller—tightly-woven, in beautiful prose—follows the complicated life of Jamie, a British coffee shop worker in his mid forties, who realizes his workaday ferry companion, Kit, hasn’t shown up in his usual seat this morning. When the ferry docks, the police are waiting for Jamie. Is he being set up, or has he really done something despicable that he can’t quite remember?
Pretty Things, Janelle Brown
In this twisty thriller about intertwined lies and the duplicity of two damaged women, we travel to the unforgiving, wintery shores of Lake Tahoe. When underdog grifter, Nina, descends upon the sprawling mansion of Stonehaven in the Californian mountains, it’s Instagram influencer, Vanessa, she’s hoping to scam. But who’s conning who in this suspenseful tale, and how will it really turn out?
The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Don’t we all tell a few secrets when we’re anonymous, in a departure lounge or on a plane, sitting next to an innocuous stranger we’ll never meet again in our lives? For Peter, this sense of freedom lies in the company of Lily, a fun and mysterious neighbor on a London to Boston flight. When the two of them drink martinis and embark on the classic strangers’ overshare, it spirals out of control and soon enough, what should have stayed on the plane spills into their everyday lives.