If you’d told me thirty-one years ago that the Los Angeles backpacking hostel I was living in would one day become the centerpiece of a bestselling thriller—written be me—I doubt I’d have believed you. In fact back then, at the age of 21, I’d probably have been too drunk or stoned to have been listening to you anyway.
My travel thriller The Vacation, which gets its American and Canadian release this month (December) is based loosely on my own journey around America. I stayed at the hostel in question in Venice Beach for the best part of six months. Back then, it was a shabby, run down building whose best days were behind it. But it was so vibrant and full of life that it didn’t matter if the showers were missing heads, if the cockroaches outnumbered the guests or if there was no air con in the height of the Californian summer. In the mornings, I worked there as a cleaner, the afternoons were spent selling hotdogs and lemonades on the beach and by night, I’d check new guests in and old guests out. I was constantly surrounded by people from all walks of life, and from across the globe. Some of these characters or their stories have made into my book, albeit exaggerated versions.
Here, I’ve chosen some of my favorite novels loosely in the same genre as mine, that effortlessly blend crime thrillers with travel.
The Beach, by Alex Garland
This book made a huge impact on me. Back in the 1990s, everyday life and my work as a journalist interrupted my love of reading for a number of years until that novel was released. Its island setting, its diverse roll call of characters and page-turning plot made for one of my all-time favorite books. I will readily admit The Vacation was inspired by The Beach. But I’d never be arrogant enough to think it could live up to Garland’s gem.
Every Vow You Break, by Peter Swanson
If Swanson rewrote the dictionary, I’d read it. Ever since The Kind Worth Killing, I have been a fan and have read all of his novels since. This psychological thriller focuses on Abigail, a new bride who marries millionaire Bruce following a whirlwind relationship. For their honeymoon, he whisks her off to an Island retreat. But not all goes according to plan when she comes face to face with a final fling she had on her hen night, who also turns out to also be a guest. Satisfying, murderous fun.
The Mosquito Coast, by Paul Theroux
It was my enjoyment of the 1986 film starring River Phoenix and Harrison Ford that made me want to explore the book. And what a book it is. Desperate to escape a country that doesn’t understand him, inventor Allie Fox is searching for a utopia and drags his family along for the ride. He swaps civilization for the Honduran jungle, but eventually discovers that the world he seeks is not that far removed from his own, despite the thousands of miles between them.
Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch
What must it be like to spend a day in the imagination of Blake Crouch? How did he even begin working out the plot of this thriller? For this pick, we are talking traveling from dimension to dimension instead of country to country. It’s the story of a physicist who finds himself in a parallel universe after being kidnapped. And the universe he ends up in is based on different choices he made when he was fifteen years younger. A truly exceptional sci-fi story.
Hostage, by Clare Mackintosh
Clare is one of my favorite fellow British writers. She set this book thousands of feet in the air and onboard a plane, a non-stop flight from London to Sydney, the first of its kind. However, it isn’t long after take-off when flight attendant Mina is warned that the life of her daughter is under threat if she doesn’t help someone onboard get into the plane’s cockpit. Cue nail-biting drama, will-she wont-she moments and Mackintosh’s trademark twists.
The Sanatorium, by Sarah Pearse
It’s hard to believe this bestseller was a debut. It’s set it in a beautiful but creepy hotel in the middle of the Swiss Alps. But it hasn’t always been a hotel. Before its conversion, it was a sanatorium. British detective Elin Warner has only travelled there because its where her estranged brother is holding his engagement party. But disaster strikes when a storm arrives, access to the hotel is cut off and her brother’s fiancée vanishes.
The Talented Mr Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith
There is nothing not to enjoy about this 1955 classic. Tom Ripley has been asked by the father of Dickie, an American playboy, to travel to Italy and bring his son home. But once he finds a way to worm his way into Dickie’s life, Tom discovers that neither he nor his mark are ready. And he doesn’t just want Dickie’s lifestyle, he wants to be him. Highsmith manages to make us feel pity for sociopath Tom, and root for him over the spoiled socialites.