People love to share vacation photos on social media. Some try to act nonchalant about their expensive getaways. Others aim to impress. The more remote the location, the better. Wait, you’ve never been to New Caledonia? You should go. It’s beautiful this time of year. That’s a real comment I saw on a post. I had to look up where New Caledonia was, which led to numerous online searches to calculate how long it would take me to get there. Hint: it’s more than 6000 miles from San Diego. So, the answer is a long time.
We’re all striving for a work/life balance. It’s not hard to find someone ranting about how we all work too much and let the office rule our lives. Yeah, no kidding. We pulled away from that I-live-at-the-office mentality during the pandemic. Now, some in charge want us to find our old work clothes, get back in our cars, fight traffic, and head back to our cubicles. I work for myself and I’m an excellent boss when it comes to work hours, work attire, long lunches, and breaks for tv streaming. I’m lucky. Many people aren’t. Maybe that’s why, if you mention a trip to an island, an exclusive resort, or a mountain cabin people ask questions. Add in a private yacht or a fancy house and you’re inviting jealousy. Talk to a mystery/suspense/thriller writer and you’ll get a very different response.
A fancy vacation with old friends at a secluded location is a recipe for death. I know that sounds paranoid, but I’m not wrong. Fiction shows us that storms will roll in and the electricity will go out. A night of drinking will lead to bickering and a missing guest the next morning. Any discussion about fun times in college will result in an admission about someone sleeping with someone they shouldn’t have. Mysteriously materializing weapons. Bad cellphone coverage despite it being 2023. Creepy caretakers, innkeepers, and island hosts skulking about. Unexpected dead bodies popping up everywhere. Rampant denial. It’s all bad. Stay home.
We’ve established why you shouldn’t RSVP and say “yes” to any of these lets-get-together invites, but that doesn’t explain why we love to write and read locked-in thrillers that, basically, are vacations gone wrong. To be clear, the “we” here means me but bestsellers like, The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, The Guest List by Lucy Foley, and The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse suggest I’m not alone in my book choices. A sidenote here, a trip to a sanatorium doesn’t sound like a good time but the sanatorium in that book has been turned into a five-star resort, so the book fits.
So, why do we love these books? I think the answer has something to do with the mix of old friends, painful secrets, and revenge. That’s what all of these books have in common. They trap people who know each other or are related in some way in a remote location then open the doors to every old grudge and unexplained death from college. There is something oddly intriguing about thinking through what you would do if you got stuck in a place with the people you most want and need to avoid. These individuals know who you really are. They’ve seen you at your worst. They could share details about the one terrible or asinine thing you did that you want to forget. That sounds exhausting and frustrating even without a murder.
Maybe it’s the search for catharsis, but I think our love for this trope is really about secrets. We all have them. Sure, hopefully not about a murder we committed. But look at that the events that shape us, including unresolved issues and lingering trauma. These are the things we don’t want to talk about because they might give people hint about who we are or were at one point in time. Living that out through books and being able to say, well at least I didn’t do that, is comforting.
Our interest likely also is tied to our voracious appetite for true crime. We watch documentaries and every episode of Dateline (I’m talking from experience). We see the horrible things people do to each other and are stunned by how many times the folks on these shows ask a friend to help bury a body and the friend says yes. What is that? The scenarios aren’t scenarios. They’re real and we can’t do anything to help the victims or their families except vow not to turn their tragedy into our entertainment. We can watch and be empathetic and try to understand how and why, and maybe be a little more careful doing things that shouldn’t be dangerous but clearly are.
Locked-room books provide us with that extra step away from reality. No one actually dies, so we can enjoy the puzzle and try to decipher the clues. We can wait for the big twist…because there’s always a big twist. We can sit in our houses and be safe while we race through a situation that seems impossible to solve. The kick of adrenalin never gets old.
As you might have guessed, I have a personal reason for being so invested in locked-room thrillers. My new release, The Engagement Party (out December 5th), fits in that category. It takes place at a private island in Maine with old friends from college. What could go wrong? Honestly, everything. It’s the worst party ever. Secrets! Lies! Dead bodies! Coastal Maine has never been this terrible. I hope you love it.
After you read my book, you should buckle in because the locked-room books continue through 2024 and likely for long after. Some of the ones I’m looking forward to are: The Night Of The Storm by Nishita Parekh (out January 16th), The Search Party by Hannah Richell (out January 16th), The Off Season by Amber Cowie (out May 14th), One Perfect Couple by Ruth Ware (out May 21st), Bad Tourists by Caro Carver (out July 9th), and The Midnight Feast by Lucy Foley (out June 18th). And that’s only a few of the many coming your way. Enjoy your vacation.