Thursday, September 16, 2010

Vacation, Got to Get Away*

It can be a lot of fun to travel, and planning a holiday can be exciting. But as crime fiction shows us, holiday travel – even to the most beautiful destinations – can be dangerous. So before you make any reservations or pay for airline tickets or tour packages, you may want to keep in mind the safety of your destination. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular destinations, and I’m sure you’ll see what I mean.

The Seaside

A beach hotel vacation can be restful and lots of fun, especially if you enjoy sunbathing, swimming or sailing. But just consider this. In Agatha Christie’s
Evil Under the Sun, what’s supposed to be an enjoyable holiday turns deadly for beautiful actress Arlena Stuart Marshall. She and her husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall, and her stepdaughter Linda are spending a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel, off the Devon coast. Late one morning, Arlena is found strangled on Pixie’s Cove, not far from the hotel. Hercule Poirot is also taking a holiday at that hotel, and he gets involved in the investigation because he may very well have been the last person to see the victim alive. The most likely suspect is Arlena’s husband Kenneth; it was common knowledge at the hotel that Arlena was having an affair with another guest. Besides, Captain Marshall stood to inherit by his wife’s death. Poirot finds that it’s not as simple as that, of course, as he looks into the case.

M.C. Beaton’s
Love, Lies and Liquor, Geraldine Jankers also finds that beach vacations can be deadly. She and her brand-new husband are honeymooning at the Paradise Hotel in Snoth-on-Sea. With her are her son Wayne and his wife, and her friend Cyril Hammond and his wife. Late one nighit, Geraldine Jankers is strangled on the beach near the hotel. The first suspect is private detective Agatha Raisin, who’s there with her ex-husband James Lacey. On the night of the murder, Agatha and Geraldine Jankers had an argument in the dining room, and the murder weapon happens to be Agatha’s scarf. So at first, the police assume her guilt. She’s soon cleared, but decides to find out for herself who killed Geraldine Jankers.

And then there’s Birna Hálldorsdóttir, a successful architect whom we meet in Yrsa Sigurðardóttir's's
My Soul to Take. She’s staying at a posh beachside resort while she works with the owner, Jónas Júlíusson, on a design for renovating the property. One day, she’s found brutally murdered on the beach, and Jónas is accused of the crime. He asks his attorney, Thóra Gudmundsdóttir, to defend him and she begins to investigate. She finds that Birna’s death is related to a series of long-ago events in the area, and to the sixty-year-old disappearance of a young girl.

Bright Lights, Big City

Lots of tourists enjoy exploring cities like Moscow, Venice or Stockholm. But as any crime fiction fan could tell you, it’s not nearly as safe in those cities as the travel brochures would have one believe.

For instance, in Donna Leon’s
Blood From a Stone, Commissario Guido Brunetti and his team investigate the execution-style murder of a Senegalese immigrant who was killed while he was peddling in one of Venice’s open-air markets. All of a sudden, the tourists who were in the area are swept up in the investigation instead of peacefully enjoying their trip to the city. As Brunetti and Ispettore Vianello discover, this man wasn’t murdered because he sold his wares to tourists. His death is connected to arms smuggling and a cache of hidden diamonds.

Moscow is equally dangerous, as we learn in Martin Cruz Smith’s
Gorky Park. In that novel, Arkady Renko is put in charge of the investigation into three brutal murders that took place in Moscow’s Gorky Park. All three victims have had their faces and fingertips removed to make identification harder, so Renko faces a truly difficult challenge. His work is made even harder as he traces the killings to some very highly-placed people in the government and puts his own career – and life – in danger.

Stockholm’s not really any safer for the unwary traveler. That’s what Roseanna McGraw, a visitor from Lincoln, Nebraska, finds out in Maj Sjöwall
and Per Wahlöö’s Roseanna. Roseanna is on a tour of Sweden when she’s brutally raped and killed and her body thrown into a canal. Stockholm homicide detective Marin Beck and his team are called in to help investigate the death, and in the process, they find themselves up against several hurdles. One of them is that Roseana isn’t identified at first, so it’s quite a while before they’re able to begin tracing her movements. Another is that Roseanna’s killer is an intelligent but psychopathic killer who was smart enough not to leave evidence behind. In the end, the team uses thorough police work some lucky breaks to find out who killed Roseanna McGraw and why.


What about a cruise? Many people find cruises romantic, restful and enjoyable. Cruises can also be exciting and give one the opportunity to meet lots of new people. Cruises are no less deadly, though, than other kinds of holidays. Just ask Linnett Ridgeway Doyle, whom we meet in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. Linnett and her husband Simon are on a honeymoon cruise up the Nile when Linnet is shot. Suspicion falls first on fellow passenger Jacqueline “Jackie” de Bellefort. She was Simon Doyle’s former fiancée, whom he jilted when he met Linnet. Since their marriage, Jackie’s been following the newlyweds around and on the night of the murder, she actually shot Simon Doyle in the leg. The only problem is, Jackie has a watertight alibi; she was accompanied during the entire evening, so there was no time for her to commit the murder. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise, as is Colonel Race, another Christie sleuth. Between them, the two men uncover secrets that several people are keeping, and find out who killed Linnet Doyle.

In Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip, we meet Joey Perrone. She’s a former champion swimmer who’s married to Chaz Perrone, a marine scientist. Chaz has figure out a way to “doctor” water samples so that they won’t show toxic waste. That proves to be quite useful to business tycoon Red Hammernut. When Joey figures out what Chaz is doing, Chaz decides to deal with the problem once and for all. He arranges a cruise for the two of them, telling Joey that it’s a surprise anniversary present. Instead of romance, though, he throws her overboard. The hitch in Chaz’ plans comes when Joey doesn’t drown. She is saved by Mick Stranahan, a former investigator for Florida’s Office of the Attorney General. Between them, Joey and Mick concoct a plan to pay Chaz back for this attempted murder. They make him believe that someone saw him push his wife overboard. The resulting paranoia makes Chaz more and more unstable, which is the last thing Red Hammernut wants…

A Peaceful Country Trip

Surely a holiday in the country couldn’t be dangerous. Or could it? In Dorothy Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane are doing just that – taking a holiday in the country. It’s their honeymoon, and they’re spending it at Tallboys, a country home that Wimsey has purchased. When they arrive, though, they find the house closed up and no sign that they were expected. The reason becomes all too clear when they find the body of the former owner, William Noakes, in the basement. Now instead of a peaceful honeymoon, the newlyweds investigate a murder.

And of course, anyone who’s read Martin Edwards’ Lake District mysteries knows all too well that country life is not as safe as it seems. There are a lots of other crime fiction examples, too, that show just how dangerous a country holiday is.

With all of this danger about, maybe a holiday can wait. The workday world doesn’t seem so bad after all….

What do you think? Which holiday destinations have you enjoyed in crime fiction?

: The title of this post is a line from the Go-Gos' Vacation.


  1. I recall ONE holiday that was not at all adventurous. It is one of the Inspector Morse stories where he actually goes to the sea (don´t remember which story) but it is so boring and disappointing that he rushes back to Oxford before time to resume work again :D

  2. Dorte - Oh, thank you for reminding me of The Way Through the Woods :-). You are so right, too. Morse doesn't enjoy his stay there and ends up returning to Oxford. Folks, it's a good read...

  3. While exotic, China proved dangerous for Reg Wexford in Ruth Rendell's Speaker of Mandarin and equally so for Birgitta Roslin in Henning Mankell's The Man From Beijing.

  4. John - Ah, yes, China! You're right that it can be as dangerous as it is beautiful and exotic! Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch finds that out in 9 Dragons, too, if you include Hong Kong when you think of China.

  5. I love when Mrs. Marple went to the sea side in the novel: "Sleeping Murder". She finds herself involved in a case in a beautiful location.

    I also love it when she takes us on archeological digs and when she has a murder on a train.


  6. Clarissa - You are right; Miss Marple does her share of traveling, doesn't she? I almost mentioned At Bertarm's Hotel, too, but there's only so much space. I felt the same way about a couple of those noels where characters travel in the Middle East (e.g. Murder in Mesopotamia).

  7. When a group of friends get together for a nice little holiday at cosy wee Ottercombe one of them ends up rather dead in Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh. Not quite the break they expected!

    Roderick Alleyn also gets caught up in the odd murder when holidaying in New Zealand. He's drawn into a case when he happens to be on the same train with a theatrical troupe in Vintage Murder. So much for the holiday!

  8. Vanda - Oh, thank you for those wonderful Ngaio Marsh references! I'm annoyed with myself, because I'd meant to put Death at the Bar in this post and didn't. Lucky for me you mentioned it :-). And yes, Vintage Murder is another great example.

  9. Oh, and I forgot to mention Roderick Alleyn first meets his to be beloved Agatha Troy on a boat in Suva, Fiji, while returning from his holiday in Artists in Crime. That was one holiday worth taking!

  10. Vanda - Oh, I love it when you teach us about Ngaio Marsh :-). I feel I'm getting a real education, and I am grateful. And yes, that particular holiday is definitely worth the effort.

  11. Miss Marple first acts out as Nemesis on a Caribbean island, doesn't she? Then she holidays at Bertram's Hotel, and gets sent on that bus tour. For a stay at home lady, she does a lot of crime solving on holidays.
    Was or wasn't Sherlock Holmes on a holiday when he encounters the Lion's Mane? It did take place on a beach, but I am not sure how he got there.

    And there is that entire genre of mysteries set in country manor houses, where the murder takes place during a weekend where people are gathered there. Technically, they qualify as holiday mysteries, don't they?

  12. Rayna - You're right; Miss Marple does do her share of holdaying. First there's A Caribbean Myster. Then, she goes on that bus tour in Nemesis. Then yes, there's At Bertram's Hotel. She certainly does her share of traveling around.

    And you're right that The Lion's Mane takes place at the beach. That one takes place in Sussex, where Holmes is in retirement as a beekeeper when he gets caught up in a mystery. It doesn't happen while anyone is having a holiday, but it certainly takes place in a "holidayish" setting.

    I hadn't thought about people gathering at country houses as holidays, but you could certainly look at it that way. Holidays can be just a few days, or a long trip. Interesting point....

  13. Harry Bosch's Hong Kong trip was not very relaxing was it, Margot?! I like The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths from this point of view, although it is not exactly a holiday book, the seaside setting with the archaeology seemed very attractive.

  14. Great list of getaways here!

    I always loved the house party weekends...the country houses. Sounds like Rayna and I are on the same page with that! It was the first thing that came into my mind.

  15. Maxine - No, that trip to Hong Kong was anything but relaxing, wasn't it? Poor guy, he never seems to get much of a rest..

    And thanks for mentioning The Crossing Place. I love settings like that, too, and the archeology theme does add to the "scenery."

  16. Elizabeth - Thanks :-). You and Rayna certainly do seem to be on the same page. I agree: those house-party week-ends where anything can happen (and usually does) make for terrific crime fiction contexts. What I like about them is the group of disparate people they bring together. Delicious if what you want is character-suspense...

  17. That's it, next time I have a vacation I'm staying home. But then, I bet you can do a post on people who get murdered in bed, too. ;)

  18. Karen - LOL!!!! Oh, that's funny! Hmm.... you know, that's a great idea. Maybe I'll just do that ;-).