There is nothing that I love better than curling up with a good page-turning mystery (especially in the fall) and I particularly love one that whisks me away to an interesting place!
These mysteries, thrillers and spooky novels with a strong sense of place are perfect for reading around Halloween, during the fall season or really any time of the year.
This list is made up almost entirely of books that I have read over the years although there are a few that I have in my TBR stack and I’ll add to the list as I read more books that I enjoy.
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1. One by One by Ruth Ware
Setting: French Alps
The cofounder of a trendy London-based tech start-up organizes a corporate retreat for the team at a ski chalet high in the French Alps planning a few days of strategy sessions alongside bonding on the slopes. Tension begins to simmer among employees as a contentious buyout offer is made by a shareholder and then a devastating avalanche leaves the group along with a chef and housekeeper cut off from access to the rest of the world. Panic mounts as they wait for rescue and their numbers dwindle one by one.
A classic closed room mystery set amidst the luxury of a mountain chalet with occupants trapped by heavy snow and a dangerous avalanche. Goodreads reviews vary on whether One by One is as good as the author’s other thrillers – readers seem to love it or hate it. This is the only book that I have read by Ruth Ware though and I found it suspenseful – I stayed up far too late in the night finishing it!
2. Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins
Setting: A South Pacific Island
Lux McAllister and her boyfriend are hired in Hawaii to sail two young women who want to travel off the beaten path to a remote island in the South Pacific. After several days at sea, they arrive at Meroe Island – a paradise of sandy beaches and a mysterious history – only to discover a catamaran owned by a wealthy couple already anchored there.
The group settles into off-grid life on the exotic island until a stranger shows up and it soon becomes apparent that everyone hasn’t been honest about their pasts or why they’re on this island. When one person goes missing and another turns up dead, Lux begins to wonder if any of them will get off the island alive.
A bunch of twenty-somethings are vacationing on a remote, deserted island in the South Pacific when things take a sinister turn. This is a quick, easy read and I binged it in one evening because I knew I wouldn’t sleep if I didn’t know how it turned out. I was able to predict the plot twist several chapters before it happened and the ending of the book is preposterous but still an entertaining read and a gorgeous setting.
3. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Setting: Bath, England
In Jane Austen’s first full-length novel, innocent young Catherine Morland leaves her rural home to spend a few weeks with a family friend in Bath. While in Bath, she meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets her imagination get carried away as she becomes suspicious that some terrible secret is being hidden in the shadows of Northanger Abbey.
Published posthumously, Northanger Abbey is a coming-of-age story with the social commentary that Jane Austen is known for but it’s also a clever satire or parody of the Gothic novels that were so popular at the time.
4. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Perhaps you have seen the movie starring Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, but The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith is a psychological crime thriller worth reading as well. Originally published in 1955, this was actually the first of five novels that Highsmith wrote featuring the Tom Ripley character that is considered to be one of fiction’s great anti-heroes.
Tom Ripley is hired by a wealthy Manhattan businessman to travel on an all expenses paid trip to Italy and bring back his wayward son, Dickie Greenleaf. It doesn’t take long for Tom to become charmed by the lifestyle that playboy Dickie is living in beautiful European settings – a lifestyle that Tom Ripley thinks he deserves as well. Ripley wants to be Dickie Greenleaf and Highsmith takes the reader on a dark and violent journey into the mind of this sociopath who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
5. Still Life by Louise Penny
Setting: Québec, Canada
In Still Life, bestselling author Louise Penny introduces the character Armand Gamache and the award-winning Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery series which is now up to 18 books in 2023.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in the rural village of Three Pines south of Montréal. A woman has been found dead in the woods and the locals believe it’s a tragic hunting accident but Gamache senses that there is something far more sinister afoot.
This is a great mystery series that is set in Montréal, Québec City and a fictional village in the Eastern Townships of Québec just north of the U.S. border. If you’re familiar with the locations then you will recognize some of the places in the book and if you’re not then you might be inspired to plan a Québec vacation.
I started this series with the 6th book Bury Your Dead because of the Québec Winter Carnival setting and loved it so had to go back and start from the beginning. My husband is also a fan having read almost the entire series in French to brush up on his language skills!
6. The Villa by Rachel Hawkins
Setting: Orvieto, Italy
Two childhood best friends, Emily and Chess, spend the summer together at a villa in Orvieto, Italy that was the scene of a murder in the 1970s. The story is told in a dual timeline narrative alternating between Emily and Chess’s present day stay where they are both working on writing books and the 1974 sex/drugs/rock and roll summer at the villa that culminated in murder as well as the writing of a classic horror novel and a bestselling album.
Spending the summer at a luxurious Italian villa like this is a dream but I would prefer a stay that was a little less eventful! I would describe The Villa as more slow burn drama/suspense than thriller and it’s another book that has mixed reviews on Goodreads. It has an incredible setting and it’s an entertaining read but I was a bit disappointed by the ending – I thought I had it figured out and my ending would have been much more shocking!
7. A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
Setting: London, England
Lady Sherlock is another mystery series that I started out of order having first read the 7th and most recent installment (A Tempest at Sea) in the Victorian-era mystery series featuring a gender-swapped Sherlock Holmes (and Watson) a few months ago. I enjoyed it so much that I decided I needed to start at the beginning of the series and read A Study in Scarlet Women.
Charlotte Holmes is a young woman with a brilliant mind who couldn’t abide by the limitations placed on her as a female member of the upper classes so took action to gain her independence. Unfortunately, It didn’t go to plan and Charlotte is cast out from society and must fend for herself on the streets of London. As Sherlock Holmes, she becomes involved in the investigation of a trio of unexpected deaths which initially do not seem to be connected.
A Study in Scarlet Women brings to life the streets of Victorian-era London – very atmospheric! The book is well-written and the mystery interesting, albeit with a rather disturbing conclusion.
8. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
A mother’s life is shattered one rainy afternoon when her young son slips from her grasp and runs into the street. In the aftermath of the accident, Jenna Gray moves to a ramshackle cottage on the remote Welsh coast where she tries to escape the memory of what happened that day while a pair of police officers from Bristol continue to investigate the hit and run.
It has been a few years since I read this psychological thriller but I still remember it well. The book is very atmospheric and captures the remote beauty of the coast of Wales so well. It also has more than one unforgettable twist!
9. The Guest List by Lucy Foley
Guests gather to celebrate a wedding on a remote island off the rugged coast of Ireland but as the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the well-wishes – and then someone turns up dead.
This atmospheric thriller was both a Reese’s Book Club pick and a New York Times bestseller as well as the winner of a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Mystery & Thriller (2020). I have this on my TBR list but it has everything I love in a suspenseful read – a remote “locked room” location and a moody Ireland setting – a country which I absolutely love!
10. The Lost Man by Jane Harper
Setting: Australian (Queensland) outback
Brothers Nathan and Bub Bright meet for the first time in months when the third brother, Cameron, is found dead at the fence line separating their cattle ranches in the remote Australian outback. In this isolated belt of Australia, their homes are three hours apart and the brothers are each other’s closest neighbours. While they grieve Cameron’s loss, suspicion starts to take hold because if someone forced Cameron to his death, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects.
A suspenseful story set against a formidable landscape from bestselling and award-winning author, Jane Harper. Harper uses the setting in the heat and isolation of the outback to great advantage to create atmosphere in this slow-paced murder mystery that is also a story about families.
11. Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March
Setting: Bombay (now Mumbai), India
Based on a true story, Captain Jim Agnihotri channels his idol Sherlock Holmes to solve a mystery in 19th century Bombay. Recovering in a military hospital, Captain Jim is browsing the daily papers when a case that is being called the crime of the century catches his attention. Two women fell from the university clock tower in broad daylight in an apparent suicide but the family is certain that the women were attacked and hire the captain to investigate.
The first in the Captain Jim and Lady Diana Mysteries series, this debut historical crime novel set in 19th century Bombay was nominated for numerous awards including an Edgar Award for best first novel by the Mystery Writers of America when it was published in 2020. I have this on hold at the library since I love books set in India so it will be my next mystery read.
12. The Club by Ellery Lloyd
Setting: Resort off coast of England
If you enjoy a slow-burn, locked-room mystery then you’ll enjoy this novel that was one of Reese Witherspoon’s book club picks. The Club takes place on an island off the coast of England which is accessed by a causeway and cut off from the mainland at high tide. Island Home is the latest exclusive club for the glamorous and super-wealthy operated by the Home Group which is owned by brothers Ned and Adam Groom and the grand opening is a weekend long event to be attended by the elite of Home members.
The story opens with two unnamed people trying to flee the island as the tide rises and then four narrators (Adam Groom, Jess the new head of Housekeeping, Nikki who is Ned Groom’s Personal Assistant and Annie who is head of Membership at Home Group) slowly lay out what happened over the club’s opening weekend. Their accounts are interspersed with excerpts from an article in Vanity Fair magazine about the tragedy that transpired that weekend titled Murder on the Island.
I would classify The Club as more of a mystery than a thriller as the deaths don’t take place until the very end and the guests aren’t really aware of what’s happening until then so there isn’t really any building of fear/suspense. This wasn’t really what I was expecting but still a reasonably good read for me. What I enjoyed most was the sense of being cut off from the mainland during high tide – that alone created the atmosphere for me!
13. The Blue Bar by Damyanti Biswas
Setting: Mumbai, India
After years of dancing in Mumbai’s bars, Tara Mondal accepts a client’s offer of a large amount of money for her to walk through a crowded railway station wearing a blue-sequined saree. It was the last time anyone saw Tara. Thirteen years later, Tara’s lover, Chief Inspector Arnav Singh Rajput, is still grappling with her disappearance while investigating a serial killer who leaves behind a scattering of blue sequins.
The Blue Bar is the first book in the Blue Mumbai thriller series by Damyanti Biswas which is set on the gritty streets of Mumbai, India. I recently read the second in the series, The Blue Monsoon, and loved the vivid descriptions of Mumbai so plan to go back and read the first book now.
Thank you to NetGalley and Damyanti Biswas for providing a copy of The Blue Monsoon for review consideration. All opinions are my own.
14. The Island by Catherine Cooper
Setting: The Maldives
A select group of influencers and journalists receive an exclusive invitation to a brand-new luxury resort in the Maldives to get the pre-opening scoop and rave about the place online. It seems like the ultimate press trip until the island is cut off during a storm and people start dying.
Could this psychological thriller be set in a more glamorous location? A twisty page-turner set in the ultimate beach paradise – count me in!
The Island is currently available as an audiobook or on Kindle but won’t be published in paperback until March 2024
15. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Setting: Istanbul, luxury train
Passengers, including Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, board the famous Orient Express in Istanbul for the journey back to Paris but the luxury train is stopped due to heavy snowfall that has drifted onto the tracks. By the following morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside and Hercule Poirot must find the murderer among the train’s passengers before he or she can strike again.
It has been quite a few years since I read Murder on the Orient Express but it’s one of those Agatha Christie masterpieces that I will never forget. I almost wish that I could just to have the pleasure of reading it again and being completely shook by the conclusion!
16. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
In the first book of the Millennium series of Swedish crime novels, a crusading journalist named Mikael Blomkvist is hired to investigate the 40 year-old disappearance of a young woman from one of Sweden’s wealthiest families by the woman’s octogenarian uncle who has always believed that she was murdered. Blomkvist is assisted in his investigation by Lisbeth Salander, a 24 year-old pierced and tattooed hacker, and the two of them uncover an astonishing web of crime and corruption.
I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for book club years ago and quickly sped through the second and third books as well. Larsson had completed three books of a planned 10 book series and those were published posthumously. Two other authors wrote the remaining books in the series featuring Salander and Blomkvist but I haven’t read any of those. There is a lot of graphic violence which I generally avoid in books but I couldn’t put this down.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a riveting page-turner that became a publishing sensation selling 100 million copies worldwide and became a blockbuster film as well. Much of the book is set in Stockholm in the trendy island district of Sodermalm where both Blomkvist and Salander live and many places mentioned in the book are authentic. There are even Millennium tours of Stockholm that you can take on a visit to the city!
17. Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton
Setting: New Zealand
The novel opens with an earthquake and series of landslides that cut off access to a town near Korowai National Park where the recently knighted Sir Owen Darvish and his wife, own a large piece of rural property. Mira, the idealistic de facto head of the Birnam Wood gardening collective, sees this as an opportunity to plant a garden on some of Sir Owen’s property and while scouting it has a chance encounter with American billionaire, Robert Lemoine, who tells her that he has bought the property to build a luxury underground bunker.
Lemoine offers substantial funding to Birnam Wood and Mira along with her best friend, Shelley, and the majority of the collective members see this as a great opportunity for the organization. Everyone that is except Tony Gallo, a former member and would-be investigative journalist, who thinks that the deal violates their core values and who is also determined to get to the bottom of what Lemoine is up to on the Darvish property in Thorndike.
This is a complex literary thriller set in a fictional New Zealand town but the reader gets a good sense of the country’s landscape. The novel starts off slow, gradually builds and finishes with a bang while touching on important issues relating to the environment, contemporary politics, technology and capitalism while also considering more personal issues such as betrayal and the individual struggle to make moral choices.
Birnam Wood is a page-turner but it’s also a challenging read partly because it includes a fair bit of philosophical/political discussion as well as technical information but also because it’s 423 pages long divided into three sections without chapter breaks. It’s worth the effort but won’t be for everyone. I was completely absorbed and couldn’t put it down – it’s a memorable read with a conclusion that’s worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy!
18. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
Setting: English village
The peaceful English village of King’s Abbot is stunned. A widow dies from an overdose and not twenty-four hours later, Roger Ackroyd – the man she had planned to marry – is murdered. It is a baffling case involving blackmail and death that taxes Hercule Poirot’s “little grey cells” before he reaches one of the most startling conclusions of his career.
This is another Agatha Christie novel that I read as a teenager but will never forget. It’s also one of my favourite Hercule Poirot mysteries and nobody writes small English villages (peaceful until interrupted by murder) quite like Dame Christie!
19. Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker
Setting: Dordogne, France
Benoît Courrèges, known as Bruno, is a former soldier turned policeman (the only one) in a small village in the Dordogne region of southwestern France who has embraced the pleasures and slow rhythms of country life. But then an elderly North African man who fought in the French army is found murdered with a swastika carved in his chest.
Due to the political ramifications of the case, a young police officer is sent from Paris to assist in the investigation. She and Bruno suspect anti-immigrant militants at first but as they untangle the man’s past it becomes clear that there might be a more complex motive involved.
This is the first in a series (now numbering 17 books) featuring Bruno, Chief of Police, set in a small village in the south of France. I love a good mystery series and this one appeals to me because of the setting – I haven’t visited Dordogne yet but I love the south of France and would read anything set there!
20. Murder in the Marais by Cara Black
Setting: Paris, France
Aimée Leduc is a private investigator in Paris who opts to focus on tech investigations rather than criminal cases and is approached by an elderly Jewish man with a job on behalf of a woman in his synagogue. When Aimée drops off her findings at her client’s house in the Marais, Paris’ historic Jewish quarter, she finds the woman strangled with a swastika carved on her forehead and is drawn into an investigation of the brutal murder.
This is the first book in the Aimée Leduc Investigation series where each case/book is set in a different neighbourhood of Paris. I have read a lot of books set in Paris but most of them are romance or historical fiction so reading a mystery series set in the City of Light appeals to me as a nice change of pace.
21. When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole
Setting: Brooklyn, New York
Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighbourhood is changing – condos are sprouting like weeds, homes are for sale and the neighbours she’s known all her life are disappearing. Sydney decides to channel her frustration into a walking tour but the historical research that she and her new neighbour, Theo, conduct gives rise to paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.
This gripping psychological thriller about the gentrification of a Brooklyn neighbourhood sounds like it has a great sense of place. I haven’t been to Brooklyn (unless you count walking the Brooklyn Bridge) and I’m not sure if this book blurb makes me want to visit or stay away!
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