by Rachel Rhys
Dramatic scenery: check. Diverse group of random strangers: check. Rising tension: check. Claustrophobia: check. No escape: check.
Can there be any more perfect setting for a thriller than on board a ship, thrown upon the company of people you don’t know, at the mercy of the elements with no means of getting away? All the ingredients are there for the ultimate locked-room mystery. No wonder so many crime writers over the years have chosen to set sail into the murky waters of Nautical Noir.
My new book, A Dangerous Crossing, takes place almost entirely on an ocean liner travelling from London to Australia. When the ship finally docks in Sydney after five and a half weeks at sea a woman is led off in handcuffs and we know something truly terrible has happened. But what? And to whom? I loved writing it, but it was far from plain sailing and by the time I finished I felt like I too had been penned up on that boat with those characters, unable to get off.
A Dangerous Crossing follows in a grand tradition of sea-faring mysteries, including:
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Christie was the undisputed queen of the locked room drama, where a group of characters are thrown together with no means of escape and nasty things ensue. In this book, a wealthy newly-wed heiress is murdered on board a luxury cruiser travelling down the River Nile. Luckily renowned detective Hercule Poirot is amongst the other passengers. But how can he narrow down a suspect when everyone, it seems, has a motive?
Singing in the Shrouds by Ngaio Marsh
The amazingly prolific New Zealand–born writer chose to set her twentieth Roderick Alleyn mystery on a cargo ship ominously named Cape Farewell. Gathered on board are a motley group of characters, one of whom is a serial killer with a penchant for strangling his female victims, showering them with flower petals and then walking away, singing. Can Alleyn work out who it is before he kills – and sings – again?
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
It sounded like the assignment of a lifetime – a week on an exclusive luxury cruise in the North Sea. But when travel journalist Lo Blacklock witnesses a woman being thrown overboard from a neighbouring cabin, the dream job turns into the stuff of nightmares. Particularly when the boat’s owner and crew insist the woman never existed in the first place. Ware’s unreliable narrator must choose whether to go with the flow and accept the official explanation, or put her own life at risk by swimming against the tide.
Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard
After Adam Dunne’s girlfriend disappears during a business trip to Spain, his search for answers leads him to a luxury Cruise ship called the Celebrate, which ferries passengers between Barcelona and Nice. When he discovers another woman went missing from the same ship in similar circumstances the year before, he realises he’s adrift in very dangerous waters.
Day Four by Sarah Lotz
When a ship is called The Beautiful Dreamer, you know there’s something ugly looming on the horizon. Things start to go wrong in Lotz’s Lord of the Flies-style thriller when a cut-price cruise ship becomes stranded in the Gulf of Mexico on the fourth day of its voyage. Food supplies dwindle, a virulent norovirus breaks out, and then a dead body is found. Worse things happen at sea, apparently – and most of them on this boat!
What are your favourite sea-faring mysteries? Let us know in the comments below!