I was going to focus on Christmas themed murder mysteries, but most of them seem to be set in the northern hemisphere in cold snowscapes, and whilst I love a chilling thriller, they don’t seem quite right for an Australian Christmas. Especially given we’ve not really had any summer yet! So to tempt the sun to come out I’m going to go for sizzling thrillers for Christmas.
The heat takes us to exotic and faraway places. Hot weather as a narrative device puts us on edge, invites lawlessness, builds pressure and mind altering ominous undertones. Heat is oppressive and invites tension and conflict. And that’s before any characters are even introduced! Throw in the frayed nerves and sweaty palms of fermenting humans and the tension (whether it be sexual or savage) can be of gothic proportions. Here’s a few hot reads from some femme fatales.
A Fatal Inversion (1987) by Barbara Vine (ada Ruth Rendell)
Whilst burying a pet dog in the animal cemetery at Suffolk country property, Wyvis Hall, the owner stumbles across the skeletal remains of a woman and baby. Ten years earlier a group of young people spent the sweltering 1976 summer at the property after nineteen year old Adam inherited it from his great-uncle and decided to make it a commune. The story plays out beneath the tension of who will break first to reveal what really happened that sweltering summer.
The Dry (2016) by Jane Harper
What sweaty reading list would be without an Australian rural mystery? I have written about The Dry set in a small drought riddled outback town before.
Tangerine (2018) by Christine Mangan
Former college roommates, Alice Shipley and Lucy Mason reunite in the simmering heat of Tangier in 1956. Then Alice’s husband goes missing. Tangerine is a vivid, precisely plotted story about obsession and manipulation told from the perspective of two equally unreliable narrators. It’s like watching a spider lure its prey into a web.
Hard Rain (2020) by Irma Venter
Journalist Alex meets photographer Ranna whilst on assignment in Tanzania and the two start a sizzling push-pull romance. Things get sticky when the body of an IT billionaire washes up onshore in the hot humidity of a flood and Ranna becomes a suspect.
Mexican Gothic (2020) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Noemi is a rich, glamorous party girl with an interest in anthropology living in Mexico City in the 1950s. She goes to High Place to check on her newly wed cousin after receiving a disturbing letter saying her cousin thinks she is being poisoned. Creepy, unsettling and intoxicating feminist post colonial horror novel set in a haunted house on a hill.
The Castaways (2020) by Lucy Clarke
A thrilling action packed survival story that plays with the past and present, set on the pristine beaches of humid Fiji. Two sisters fall out just before a planned vacation to Fiji. Only one goes and the plane she is on disappears without a trace. The surviving sister decides to go to Fiji to try and find out what happened. This is a story about solving a mystery, family dynamics and survivor guilt. Perfect Christmas reading!
Have a great break, see you on the other side.