This week for the Tuesday Night Bloggers I will be sharing my favourite mystery novels which involve holidaying or travelling on various modes of transport. Some categories were definitely easier than others to decide and at the back of my mind I do have a nagging doubt that I have left some good ones out. Feel free to share your own favourites for these categories as it would be great to get some new book recommendations, especially for my final category on planes – I never realised how few I had actually read!
Top 5 Mysteries set on holidays/ trips abroad
- A Caribbean Mystery (1964) by Agatha Christie
I have a lot of fond memories of this book and Miss Marple makes an excellent sleuth for this particular case, disclosing the underlying tensions beneath the surface at the Caribbean resort she is staying at, along with dealing with the irascible and difficult Mr Rafiel and taking upon the role of Nemesis – an epitaph she comes to embody further in her later case Nemesis (1971). I liked how tension and suspense increase as further violence follows the death of Major Palgrave and it is just like Christie to plant the nucleus for a murder within one old man’s boring anecdotes.
2. Murder Begins at Home (1949) by Delano Ames
This was an even more delightful and funny follow up to Jane and Dagobert Brown’s debut case, She Shall Have Murder (1948) and is set in New Mexico, where the Browns are on a work/holiday trip.
3. The Cat Screams (1934) by Todd Downing
US Customs Agent, Hugh Rennert ends up investigating a number of puzzling deaths which are seemingly natural, accidental or suicides, whilst on holiday in Mexico. Definitely an enjoyable read and Downing intertwines Mexican culture into the Rennert’s investigation, which makes for an interesting case.
4. Appointment with Death (1938) by Agatha Christie
Another Christie novel, this time set in Jerusalem and Petra. I enjoyed the solution to this one, which definitely surprised me and I think the psychology and personalities of the suspects are an important feature in Poirot’s case which he solves in 24 hours and through the tool of conversation. Since I enjoy character focused novels this was a good read for me.
5. Tour de Force (1955) by Christianna Brand
It has been a while since I have read this novel, but I enjoyed the twists and surprises Brand pulls in this case where Inspector Cockrill investigates a stabbing on a Mediterranean island whilst on holiday.
Top 5 Mysteries set on holidays/ trips within the UK
- Evil Under the Sun (1941) by Agatha Christie
This Christie novel shows that murderous holidays don’t just happen abroad and is set in Devon. I think the sheer audacity of the criminal plot in this book impressed me a lot and I liked how Christie played around with social conventions.
2. Westmorland Alone (2016) by Ian Sansom
This is the third in Ian Sansom’s County Guides series and like the others sees the central trio on another work related trip, this time to Appleby in Cumbria. This was definitely a good read and I liked how some of the characters deepened and in some ways became darker.
3. The Singing Sands (1952) by Josephine Tey
Alan Grant is on sick leave from Scotland Yard and is travelling to Scotland for a well-earned holiday. But on finding a dead man on his train, who has a cryptic note, this holiday becomes the busman’s variety as Grant unravels the mystery behind the corpse. This is possibly my favourite Tey novel and doing this post has made me want to re-read it.
4. Have His Carcase (1932) by Dorothy L. Sayers
Harriet Vane, like Alan Grant is on a recuperative holiday, though she is not needing recuperation from work, but from her experience of being put on trial for murder. Yet also like Grant, it doesn’t take long for her to come across a dead man during her hiking holiday at Wilvercombe. The changing relationship between Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey was enjoyably written, yet does not interrupt the puzzle-clue aspect of the book.
5. Mystery in White (1938) by J. Jefferson Farjeon
This Christmas mystery is my favourite novel by Farjeon which I have read to date. It begins with a train laden with passengers making trips, yet their plans are thwarted by snow and murder! I think this story showcases Farjeon’s skills as a writer best, as he is able to provide an interesting mystery to solve which is not undermined, but enhanced by his skills in writing thrillers.
Top 5 Mysteries set on/ involving a Boat
- Murder on the Leviathan (1998) by Boris Akunin
Akunin is one of my favourite writers and this is his excellent take on Golden Age detective fiction, set in 1878 and located on the boat the Leviathan, which is heading to places such as Bombay and Japan. Within the first class passengers is a murderer, who is prepared to kill and manipulate to hide their identity as such. The boat setting is used to great effect as the passengers get on each other’s nerves due to being so confined and this setting also provides for a dramatic ending.
2. Herring on the Nile (2011) by L. C. Tyler
This novel is the fourth Elsie and Ethelred novel which humorously writes back to Christie’s novel Death on the Nile (1937). Like in its predecessor death strikes, yet unfortunately for the passengers they don’t have Hercule Poirot to solve the case but third rate author, Ethelred and his chocolate chomping literary agent. Definitely an entertaining read.
3. Death on the Nile (1937) by Agatha Christie
Another great read from Agatha Christie with a cruise down the river Nile turning into everyone’s worst nightmare as the bodies begin to mount. Again the audacity of the criminal plan is spectacular, though for some this has made them question the plausibility of the scheme. I enjoyed reading it though with its wonderful array of characters.
4. The Widow’s Cruise (1959) by Nicholas Blake
This is the 13th novel in Blake’s Nigel Strangeways series and Nigel along with his partner, Claire are on a cruise around the Greek Islands. There is quite an enjoyable twist at the end of the book which I enjoyed and the Nigel/Claire dynamic works well.
5. The Man in the Brown Suit (1924) by Agatha Christie
An early Christie this time and although this book is not set on a boat the whole time, there is a significant boat journey for Anne Beddingfield as she travels to Cape Town, which she is doing due to coming across a number of unusual circumstances in London. It is during her boat journey that she meets the rest of the characters involved in the central mystery and the first impressions she gets of people here (some of which are erroneous) stay with her for better or worse for quite a while.
Through the course of compiling this list I came across the fact that there have been at least 2 mystery novels set on board the boat, Lusitania – one by Conrad Allen (who seems to have written more boat based mysteries) and one by Max Allan Collins. They sounded quite interesting but I was wondering if anybody had read either of them and whether they would recommend them or not?
Top 5 Mysteries set on/ involving a Train
I know a few people will be surprised that I have not included Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on Train (1950). Whilst the initial premise of two people meeting on a train ultimately murdering for each other was interesting, I didn’t really enjoy the book as a whole.
- The Murder on the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie
An obvious choice I know, but it was one of the first Christie novels I read and it certainly hooked me. The characters were engaging and I particularly enjoyed the atmosphere Christie creates within the confines of the train, which is trapped by snow. The unconventional execution of justice at the end also intrigued me in my early days of crime fiction reading.
2. The Wheel Spins (1936) by Ethel Lina White
This is another great read and I liked how the tension mounts as Iris Carr continually tries to prove, against a mounting wall of opposition, that she is not mad and that a woman on the train has vanished. The absurdity of her assertion is emphasised by the train location as many of the other passengers are baffled as to where a woman could disappear on a moving train.
3. Murder on Tour (1933) by Todd Downing
Although the novel starts out in Mexico, the latter half of the story occurs on a train ride back across the border and adds an element of pressure onto US Customs Agent Rennert as he has to be able to identify the killer before the train gets to its destination. Another enjoyable read, which implies train journeys can be hazardous for your health (especially when there is a killer on board).
4. 4:50 from Paddington (1957) by Agatha Christie
Train journeys open this story and I liked the novelty of how Mrs. McGillicuddy witnessed the first murder. This story emphasises the anonymity trains can give would be murderers being ‘full of strangers coming and going.’
5. The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928) by Agatha Christie
I will admit I was struggling for a final candidate for this list but although this Christie novel is not one of my favourites, I still think it has a lot of recommend for itself. Death strikes again on a train and although the police think there is one obvious suspect, Poirot thinks suspicion could be cast on to several others. The final solution was satisfying and was definitely a surprise for me, re-interpreting evidence which seemingly damned others.
Top 3 Mysteries where a plane plays an intrinsic role
- Wings Above Diamantina (1936) by Arthur Upfield
I think my primary reason for selecting this as my first choice (combined with my overall enjoyment of the novel) was that I enjoyed the originality of using a plane to murder someone and make it look like an accident.
2. Death in the Clouds (1935) by Agatha Christie
Planes do not feature in many Christie novels (Destination Unknown (1954) is the only other one I can think of at the moment), with boats and trains being preferred, but the criminal’s daring in this story is immense and this is another Christie novel where the murderer’s plan relies on human nature and assumptions.
3. Death of an Airman (1934) by Christopher St John Sprigg
Set at an aerodrome, planes certainly feature a lot in this murder mystery, with another plane crash used to murder someone in a manner which appears accidental. This was less of a surprise for me as due to the setting it was kind of expected. Although I did enjoy the finale where the amateur sleuth has to battle for their life in the air. But I suppose the reason for this novel taking only third place in my list is that there were other aspects of the novel that I didn’t enjoy, such as the negligible role of the amateur sleuth in the story.
Over To You
So there we have it. Hopefully you’ll have been reminded of some books you enjoyed and some you might want to try out. I’ll be interested to read any suggestions for other novels which could have been included, especially for the final category. Are there any detective novels which take place purely in an aeroplane?