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Seven Suspenseful Novels In Which Paradise Is Not What It Seems


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Summer is coming, and mystery and thriller lovers are looking for that perfect beachy read to savor with an umbrella drink in hand. How about a story set in paradise?

Suspense novelists have long been attracted to idyllic settings. What is it about the concept of paradise that inspires dark fiction? Is it the vicarious joy of writing about white sand beaches and shimmering blue water? Is it the irresistible lure of an escape from reality? Or maybe we writers like the diabolical appeal of inflicting mayhem on a cast of unsuspecting tourists.

To me, the most appealing aspect of a writing a suspense novel set in paradise is the challenge of creating a story world where nothing is as it seems. Seaside vacation settings provide an immediate contrast between the sparkly promise of utopia and the sinister forces that inevitably throw someone’s best laid travel plans off course.

So if you’re looking for something to toss in the beach tote, the following suspense novels will take you from the white sands of the Caribbean isles to the windswept cliffs of New Zealand. Adventure awaits, but don’t expect a smooth trip.

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They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall

When Miriam Macy gets a surprise invitation to participate in a reality show on a luxurious private island in the Sea of Cortez, she jumps at the chance to get away from the mounting legal problems that have followed her messy divorce. She has barely stepped off the boat, however, when her dreams of fame and fortune are dashed, and she realizes she will be lucky to make it off the island alive. Guests begin turning up dead one after another. Isolated from help and with only her ingenuity and some ever-shifting alliances to save her, Miriam must figure out who is behind the murders or end up becoming the next victim.

Hall’s Anthony Award-nominated story is told with wit and dark humor, and her vivid writing makes you feel the steamy walls of the jungle closing in as the heroine struggles to make it through the survival game from hell.

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The Beach by Alex Garland 

The novel opens with Richard, a young backpacker in Thailand who stops at a low-budget guest house and discovers a map to a mysterious destination known as “the Beach.” Curious about the tropical utopia that is a legend among backpackers, Richard sets out with a young French couple to locate the forbidden island. They arrive to find pristine beaches, turquoise lagoons, and an idyllic community of other wayward travelers. The illusion of paradise is shattered as Richard discovers toxic relationships among the commune’s inhabitants and deadly forces lurking in the surrounding rainforest.

Dubbed by the Sunday Oregonian as “Generation X’s first great novel, The Beach inspired the 2000 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

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A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh

When a teen girl vanishes while jogging near New Zealand’s soaring cliffs, the quiet rural community of Golden Cove wants answers.

After returning to her coastal hometown, Anahera Rawiri gets pulled into the investigation of the girl’s disappearance by Will Gallagher, a veteran cop. Together, they unearth a string of secrets and deceptions that some Golden Cove residents desperately wanted to keep buried.

This noir mystery showcases Nalini Singh’s twisty prose and her talent for writing about the rugged beauty of New Zealand’s South Island. A Madness of Sunshine is a page-turner until the last shocking revelation.

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Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

 Bestselling author Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel revolves around an end-of-summer party in Malibu. The year is 1983, and everyone who is anyone among Southern California’s sun-kissed elites wants an invitation to the annual blowout at the cliffside home of the famous Riva family, whose members include a famous surfer, photographer, and supermodel. In a story deftly told through flashbacks and multiple viewpoints, Reid builds layer upon layer of suspense until the reader knows that when the fateful evening finally arrives, each key guest is on a collision course and the legendary party is destined to go up in flames.

Filled with eighties vernacular and throwback fashion, Reid gives us an entertaining glimpse into the storied Malibu surf scene of decades past.

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The Guest List by Lucy Foley

In another novel centered around a party, the characters in Lucy Foley’s The Guest List gather on an island off the coast of Ireland. There to celebrate the wedding of a magazine publisher and her TV celebrity groom, the guests are at first dazzled by luxury party favors and expensive booze. But the festive atmosphere evaporates when someone turns up dead and the guests find themselves cut off from outside communication and isolated on an island with a murderer.

Like a classic Agatha Christie novel, The Guest List is a locked-room mystery, complete with shifty characters, salacious secrets, and subtle clues for the seasoned mystery reader to piece together.

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The Reef by Nora Roberts

If you like a dash of romance with your mysteries, dive into The Reef, a novel set in the azure Caribbean waters near St. Kitts.

Marine archaeologist Tate Beaumont embarks on a real-life treasure hunt, determined to find a jeweled amulet known as Angelique’s Curse. Despite her initial misgivings, Tate reluctantly teams up with salvagers Matthew and Buck Lassiter. As they get closer to finding the priceless artifact, their plans are thwarted by shady people and long-submerged secrets from the Lassiters’ past.

With its dramatic island backdrop, The Reef is a classic romantic suspense novel by the wildly popular author who helped invent the genre.

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Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip opens with Joey Perrone plunging off the deck of a luxury cruise ship while cursing her husband. Joey survives her meticulously planned murder and—with the help of jaded former cop Mick Stranahan—embarks on a mission to get revenge that takes her to the Florida Everglades. On her quest, Joey encounters one zany twist after another until she finally gets her chance to even the score with her homicidal husband.

Hiaasen’s trademark dry humor and ecological story turns make this the perfect book to read on a lounge chair in the sand.

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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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