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Lucy Foley on Her Favourite Fiction Set in Hotels

Posted on 5th June 2024 by Anna Orhanen

Taking the readers for an unfogettable stay at an old manor house-turned-hotel on the Dorset coast, The Midnight Feast is the page-turning new book from the bestselling author of the former Waterstones Thrillers of the Month The Hunting Party and The Guest List. In this exclusive piece, Foley talks about her new thriller and the allure of hotel-set fiction, sharing her top five choices.

I chose a hotel for the backdrop of my new murder mystery, The Midnight Feast, because of the wonderful opportunities it presented me as a setting. The Manor is a luxurious countryside retreat on the Dorset coast, built on ancient secrets, with something sinister stirring in the nearby woods and the local community are up in arms about the influx of wealthy Londoners in their midst. I wanted it to seem both like somewhere you might genuinely want to stay, yet to feel increasingly oppressive as the action unspools. 

All hotels are worlds unto themselves, tiny universes that follow their own rules and logic. In a murder mystery setting, practically speaking, a hotel ringfences the characters and provides a stage upon which the drama can play out, slightly elevated and separate from the ordinary world. Hotels also provide a modern formulation of the upstairs/ downstairs dynamic so beloved of the whodunnit, a forum in which class tensions can be put under the microscope. And yet they’re also, in another sense, oddly democratic: anyone can stay in a hotel (so long as they can afford the price of a stay!) and become a different or improved version of themselves, freed from the baggage of ordinary life.

It’s always made sense to me that when Agatha Christie famously disappeared during a very difficult period in her life she turned up in a luxury hotel under a new name, almost as though she had stepped out of her own identity and into that of an entirely new character.

Hotels provide ample possibilities for transformation and disguise. There’s also a wonderful doll’s house/puzzle box element to hotels in books: the idea of peering inside this microcosm of life, learning all the secrets spaces and back corridors, the strange goings on within.

For further reading, I recommend checking out (or checking into?) the following: 

The Shining by Stephen King 

An empty, grand hotel nestled in the Colorado mountains, cut off from civilisation in the harsh months… What I love about this horrifying, brilliant book is the way in which the building becomes so vividly a character – responding to and then transforming the protagonist, Jack Torrance, a writer who has moved in with his family to caretake the place over the winter. 

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One of King’s most famous novels is also one of his most chilling; the spine-tingling story of a hotel caretaker driven to monstrous insanity by supernatural forces.
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At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie 

There’s something deliciously creepy about the portrayal of the hotel in this Miss Marple mystery: the fact that everything seems a little too perfect, the hotel staff a little too efficient and eager to please, some of the guests appearing so much like the ‘types’ they represent that it’s like they’re playing a part – even the crumpets in the tea room are described as somehow too delicious, too buttery. Without giving too much away, it is indeed all too good to be true and something sinister is stirring beneath the highly polished surface of things. 

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This deliciously twisty and evocative mystery from the Queen of Crime finds Miss Marple staying at a grand London hotel filled with eclectic guests, tensions and dangerous secrets.
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The Maid by Nita Prose 

Apparently Florence Pugh will soon be bringing Molly the maid to our screens, but I’d definitely recommend reading the wonderful book first. It’s set in the fictional Regency Grand Hotel, peopled by a colourful cast of characters of which many (guests and staff alike) are keeping secrets. The action starts with the discovery that a wealthy guest has been murdered in one of the most luxurious suites, and the neurodivergent Molly becomes both lead suspect and detective in this absorbing mystery. The sequel, The Mystery Guest, is top of my TBR pile.

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Boasting a formidable amateur sleuth in Molly the maid, Prose’s captivating whodunit is a page-turning tour around the Regency Grand Hotel in search of a cold-blooded killer.
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Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier 

Skullduggery and dark goings-on abound in this gothic tale set in the eponymous inn on isolated Bodmin Moor. The hotel, which at first seems like a sanctuary, quickly reveals itself to be anything but and the Cornish setting is richly evoked – even the mist that rolls across the moorland seems like a devious co-conspirator. There’s also a brilliantly awful gut punch of a twist towards the end of the book. 

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Shrouded in chilling suspense, de Maurier's gothic masterwork centres on a young woman whose mother's final wishes take her to a mysterious inn in the brooding Cornish moorlands.
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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles 

In this gorgeously written book (to be honest I’d happily read Amor Towles’ shopping list), a hotel becomes a gilded cage for former aristocrat Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who is sentenced to live out his days within the walls of the Metropol. It’s no easy ask, maintaining the reader’s interest in a plot set almost entirely within one building, but Towles creates a rich and absorbing world full of intrigue and life – and allows us to spend time in the company of one of modern fiction’s most charming characters.   

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Both an exquisite comic masterpiece and a profound meditation on the actions and emotions that give life purpose, A Gentleman in Moscow views the events unfolding in the decades after the Russian Revolution through the eyes of a Russian aristocrat under house arrest in the attic of the opulent Hotel Metropol.
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