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Evil Under the Sun: A Spine-tingling Selection of Sun Soaked Thrillers

Posted on 17th June 2019 by Mark Skinner

Whilst we all love a shadowy urban noir, as July rolls around there is nothing like reading about dastardly deeds carried out in the bright glare of the summer sun. The best thriller writers can transport us to exotic locations, whose enticing difference can hide a wealth of dark secrets and unsavoury shenanigans. From the bohemian glamour of the French Riviera to the vivacious exuberance of the Caribbean, the beaches and resorts of the world’s most idyllic destinations have played host to fictional murder most foul, and psychological duals of terrifying intensity.

Yet great summer thrillers are not confined to crimes committed in far-flung foreign climes. The leafy glades and glistening rivers of Albion are also conducive to a spot of sinister activity. As the temperature rises in the barometer, the narrative follows suit; the oppressive heat and sun-stroked giddiness tempting characters to indulge in nefarious practices they would ordinarily think twice about.

So, take another poolside sip of Martini, or quaff a little Pimms from the shade of the garden bench, because the list below contains all the literary thrills you need for the next few months. Remember, sometimes the hottest weather can bring the greatest chills.   

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Tom Ripley, charming yet petulant, reckless yet calculating, is one of the great literary anti-heroes, and his shocking actions across the jet-set Europe of the 1950s have thrilled and appalled millions of voracious readers.
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With a claustrophobic atmosphere as oppressive as the North African heat, Tangerine channels Highmsith and du Maurier with a serpentine story of obsession and control played out in the medinas and backstreets of 1950s Tangier. Sticky with suspense and psychological power games, Mangan’s first novel is a modern classic in the making.
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Set during a sultry summer in 1969, Bitter Orange evokes lazy, sun-dappled hedonism punctured by jealousy and deceit, in a skilfully woven tapestry of rich, sensual prose.
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Based on true events, Flint’s shimmering account of the murder of two young children during a New York heatwave is both unbearably suspenseful and highly affecting. Combining the taut storytelling of a police procedural with a study of social convention and the expectations placed upon women in the 1960s, Little Deaths is a haunting literary thriller to be devoured in a single sitting.
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Casting Poirot and Marple to one side, the Queen of Crime embarks upon another exotic spy thriller with this tale of international chicanery in the heart of the Middle East. Written with the same jigsaw precision as her murder mysteries, They Came to Baghdad pits a plucky heroine against shady international super-villains in a gloriously escapist read.
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Sharp, menacing and darkly funny, this first novel from Nigerian author Oyinkan Braithwaite is a breathe of fresh air. Not just an inventive take on the serial-murder thriller, the novel is also a tender examination of sibling relationships in an oppressively patriarchal society; a story that turns the tables on the woman-as-victim trope. An addictive - and hugely satisfying - read.
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Crackling with sun-kissed suspense and the twisted eroticism of small town America, Lippman’s brightly lit noir thriller sends two mysterious drifters into a steamy, sensuous affair. But both are harbouring deep, dark secrets that threaten to turn their torrid passion into something altogether more sinister.
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Perfectly capturing the decadent glamour and plastic smiles of the East Coast glitterati of 1940s America, Tigers in Red Weather invests a world of chic pool parties and endless summers with a delicious undercurrent of finely wrought menace. An evocative and audaciously constructed marvel.
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Tightly-plotted, impossibly twisty and wickedly funny, the latest page-turner from the creator of Big Little Lies serves up another wildly entertaining ride. Nine stressed out city dwellers descend upon an island paradise to recuperate, little suspecting what sinister goings-on await them there.
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A sliver of limpid, chilling prose set in the heart of the scorching Mediterranean, Spark’s jet-black novella marches compellingly to a shocking nihilistic end that we know is coming from the first chapter. One of the great Scottish writer’s most flintily accomplished works, The Driver’s Seat is a masterpiece that will stay with you forever.
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A small Australian town, parched by endless drought, staggers through the trauma of a mass murder in its midst in Jane Harper’s stunningly atmospheric crime thriller. The Dry burns with oppressive heat on every page, tacitly involving the reader in the emotional lives of the suspects playing out their lives in this remote region.
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The woozy vibe of psychedelic California suffuses this sinuous thriller based on the warped appeal of the Manson Family. Drenched in the searing heat of the summer of 69, Cline’s disturbing debut is a hypnotic depiction of personality cults, countercultural conformity and psychopathy masquerading as peace and love.
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A literary thriller wound suffocatingly tight, The Destroyers utilises the shimmering, luminous backdrop of Patmos as a metaphor for themes of beauty, artifice and the predatory darkness that lurks beneath the glittering façade. Two old friends reconvene on the island but the atmosphere soon turns from raffish bonhomie to something altogether more sinister.
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From the exclusive beaches of Monte Carlo to the verdant grounds of Maxim de Winter’s stately home Manderley, Daphne du Maurier’s gothic classic transports the reader into a social and psychological world of creeping menace and dark desires. Rebecca endures as du Maurier’s masterpiece and Mrs Danvers, the superbly sinister housekeeper, stands as a fictional icon.
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Split between the political frenzy of Paris in 1968 and an idyllic modern day retreat in Provencal France, Drinkwater’s engaging novel ratchets up the suspense. Mysterious strangers, dangerous lies and shocking secrets swirl around the beautifully depicted French landscape in this ideal summer read.
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Written with a pace as blistering as the South East Asian sun, Alex Garland’s Generation X thriller of backpacker meltdown in Thailand has become a cult classic.
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A blistering psychological thriller that never skimps on characterisation for the sake of cheap plot twists, Can You Hear Me? is the darkly compelling tale of murder, jealousy and madness set in a tight-knit community in Northern Italy. Gripping and credible, it marks Varvello out as one of the greatest living practitioners of European noir.
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The sixth outing for 007 is one of the most muscular and exciting, revolving around the elusive Dr No and his nefarious operations on the Caribbean island of Crab Key. Fully loaded with action, glamour and an exotically depicted island paradise, this is the literary Bond at his purest.
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The inhabitants of Estrella de Mar appear to have it all; wealth, leisure and a Mediterranean paradise to while away their comfortable lives. But Ballard’s expert dissection of the dangers of boredom and the limits of having it all tells a very different story; one that will linger in the reader’s mind for a very long time to come.
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The very definition of a pulsatingly entertaining beach read, Something in the Water follows the twists and turns of a married couple contemplating the perfect crime in the sun-kissed waters of Bora Bora. Steadman’s plotting is assured and the revelations relentless, whilst her characters are convincingly drawn. A big fish in an ocean of summer thrillers.
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