Marooned and in Peril: Five Crime Novels Set on Islands
By Edwin HillAugust 22, 2019
There’s something inherently interesting about a mystery set on an island. There are those that are set on small islands: ones that are remote, wind-swept, and hopefully facing a devastating storm. The threat of isolation without the possibility of outside assistance makes for great storytelling. Then there are the ones that explore those tiny close-knit communities filled with characters who choose island life, an existence that’s unique and far away from the rest of the world. Here, long-standing rivalries among people who all know each other a bit too well can spiral and wreak havoc in all the best ways.
So, here are five novels, old and new, set in the remotest, most wind-swept corners of the earth (and one with a decidedly more urban setting):
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
I’ve seen so many movie versions of this story (the 1974 version starring Elke Sommer was a mainstay on of my childhood, though time has not been kind to it) that I almost forgot the original novel takes place on an island off the coast of Devon, England. Almost everyone knows the set up: eight strangers arrive on the island with invitations tailored to their own needs—an offer of employment, a free vacation, etc.—only to get killed off one by one, by methods outlined in a nursery rhyme. If you haven’t read this book in a while, or if you’ve only seen the movie versions, you might be surprised by how delightfully dark the original is, or how much influence it has had over later works, including ‘80s slasher movies. Christie adapted it into a stage play, and even she thought the ending should lighten up for theater audiences. I think she got it just right the first time around.
The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson
The Icelandic landscape lends itself to crime writing. The idea of an entire island nation of fewer than four hundred thousand people huddled together against the elements, fending off the light of summer and the darkness of winter makes for great storytelling. One of my favorite authors to come out of Iceland in recent years is Ragnar Jonasson. The Darkness (translated by Victoria Cribb), the first in his Hulda series, uses prose as sparse as the landscape to create an atmospheric thriller that explores themes of loneliness, sexism, and aging as he follows Hulda, a 64-year-old detective facing forced retirement, while she makes one last-ditch effort to solve the murder of an immigrant woman no one seems to care about. A surprise ending will make you want to continue with what promises to be a thrilling trilogy.
Stay Hidden by Paul Doiron
The ninth outing in Doiron’s Mike Bowditch series takes the game investigator Bowditch to a speck of an island twenty miles off the coast of Maine, the fictional Maquoit Island, which Doiron even had a mapmaker draw up for the book. The story exploits all the beauty and complications of such a remote setting, including the once-a-week ferry that plays an important role in the intricate plot. This is a great series that captures Maine living at its best and worst, and you might want to start at the beginning with The Poacher’s Son.
Murder with Puffins by Donna Andrews
The second book in Andrews’ Meg Langslow series takes a cozier view of a Maine island, stranding Meg and her extended family on the very real and very remote Monhegan Island when a hurricane hits. The plot in this novel is well executed and, like with all the books in the long-running series, the fun is seeing Meg’s coping strategies for her large and eccentric family. Andrews does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of Monhegan, a four-square-mile hunk of granite eight miles off the coast of Boothbay Harbor that hosts artists in the summer and where cars aren’t allowed and the year-round population hovers around forty.
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
For another classic, you can visit my favorite island of them all, Manhattan Island, which is anything but bleak, and down a few (or many) cocktails with Nick and Nora Charles, while flitting around town to speakeasies and clubs. The plot in this novel is intricate—involving gangsters, a missing inventor, adultery, lots of subterfuge, and much more—but it also introduces two of the most endearing crime fighters, some of the best dialogue you’ll ever read, and a spitfire of a dog named Asta, so it won’t be all bad if you have to read it more than once to figure out what the hell happened. I did.
About The Missing Ones
Hester Thursby has given up using her research skills to trace people who don’t want to be found. A traumatic case a few months ago unearthed a string of violent crimes, and left Hester riddled with self-doubt and guilt. Caring for a four-year-old is responsibility enough in a world filled with terrors Hester never could have imagined before.
Finisterre Island, off the coast of Maine, is ruggedly beautiful and remote—the kind of place tourists love to visit, though rarely for long. But not everyone who comes to the island is welcome. A dilapidated Victorian house has become home to a group of squatters and junkies, and strangers have a habit of bringing trouble with them. A young boy disappeared during the summer, and though he was found safely, the incident stirred suspicion among locals. Now another child is missing. Summoned to the island by a cryptic text, Hester discovers a community cleaning up from a devastating storm—and uncovers a murder.
Soon Hester begins to connect the crime and the missing children. And as she untangles the secrets at the center of the small community, she finds grudges and loyalties that run deep, poised to converge with a force that will once again shake her convictions about the very nature of right and wrong . . .
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