The Lure of the Wild in a Thriller – and My Five Favourite Destination Thrillers
By Lucy ClarkeAugust 29, 2023
I’m drawn to wild landscapes. I love to travel to them. I love to write about them. In fact, I even like to write from them (I work from a beach hut on the south coast of England, using the isolation and wild weather to help craft my stories).
When I’m approaching a novel, place always comes first. I typically ask: What world do I want to inhabit? How will this world affect my characters? I find it interesting to remove characters from the world they know and are familiar with–and displace them somewhere new. How will they react? Will they flounder of flourish?
To date, I’ve published eight destination thrillers. They allow readers to armchair travel to a Tasmanian shack (A SINGLE BREATH), to join a bachelorette party on a remote Greek island (ONE OF THE GIRLS), to fend for themselves on an uninhabited Fijian island (THE CASTAWAYS) and to crew a yacht sailing through the Philippines (THE BLUE).
When you’re writing about a landscape, I believe there’s an authenticity to having ‘been there’. It enables you to bring to life the tiny details of a place, like the way the light illuminates the very tip of a mountain peak at dawn, or the feel of scree underfoot. That’s why I’ll always plan a research trip to the location of each of my books.
In my most recent novel, THE HIKE, I spent five days hiking in Norway, experiencing first-hand the fear that grips you when fog rolls in and the visibility is reduced to almost nothing, or the difficulty of making a river-crossing wearing a cumbersome backpack. En-route, I slept in rustic DNT cabins perched in some of the most remote spots I can imagine, hugely grateful for the warmth of a woodstove, and a bowl of steaming noodles enjoyed after a long day of walking. Those experiences shaped the novel in ways I couldn’t have predicted and the neat plans and outline I’d mapped from my desk needed to be rescored.
Thrillers set in interesting destinations–particularly remote, uninhabited landscapes–are endlessly appealing to me as they lend a very natural tension to the story. Here are five of my favourite thrillers set in wild places.
The Lost Man by Jane Harper
Jane Harper is the queen of the outback noir. Her thrillers are set in remote, isolated Australian settings, under an unrelenting sun. In The Lost Man, two brothers stand over the body of their third brother, Cameron, who has been found naked and alone at the border of their cattle ranches. Did Cameron choose to walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…
The River at Night by Erica Ferencik
Four friends set off on a white-water rafting adventure with a guide–but when the guide dies and their raft is ruined, they find themselves alone in five thousand square miles of wilderness.
I love the way Erica Ferencik writes landscape with such vivid, evocative descriptors that you feel like you are there riding the white-water, too! Throw into the mix a cast of well-written, believable female characters, and you’ve got the perfect ingredients for a gripping thriller.
Breathless by Amy McCulloch
Settings don’t come much wilder than the top of the world’s highest mountain peak. What better place for a killer to find their next victim. In Breathless, McCulloch sets loose a team of mountaineers–but how many of them will make it back? A high-altitude, high-drama thriller, with a setting that will chill you to the bone.
The Beach by Alex Garland
What is more wild and remote than a secret beach on an unknown island–untouched by tourism? In The Beach, Richard and two friends discover a hand-sketched map and set off on a journey of discovery, eventually uncovering a community of travellers living like castaways on the shores of an island in Thailand. But utopia is laced with darkness, and the island paradise descends into violence and madness. An entire generation of travellers (me included) tucked this novel into their backpacks and went off in search of the undiscovered.
The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse
This locked-room thriller is set in an eerie hotel in the Swiss Alps, recently converted from an abandoned sanatorium. Detective Elin Warner arrives in the midst of a threatening storm–and things only get worse when she wakes the next morning to find her brother’s fiancée is missing. With access to the hotel cut off, the guests begin to panic–and then the first body is discovered. I love how a setting can at once feel safe and known–a hotel at a ski resort–but then the weather shifts and suddenly the guests are trapped and everything changes. This fast-paced chiller-thriller had me on the edge of my seat.