Off the shelf: Thrilling travel

Author Sara Ochs writes about the books that inspire her

Hero image

When I first started writing my debut thriller, The Dive, I was desperate for an escape. It was 2020 – deep into the Covid-19 pandemic– and, like many, I was trapped in a one-bedroom apartment with nothing but my husband and Netflix’s Tiger King to keep me entertained.

Up until that point in my life, travel had been my primary means of escape – a way to shed the normality of everyday life for a week or two and become a different person, temporarily at least. With a global pandemic and border closures rendering travel off the table, I turned to the second-best option: writing about it.

I started by writing about my perhaps favourite travel experience to date: two weeks backpacking with friends through Thailand. Specifically, I chose to focus on the time I spent becoming scuba-certified in Koh Tao, an unbelievably gorgeous island with a surprisingly dark underbelly. While the story that ultimately unfolded turned out to be one of secrets, lies, and murder – all of which were thankfully absent in my own travels – writing The Dive gave me a piece of my life back that I felt had been stripped away: the opportunity to travel to a beautiful location and immerse myself in an entirely different culture (if only in my head).

It should come as no surprise that I’m drawn to thrillers that do the same. There’s something about a protagonist navigating an unfamiliar setting, especially one that lends an air of isolation, that raises the stakes and deepens the tension. The Beach by Alex Garland (Penguin), for one, is a classic escapist thriller and served as my primary literary inspiration in drafting The Dive. Personally, I don’t think there’s any novel out there that more accurately depicts an exotic setting quite as Garland does in his portrayal of an idyllic, largely uninhabited Thai island that ultimately devolves into bloodshed.

More recently, Lucy Clarke’s One of the Girls (Harper Fiction) set a fatal hen party on a glittering Greek island, whereas Amanda Jayatissa’s You’re Invited (Hodder) left a disastrous wedding to unfold on the coast of Sri Lanka. The gorgeous locations of both novels served a stark dichotomy to the characters’ gruesome acts.

But it’s not only tropical locations where thrillers thrive, as proven by Allie Reynolds’s Shiver (Headline), which takes place atop a mountain in the French Alps, as what begins as a reunion of once professional snowboarders soon turns deadly. And it certainly does not get more isolated than Breathless by Amy McCulloch (Penguin), which follows the protagonist as she attempts to summit Manaslu, one of the highest mountains in Nepal and the world, while simultaneously fending off a murderer who is picking off the members of her climbing group one by one.

For whatever reason, whether it’s because of a global pandemic or simply monetary constraints, travel may not always be attainable. But thrillers that drag you to the ends of the earth and refuse to let you go? One can only hope those will be around forever.

The Dive by Sara Ochs is out now (Bantam)

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Off the shelf: Thrilling travel

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.