So, there you are: the pool is gleaming, the parasol perfectly tilted. By your side, an ice-cold glass of midday rosé (well, you are on holiday), the children are happy, the cicadas are chirping. Someone else is cooking lunch.
It’s all glorious. The perfect escape. And it’s even better because of your book. You’re loving your book. You can’t put it down. Your friend’s already read it. “Have you got to the bit when…” she keeps saying. “Don’t!” you say. There’s this woman in it, you see, and someone wants to kill her. The psychopathic ex-boyfriend, or the infinitely solicitous husband – you definitely don’t trust him. Either way, horrible things are about to happen. There’s blood on the terrace, a pool of spilt suntan lotion, footsteps, the crackle of a leaf...
Why do we love to read thrillers on holiday? Are we insane? Adrenaline junkies? Are we as a nation so psychologically damaged we are unable simply to enjoy the blissful moment? Or is it more complicated than that?
By imagining the worst in fiction, and living out some sort of resolution, we seek and gain reassurance that we will survive
The crime writer Val McDermid believes women are drawn to these books (70 per cent of readers are female) because, since childhood, we have been conditioned to be afraid. You could argue that on holiday we are, ironically, taken out of any comfort zone we have created for ourselves. We are surrounded by strangers, by new dangers, by the unknowable. By imagining the worst in fiction, and living out some sort of resolution, we seek and gain reassurance that we will survive. Sophie Hannah agrees with this: “For me, a good book is one that shows horrible things can happen, but as bad as they are, life doesn’t have to end after them.”
But there is something else going on, too. This whole relaxing malarky. It’s not as simple as it appears. Your body may be supine, but your mind needs something else to distract it from from the mundane worries of life. By keeping our brains busy, thrillers help us to switch off. They are puzzles and conundrums – you are working out who did it, or is about to do it. You are involved in a game of cat and mouse, not just with the villain, but with the author, too – oh the bliss of guessing, just before the great reveal; the delight of seeing the twist unfold, of predicting the outcome, but only just in time.
Five Great Pool Thriller Reads
A group of backpackers go in search of paradise, a mythical patch of unspoilt nature in a remote part of Thailand. Unputdownable, rich with menace.
The last in the Ripley saga finds Tom living in luxury in his chateau at Villeperce when his past comes to visit one summer in the form of two young Americans. As funny as it is grim.
Two parallel narratives tell of a missing three-year-old, a summer weekend at Sandbanks and an unexpected death. It’s the unfinished pool – a ghastly gaping hole – in the house next door that haunts.
A chilling revenge noir about a toxic friendship. It ripples with observation and tension – much like the swimming pool in France around which the horrors finally unravel.
On a foggy summer night, a luxurious private jet sets off from Martha’s Vineyard for New York and never arrives. Scott Burroughs survives the crash – his epic swim to land is worth the read alone, but it’s what happens next, as the press set to work, that sets the pulse racing.