You’re not alone: Thrillers and mysteries that feature characters stuck in isolation

Carol Memmott

THE WASHINGTON POST – Sheltering in place doesn’t mean you can’t go visiting. You can drop in on fictional characters trapped in isolated houses in out-of-the-way places. No social distancing is required, and you’ll sympathise when they feel the walls closing in.

Lucy Foley’s crime novels are compared to Agatha Christie’s locked room mysteries in which murder suspects are trapped at the scene of the crime.

The atmospheric The Guest List is set on a craggy island off the west coast of Ireland where family and friends gather for the Instagram-ready wedding of Julia Keegan and Will Slater. The island can only be accessed by boat, so when a member of the wedding party turns up dead, the guests can’t retreat to the mainland.

Foley ramps up the tension by dappling the island with peat-sucking bogs, a foreboding mansion called Folly and a claustrophobic cave. The groom’s school friends add a Lord of the Flies vibe to the story.

No one may have come to the island intending to murder, but this destination wedding spirals into mayhem when it’s slowly revealed that most everyone in attendance is capable of becoming a lusting-for-revenge killer.

Inspired by author Anna Downes’s experience as a live-in housekeeper on a remote French estate, The Safe Place becomes anything but for Emily Proudman. The aspiring London actress loses her job and her apartment but is saved from ruin when her wealthy ex-boss offers her a position as a companion for his wife, Nina, and daughter, Aurelia, who are living on a gated property in France.

At first, Emily is enamoured of Nina and the luxurious villa, but she soon realises what we already know: Life in lockdown is a long way from paradise.

Downes keeps the sense of foreboding building as Emily realises a deadly secret that Nina is hiding.

Emily is a compelling character who arrives in France scatterbrained and immature but finds the inner strength to save herself and solve a missing person case that has snowballed into a global obsession.

The Vacation, TM Logan’s latest nail-biter, is reminiscent of Suspicion, Alfred Hitchcock’s atmospheric film about a wife who suspects her husband of wrongdoing.

Set on a ritzy estate in the south of France, the book involves a gathering of four college friends and their families that is supposed to be a joyous reunion.

Good times devolve into misery after Kate, a crime analyst for the Metropolitan Police, finds suspicious texts on her husband’s cellphone.

To Kate they indicate her husband is having an affair with either Rowan, Izzy or Jennifer, the three friends with whom they are vacationing.

When one of them is found dead, Kate is determined to ferret out the truth about her husband and the victim. The Vacation is a virtual holiday, but it comes with a warning. Quarantine is bad enough without entertaining assumptions about the people in your isolation bubble.

The Girls Weekend by Jody Gehrman is a brooding meditation on how friendships buckle when we resent other people’s success, what Gehrman refers to as the ‘Comparison Olympics’. Rich celebrity author Sadie MacTavish invites her closest college friends to a reunion of the ‘Fearless Five’ on her estate in the San Juan Islands north of Puget Sound.

After a night of fun, June, Kimiko, Em and Amy wake with amnesia and killer hangovers. Sadie is missing, and the women suspect they were dosed with drugs to wipe out their memories.

As in any locked room mystery, the four women and Sadie’s husband all have reasons to wish her dead. Great dialogue and strong, relatable characters give this novel extra bounce that keeps the pages turning.

We are haunted by uncertainty as we isolate, so imagine what it might be like to live in a house filled with the ghosts of murder victims. Maggie Holt sets out to discover whether the mansion she and her parents fled 25 years before is actually haunted in Riley Sager’s propulsive thriller Home Before Dark. Maggie’s father, Ewan, wrote House of Horrors, a non-fiction blockbuster about the three weeks his family spent in that house.

Two narratives run through this tale: chapters from Ewan’s book and Maggie’s search for the truth. There are truly horrifying scenes and plenty of unexplained happenings. Maggie soon learns what we already know: Real life is scarier than ghost stories.