Murder Takes a Holiday

Volume 40, No. 2, Summer 2024

Murder Takes a Holiday

Buy this back issue! Available in hardcopy or as a downloadable PDF.



  • The Odd Travel Note: John le Carré on Mysteries Real and Fictional by Rona Bell
  • Death on the Water by Bev Hankins
  • Agatha Christie Rides the Rails by Bradley Friedman


  • Please Proceed to Your Gate—To Begin Your (Murderous) Journey by Cathy Ace
  • Monkey Business Meets the Flying Dutchman by Donna Andrews
  • Travel Writer’s Revenge: A Novel Way of “Booking” a Trip by Dawn M. Barclay (D.M. Barr)
  • Travel as Transition? Or Not? by Anne Louise Bannon
  • Wanderlust by Kimberly Belle
  • How I Learned to Write More Than Thirty Pages by Simon Brett
  • When Art Imitates Life by Sally Carpenter
  • On the Road Again by Taffy Cannon
  • A Fatal Fan Fest by Maya Corrigan
  • Too Many Deaths, Too Few Holidays by James R. Coggins
  • Haunted Ofu by John Enright
  • Holiday Time? No Lazing in the Sun for My Characters by Elizabeth Elwood
  • Nero Does Nero by Cordelia Biddle and Steve Zettler (aka Nero Blanc)
  • Crossword: Nero Does Nero
  • Sun, Sand… and Sleuthing by Kate Fellowes
  • A Vacation at the Paris Exposition of 1900 by Dianne Freeman
  • A Killer on Board by Jan Gangsei
  • Murder on Vacation by Peter Heller
  • Murder Takes a Holiday in Caper Cove by Elle Jauffret
  • Mysteries Without Borders by Maria Hudgins
  • An Academic Brat Settles Down and Finds Her Paradise by Leslie Karst
  • Vacations and Holidays by Gay Toltl Kinman
  • A Detective Takes a Holiday by J. R. Lindermuth
  • Hot Grudge Crimes by Larry and Rosemary Mild
  • Never Go on Vacation with Miss Marple by Catherine Mack
  • From Action Scene to Ocean Liner by Edward Marston/Conrad Allen
  • A Golden Getaway with Raúl and Rita by Richie Narvaez
  • Murder Takes a Honeymoon by Neil Plakcy
  • Murder Takes a Lot of Holidays… by Josh Pachter
  • Creating the Vacation from Hell: The Origins of Devils Island by Midge Raymond
  • How Is Anyone Still Alive? by Philipp Schott
  • Have Pen, Will Travel by Tom Straw
  • Charlie Chan Takes a Holiday by John Swann
  • Crime Fiction and the Trip of a Lifetime by Leonie Swann
  • Someone Else’s Vacation by Sarah Stewart Taylor
  • Murder Across the Ocean by Charlene Wexler


  • Mystery in Retrospect: Reviews by Lucinda Surber, Lesa Holstine, Dru Ann Love
  • Crime for the Holidays by Gay Toltl Kinman
  • Crime Seen: Vacation Video by Kate Derie
  • From the Editor’s Desk by Janet A. Rudolph

Please Proceed to Your Gate—To Begin Your (Murderous) Journey
by Cathy Ace

Which of these trips most tickles your fancy? (Note: you’re guaranteed at least one corpse, and a puzzling, Christie-shaped mystery to solve with each, so don’t panic on that front!) Travelers’ choice of: a swanky apartment in the South of France, a boutique vineyard in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, an exclusive hidden resort on Mexico’s Pacific coast, a private restaurant in Las Vegas, an historic castle in Wales, a luxury cruise to Hawaii, an immersive art-tour of Amsterdam, the dizzying and challenging history of Budapest, a private retreat in Jamaica with links to Ian Fleming, a rugged mountainside home in Canada, a gem of an old country house in London, the headquarters of a creepy cult in the Arizona desert, or a posh hotel in Sydney and a countryside hideaway in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. These are the places (so far) where Cait Morgan has had to grapple with a traditional whodunit, and has, in the process, unmasked a multitude of murderers.

Does Cait travel? Oh my, yes. Would she like you to come with her? Well, if you know Cait Morgan at all you’ll know she’s not exactly a “people person,” so I hesitate to answer that one on her behalf.

So why does Cait Morgan travel so much? Well, she’s got her own reasons for that—and they’re usually good ones. Some of these trips have been true vacations (that have, obviously, gone horribly wrong) but others have been for a different purpose.

For example, in The Corpse with the Silver Tongue (the first book in the series) she’s sent to Nice, on the fabulous Cote d’Azur, to present an academic paper at a conference for criminologists. That’s what she does, you see—she’s a professor of criminal psychology in Vancouver, Canada, specializing in profiling victims. The paper wasn’t hers; she was called upon at the last minute to step in for an incapacitated colleague and offered a free trip so she could do the honors. Then she bumps into an old boss of hers from her advertising agency days (no one says you actually have to like the person who pays your salary, do they?) who invites her to his trophy-wife’s birthday party at his swish home overlooking the magnificent Baie des Anges, where—of course—he dramatically drops dead into the escargots, and Cait winds up as a suspect in a lethal case of poisoning.

I dare say you can see why Cait went, but I suppose I’d better tell you why I sent her there.

My first author confession is to admit that I decided to pack Cait off around the world in each book because I wanted to avoid “Cabot Cove Syndrome”, where anyone who visits a village/town might as well be wearing a red shirt (à la Star Trek) because they’re almost always going to wind up dead. Then I’ll tell you that everywhere Cait goes is somewhere I’ve either lived, or worked, or have visited several times. I’ve had a delightfully peripatetic life and adored so many places I’ve come to know that I wanted to share that passion with my readers. The history, architecture, art, people, and food (of course!) of each book’s setting all come from my experience (yes, I have eaten and drunk everything Cait does—it’s called “research” okay? LOL!) and, usually, I take real places as a setting, but “amend” the specific locations to “protect the innocent.”

An example of this would be the apartment in Nice featured in The Corpse with the Silver Tongue where the opening pages’ deadly dinner party takes place: it belongs to friends of mine, who kindly said I could kill someone off there, which just goes to show how truly hospitable the French can be. I changed the name of the building, but used the apartment’s real backstory (built as a hotel at the height of the Belle Epoque, the building was taken over by the Gestapo and SS during the Vichy years) and the layers of history in the area (the fabulous Cimiez Arena built during Roman times, for example) and then I mixed in the sort of characters you meet in that part of the world. Trust me, I used to spend about four months in Nice every year and got to know the sort of folk who swan about the place quite well, thank you very much.

As for Cait’s other journeys? I’ve done the best I can to give readers a real flavor of each location, and have crafted a mystery that could only have taken place exactly where it does. Also, because Cait’s always a visitor in these books—and doing her best to solve a puzzling murder mystery and get justice for the victim/s—she’s got good reason to burrow beneath the surface, which, for me, is the most fascinating aspect of travel… getting to know the layers of a place, and its people.

Where’s she off to next? Well, I could tell you, but then there might be a) a rush to book flights, or b) a negative impact on the tourist industry for that location because no one wants to trip over a corpse! So you’ll have to wait just a little while to find out. Sorry. In the meantime, you could spend time traveling with Cait to all the places she’s been so far; to date, there are thirteen books in the series (that thirteenth one, set in Australia, The Corpse with the Opal Fingers, was extremely unlucky for quite a few people!) and she’s got lots of empty pages in her passport, so won’t be consigning her suitcase to the basement any time soon.

Cathy Ace’s Cait Morgan mysteries feature a criminal psychologist sleuth solving traditional whodunits around the world (optioned for TV); her WISE Enquiries Agency mysteries feature a quartet of softly poached female PIs solving cozy cases from a Welsh stately home. Shortlisted for Canada’s Bony Blithe Award three times, winning once; her work’s been twice shortlisted for Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence. She migrated from Wales aged 40, and now lives in Canada. She’s a Past-Chair of Crime Writers of Canada.

How I Learned to Write More Than Thirty Pages
by Simon Brett

Before I was a published author, I had drawersful of the first thirty pages of books. Back then, as soon as I had an idea, I started to write it. Time was tight. I still had the inconvenience of a day job as a television producer. Writing had to be done in snatched moments of evenings, weekends and holidays.

That thirty-page syndrome was interesting. It recurred. Writing from a standing start, following an idea that I thought was really hot, I could get up quite a head of steam. The words flowed, the thing seemed to be writing itself. (And didn’t most authors first get the bug from the excitement of a piece that seemed to write itself? And didn’t most authors spend the rest of their careers trying to get back to that magic moment of pieces writing themselves? And then building up the technique to continue writing when pieces obstinately refused to write themselves?)

Thirty pages, then, was as far as I could get without planning. I’d write said pages on a manic burst of energy and, round page twenty-nine, I’d feel myself grinding to a halt, before hitting the brick wall of page thirty. I didn’t know what was going to happen next in the book. And the only way I could find out what happened next was by actually sitting down and planning it. I’d have to think. And since I’d always rather write than think, the current truncated masterpiece of thirty pages would go into a drawer to join all the other truncated masterpieces of thirty pages.

What cured me of this rather unproductive habit occurred while I was on holiday in Spain with my wife and another couple. We were staying in a little town called Torrevieja, in an apartment halfway up a block, only separated from the Mediterranean by a swimming pool. And because this was Spain, the swimming pool was cracked and empty.

I was sitting on our balcony one morning when, suddenly, I saw the body of a man hurtle down past me from one of the higher apartments, to land with a sickening thud on the floor of the swimming pool. When I say ‘saw’, I do of course mean ‘imagined’. There was no corpse in the swimming pool. But the image provided me with the urge to write the first chapter of a book.

So, for the next few days, between doing the usual holiday things—sploshing about in the sea, eating large meals and drinking copiously—I steamed ahead with my book. The man who had witnessed the fatal fall, who, remarkably, shared certain characteristics with his creator, was, obviously, the investigator. The local fisherman, Henriquez, was no sooner invented than embroiled in the plot. Drugs and crime gangs were quickly involved as well.

And then I had my brainwave. That brilliant spark of imagination which would distinguish my crime novel from everyone else’s attempts at the genre. Wow, I thought, no one’s thought of this twist before!

A private eye is flown out from England, arriving soon after the discovery of the body. And my hero realises that, because of the two-hour time difference, the private eye must have known the murder was going to happen before it actually did!

This stroke of genius so excited me that I did something that I wouldn’t do now—I talked to my wife Lucy about my work in progress.

And after I explained to her about the private eye in England who must have known the murder was going to happen, she said, ‘But it works the other way.’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

‘The time difference. Spain is two hours ahead of England. Your private eye would have had two extra hours to hear about the murder.’

Ah. I was, if not nonplussed, at least far from being plussed. And that book ended at—you guessed it—thirty pages.

The experience did have an effect on my writing habits. I now wouldn’t dream of starting a book until I had planned a bit more than the opening. And within a couple of years of that Spanish vacation, I had written my first Charles Paris novel and was a published author.

And since then, my drawer hasn’t had to make room for any more first thirty pages of books.

Simon Brett has published more than a hundred books, including the Charles Paris, Mrs Pargeter, Fethering, Blotto & Twinks and Decluttering series. His standalone thriller, A Shock to the System, was made into a feature film, starring Michael Caine. Simon is a recipient of the CWA Diamond Dagger award for lifetime contribution to crime writing.

Have Pen, Will Travel
by Tom Straw

There are three basic rules of traveling. Travel on the ground. Travel alone when possible. Keep notes. That’s it.
—Paul Theroux, travel author and novelist

I’m a writer. I don’t vacation; I travel. There’s a difference. One mode is about letting go. My thing is to engage. It’s an occupational habit. Don’t feel bad. I like it.

No, I love it.

The only hitch is that I can’t go through passport control without hesitating when the officer asks, “Business or pleasure?” Because it’s both.

As an author of mysteries and spy thrillers, I am always on the lookout. I may be sporting sunglasses and comfortable footwear, I may be lounging at a café table in the Marais with a double espresso, I may pause to watch a stilt walker juggle flaming torches in Covent Garden, but you can bet your bottom euro it’s all going in my Leuchtturm pocket notebook. For me, travel isn’t a break from writing; travel is writing.

This is especially true now that I am kicking off an espionage series with my new novel about a globetrotting celebrity chef using his food and culture TV series to spy for the CIA. I started writing The Accidental Joe during the pandemic. As you may (ahem) recall, we were all locked down, and there I was sitting on a big idea with an international setting. All I can say is thank God I had my research notebooks to help me keep it real.

Documenting travel isn’t new to me. I’ve made it a practice over decades, logging observations and thought starters—inspirations for ideas yet to come. When lightning struck about my spy chef, I called on those notes to bring the thunder.

Paris. I’d been to Paris a lot. Twice to the South of France. “Write what you know”? No problem. I opened the novel in the City of Light and took it on the road to Provence. Arles, Aigues-Mortes, Marseille, Nice, Cap-d’Ail, and Menton. The thing is this: I would not have even considered using Aigues-Mortes, Cap-d’Ail, or Menton if I hadn’t been to them years before—and had my notes and photos to refresh my vision.

Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.
—Ibn Battuta, medieval author of the travelogue The Rihlah

It’s all about the details. Calling on pics of a restaurant or notes about the meal helps create the sense of being there. At La Merenda in Nice, I jotted, “no reservations/no phone.” I recalled the food. The squash blossoms, a revelation. The chocolate mousse, enough to make you reconsider your citizenship. The diner beside me ordered poutine. Not those Canadian fries with gravy and curds. In Nice, poutine means baby sardines. Picture a bowl of tiny, transparent gummies, perfectly clear—except for about three dozen eyes staring up at you. I had my Chef Pike eat there with his CIA handler, incorporating my observations. The scene wasn’t about the research but the affair blooming between those two. Yet conjuring up specificity made it tactile and sensual for their amorous moment.

That’s one example of travel research that found a home I never knew about when I did it years ago. When the lockdown ended, I shifted gears and journeyed with purpose to research the sequel I am writing now. Off to Venice, London, and Barcelona.

The joy of writing novels about an itinerant TV chef-slash-spy is that it gives you fresh eyes, even visiting places you’ve been before. Venice, romantic and picturesque, transforms when you are location scouting a life-death chase sequence. Narrow passages, congested by milling sightseers, a mild annoyance due to over-tourism, inspire visions of peril when the killers are steps behind, and your heroes can’t break through the herd. In Barcelona, I observed the formidable security procedures at Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia and got ideas. I took notes for an event that will figure crucially in my plot.

Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.
—Susan Sontag, essayist, novelist, traveler

Here’s a tip about the other research tool: a smartphone. When you travel, write with your camera. You can grab documentary snaps quickly and on the fly without stopping to open a notebook. They don’t need to be beauty shots, simply reminders to aid recall or become a prompt to write it up as a complete note back at your hotel. I document people, police cars, alleys, secluded meeting spots for spies, textures of walls, trees, trash, weather, and, because my spy is a chef, meals. The beauty of digital is its license to shoot everything. Delete it later if you can’t use it.

If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.
—Anthony Bourdain, author, relentless seeker, inspiration

Travel needn’t be distant to be worthwhile. For my Castle novels, instead of crossing an ocean, I often crossed a river to put hiking boots on the ground in Manhattan. Once, in Nikki Heat’s Gramercy Park neighborhood, I noticed scaffolding running around her block. I used that to create a harrowing scene with Heat racing along the platform to escape a hitman who was below, shooting up through the plywood at her. See what comes from playing tourist close to home?

So, get out there. See. Do. Explore. Notice what you’re noticing. And just because you’re researching doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time. For me, travel is where work and play merge into passion. If it inspires you enough to put your reader there with you, it’s all worth the trip.

Tom Straw is a New York Times bestselling author, writing as Richard Castle. He is also an Emmy- and Writer’s Guild of America-nominated writer-producer, whose credits include Night Court, Dave’s World, Grace Under Fire, the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and Nurse Jackie. His spy thriller, The Accidental Joe, was published by Regalo Press on May 14, 2024.

Buy this back issue! Available in hardcopy or as a downloadable PDF.