Most of us feel the need once in a while to take a break and get away. And for a lot of people, a stay at a resort is the perfect antidote to life’s stresses. There are all sorts of resorts, too: mountain resorts, safari resorts, beach resorts, and lots more. Resorts can cost an awful lot of money, but they often offer matchless pampering and personal service. And they’re designed to be worlds unto themselves.
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, whenever you get a disparate group of people together in the same place, as you do at a resort, there are all sorts of possibilities for crime-fictional mayhem. Add to that resort staff, who may have their own backgrounds and secrets, and you have a custom-made context for a crime novel. So, it’s little wonder that resorts show up in the genre as they do.
In Agatha Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery, for instance, Miss Marple’s generous nephew arranges for her to visit the Golden Palm Hotel, on the Caribbean island of St. Honoré, so she can have a much-needed rest. The hotel is really more resort than simply hotel with all of the pampering and amenities you’d imagine for the time. One day, another guest, Major Palgrave, tells Miss Marple a story about a man he knows of who lost two wives. The theory in both cases was suicide, but Major Palgrave says he knows that they were murdered. He doesn’t get the chance to finish his story, but it’s soon clear that someone at the resort overheard what he said. The next day, he’s found dead. Miss Marple is sure that someone connected with these cases is either a guest of, or an employee of, the Golden Palm, and she starts searching for the truth. It turns out that the resort has some very dark secrets.
Fans of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe will know that it takes a lot to get him to leave his brownstone and travel. But, in Too Many Cooks, that’s exactly what he does. He and Archie Goodwin travel to the exclusive Kanawha Spa, in West Virginia, so that Wolfe can deliver the keynote address to a meeting of Les Quinze Maîtres, the world’s fifteen greatest chefs. The resort is quite luxurious, but that doesn’t prevent murder. One of the master chefs, Phillip Laszio, is killed, and the most likely killer seems to be another chef, Jerome Berin. But Wolfe doesn’t think Berin is guilty. So, although he’s very reluctant to investigate, Wolfe looks into the matter. Among other things, this novel shows how things work at a very upmarket resort.
There are several resorts in South Africa’s wildlife preserves. I had the real pleasure of staying at one of them some years ago, and it was a wonderful experience. There are, of course, all of the luxury amenities you’d imagine for an upmarket place. And you can travel out into the bush on a camera safari. There’s nothing quite like being out in the bush to give some perspective on modern life. Deon Meyer takes readers into such places in Blood Safari. Cape Town professional bodyguard Martin Lemmer is hired by Emma le Roux to accompany her to the Lowveld to search for her brother, Jacobus. He was working in the Nature and Environmental Conservation Unit of the South African military when he disappeared. It was thought at the time that he was killed in a run-in with animal poaches. But now, twenty years later, Emma sees a man on television who looks just like her brother. She can’t resist trying to find that man and learn the truth. So, she and Lemmer make their way to the Lowveld, where they stay at more than one bush resort. But luxury surroundings aren’t enough to keep them safe from some very dangerous people who do not want the truth about Jacobus to be revealed.
In Louise Penny’s A Rule Against Murder (AKA The Murder Stone), Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec takes his wife, Reine-Marie, to the Mansoin Bellechasse for their annual anniversary trip. It’s a lovely luxury resort, and the Gamaches are hoping for a relaxing visit. Such is not to be, though. Among the other guests are members of the Finney family. It’s not spoiling the novel to say that they are a very dysfunctional group, and that alone adds tension to the atmosphere. Then, there’s a murder. Now, all sorts of old secrets come out, and Gamache finds a surprising connection in this case to another character in this series.
And then there’s Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul to Take. Jónas Júlíusson owns an exclusive luxury resort and spa, but he’s facing an unusual problem. He believes the land is haunted. He hires Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to represent him in a lawsuit he wants to bring against the former owners of that land. His claim is that they knew the place was haunted and never told him. Thóra doesn’t believe in ghosts or haunting. But a fee is a fee. Besides, the case gives her the opportunity to stay at a five-star resort. So, she takes the case and goes to the resort. During her visit, another guest, Birna Hálldorsdóttir, is found murdered on a beach not far from the property. Soon enough, Jónas becomes a suspect in the murder, since he was having a relationship with the victim. He asks Thóra to continue to represent him, this time defending him against the murder charge. She agrees and looks more deeply into the victim’s life. It turns out that several people in the area are keeping some dark secrets, and more than one could have had a reason to want to commit murder.
See what I mean? Resorts are wonderful places – they really are. You can escape the world, get some pampering, and enjoy world-class cooking and other amenities. But safe? Peaceful? Perhaps not so much…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s I’ve Loved These Days.