Sorry, that didn’t come out right. “Whyyyy?! Why did I choose travel theme for my murder mysteries?!!”. Imagine the wailing and teeth gnashing. I mean, of course a different setting for each murder mystery keeps the stories fresh. And of course placing a murder mystery in an exciting location makes for great reading. Yes, but..
Traveling in the age of the mighty Apple
Go to any hostel these days and you will find everyone with their noses buried in their smart phones, laptops, tablets and e-readers. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I read tales of time when travellers banded together in hostels, toured the cities in gay hordes and threw boozy parties in the hostel rooms. Sounds.. awful actually. Especially the last part, but then again, I’m an introvert. But what I’m trying to say is that even strangers would get to know each other back then. These days, you can go for days without talking to anyone, even when sharing a 4 person hostel room.
And the problem is this: how do you write a murder mystery that takes place abroad, when no one knows each other? How does the sleuth even stumble on a murder, or have enough time with the main suspects to find out the murderer? And won’t there be a huge number of people who had the opportunity (right place, wrong time), but with zero motive (didn’t know the victim)?
Back in the heyday of hostels, people would group together, and back in the Olden Days of last century, they actually travelled together in organized groups (see Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple). Of course group travel still exists these days, but I haven’t been on one for decades and the trend seems to be for more independent travel in general. Maybe I will include a group of pensioners on a group tour in one of my books, but mostly they will feature younger people and independent travel. So I’ve basically created this problem myself. My first book solves this problem by plopping the murder onboard a container ship. A nice, contained environment, conveniently cut off from the rest of the world, with a relatively small group of people who make excellent suspects. Perfect! Even if I say so myself.
So dangerous! I will never travel again!
I traveled solo all the way around the world for 15 months and didn’t have a single problem either as a tourist or as a woman. And nobody got murdered. A brief browse on the internet revealed some interesting statistics. For Brits, one source cites that there were 250 total murdered Brits abroad between 2012 and 2015, while another shows about 500 Brits murdered per yer just in England and Wales (about a 10-fold increase, and that’s excluding Cornwall and Scotland). And as an average 60 million Brits travel abroad each year, this incomplete comparison shows that murder abroad is not a common way to die. The same goes for Americans. One source shows that between 2002 and 2015, on average 827 Americans were killed abroad, of which 153 were murders (the higher figure includes e.g. accidents and suicides). This is against a similar number of Americans traveling abroad each year as Brits.
So generally speaking, you have far higher chance of being murdered at home and dying of accidents either abroad or at home, than you do getting killed abroad. Obviously countries which are dangerous to locals can also be dangerous for tourists. And there has been a small uptick lately from terrorism, but as we have sadly seen, these take place also on home soil, both UK and US (to continue with the above examples). Mostly the few tourists that die each year die of stupid avoidable accidents, largely involving alcohol or traffic. Usually both.
So what I want to avoid is making it seem that traveling is inherently dangerous and you will be murderdeathkilled the moment you cross the border. Most people are murdered by people they know and love, at home or in their home town. Oh, maybe that’s why most cozy mysteries are set in small communities! These writers don’t seem to be concerned about making life in small towns seem super murderous, so maybe I can trust my readers to understand that traveling really isn’t either?
When I went there last year…
Everyone travels. And even the ones who don’t travel have Lonely Planet, google maps, travel blogs, wikipedia etc etc to fact check everything you write. I haven’t published anything yet, but I can imagine writing about, for example, taking a train from London to Prague at 10:25 am, or turning left at the Opera house in Vienna, or climbing to the top of a tower in a castle somewhere, only to have some besser-wisser tell me that actually the best connection to Prague leaves St Pancras at 9:13 am (or whatever), that the street I had my sleuth turn into is a dead end, and that the tower I mentioned has only 112 steps, not 115 as I wrote.
The reality is that every book will have errors. Or as I like to call them, dramatic license. But still, since I will write about travel and events happening in every corner of the planet, I want to know what I’m writing about. So that means traveling to these places myself. Happily, I did quite a lot of that on my Grand Adventure, so I have a lot of material to use. I have my travel blogs and literally tens of thousands of photos to bolster my poor memory.
Of course I can always go on a research trip if I want to write about a place I haven’t been to yet, or recently, or at a specific time of year. This is what I will be doing for my second book which will take place in Venice during the carnival. I have been to Venice before, but not during the carnival, so now’s my chance. Please forgive me if I keep mentioning that at every opportunity. “I am going to Venice on a research trip for my second book”. Makes me sound super cool. And not at all like I usually write in my jammies and 3 day old hair.