You’re going to want to dive right into these reads.
From rom-coms rocking the waves to thrillers in the deep sea, novels set on cruise ships are packed with potential. You’ve got a floating, isolated community—and a bunch of people who likely never met before embarking. And now they are stuck together, for better or worse, for a week-long sailing. One of the earliest examples of this is Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, published in 1937, and among the newer books is a 2020 family saga that takes place on a cruise ship by Amanda Eyre Ward, a Reese’s Book Club pick. Recently published historical fiction is also not absent from the trend, whether the setting is a 1934 luxury cruise liner sailing from New York to Havana or a 1939 voyage to South Africa.
These 11 books are perfect for satisfying cruise wanderlust or tucking into a beach bag for your next cruise to read on the Lido Deck.
Top Picks for You
‘The Jetsetters: A Novel’ by Amanda Eyre Ward
Published in 2020, this witty story about a multi-generational family who takes a Mediterranean cruise vacation after the 70-year-old mother, Charlotte Perkins, wins the trip when her essay is chosen as the winner in the Become a Jetsetter contest. This quickly became a New York Times bestseller and Reese’s Book Club pick. Over 10 days, three once-estranged siblings reunite with Charlotte and grapple with secrets and truths.
‘The Woman in Cabin 10’ by Ruth Ware
An eerie mood presides over this 2017 New York Times best-selling thriller when protagonist Lo Blacklock swears she saw a woman tossed overboard. And yet all guests are in attendance. Or are they? Instead of relaxing on board this luxury small-ship cruise ship (dubbed “Aurora”), Lo—a travel writer on assignment—vows to crack the case by the time the sailing in the North Sea (in Northern Europe) wraps.
‘Santa Cruise: A Festive and Fun Holiday Story’ by Fern Michaels
Who doesn’t love a feel-good romance centered around the Christmas holiday—and away from weird family dynamics? The extremely prolific Michaels (she’s got 150 books to her name, and counting) published this book in 2021. Four long-time girlfriends from high school board a singles’ cruise out of Miami as a DIY 15-year reunion and bond over shore excursions and, well, single men everywhere they look.
‘Killer Cruise’ by Laura Levine
Levine was a sitcom writer for shows like Laverne & Shirley and The Love Boat. What sounds like an innocent proposition for freelance writer Jaine Austin—for the eighth book in the Jaine Austin series, published in 2009, she’s asked to teach a writing class on board a cruise ship from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera—turns out to be more than a free vacation. Those seven days at sea are anything but bliss—more like a dead body.
‘Bert and Mamie Take a Cruise’ by John Keyse-Walker
In this recently published novel, set in 1939 on board the SS Columbus to Africa, detective couple Bert and Mamie Mason leave their Ohio home for an adventure they didn’t quite expect. Not long after enjoying the buffet and pool, and not having to cook their own meals or make their own bed, they stumble upon a murder they must solve and struggle to still enjoy the five-star lifestyle while diving into work mode.
‘Santa Cruise: A Holiday Mystery at Sea’ by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark
Published in 2006 as the sixth book in the “Alvirah & Willy” series, the plot concerns a cruise sailing out of Miami the day after Christmas with a carefully curated guest list. Its passengers were gifted with a cruise on board the brand-new “Royal Mermaid” ship, and not until they’ve left port is it revealed two escaped criminals are among them.
‘The Billionaire’s Siren’ by K. Thomas
Cruises are all about flaunting the first-class lifestyle and Thomas’ 2020 novel—the first of two titles in the “A Sapphire Story of the Seas Cruise Ship Vacation Romance” series—is no exception. Two potential lovers meet on a cruise: one who recently canceled her wedding and the other, gasp, on the sailing with another woman. Will the billionaire and the jilted bride end up together?
‘Dangerous Crossing’ by Rachel Rhys
Parallel storylines of a physical journey (boarding an ocean liner from England to Australia) with an emotional journey (a female cast, including protagonist Lily Shepherd, attempting to escape their pasts) are the nexus of this 2019 novel, set in 1939. The story does not take place entirely on board, however: port stops are in glam locales such as Naples, Ceylon, and Cairo.
‘Death on the Nile’ by Agatha Christie
This 1939 classic turned into a 2022 movie (and earlier, in 1978) spins a tale of characters sailing on Karnak, a steamer sailing the Nile River. When the news that passenger Linnet Ridgeway was shot dead, shock ripples through the cabins. Thankfully detective Hercule Poirot is on board.
‘The Cuban Heiress’ by Chanel Cleeton
This Cuban-American author’s latest novel publishes in April. Her 2028 debut, Next Year in Havana, was a Reese’s Book Club selection. On a round-trip voyage from New York to Havana in 1934, Cleeton weaves in the true tale of the SS Morro Castle, a ship that caught fire and ran aground, through the lens of two passengers: a seemingly Cuban heiress and a woman thought to be dead.
‘Skinny Dip’ by Carl Hiassen
In 2004, Hiassen published this story about—spoiler alert—marine biologist Chaz Perrone who pushes his deceitful wife overboard on a luxury cruise ship in the Atlantic Ocean after she unearths a scam he was involved in. That she lives to tell, by pretending to be dead, is the twist.
My favorite? "The Unsinkable Greta James," by Jennifer E. Smith. Maybe it was too new for the list.