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Why Malta will be the hottest new setting for crime bestsellers

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Darrin Zummit Lupi

(Read caption) Crew members use a crane while cleaning windows on a cruise liner in Valletta's Grand Harbour. The country is trying to promote more tourism by appearing as the setting for popular crime thrillers.

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The next time you read your way through a stack of the latest thriller bestsellers, don't be surprised if they're all set in the same unlikely locale: Malta.

The small Mediterranean archipelago is poised to become the hottest new setting in bestselling crime novels thanks to what one report calls "one of the most unusual and canny tourist initiatives ever."

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That's right, tourism promotion has officially entered into books. In a novel new promotion campaign, Malta invited three bestselling American authors – Chris Kuzneski, Boyd Morrison, and Graham Brown – to spend a week touring the European archipelago in the hope that they would feature Malta as the setting in their future novels.

The bold move marks a new frontier for both tourism and for books, and imagines a future in which books are used to promote destinations across the globe – a natural marriage, as books are the ideal vehicle by which to introduce readers to new locales – but one that may leave readers feeling tricked.

In the case of Malta's savvy scheme, it all began when Kuzneski mentioned the island nation in his first book, "Sign of the Cross," earning him a fan letter from Malta.

It didn't stop there. In what became a inside joke, Kuzneski started mentioning Malta in all of his subsequent books, reports the UK's Guardian.

This time, he didn't just get fan letters from readers in Malta – he got an invitation from the Malta Tourism Authority asking him to visit their country.

“They said we think it would be a great way to expose the country in America, and as soon as they said that, I then automatically thought well if one voice is good, then three voices would be even better,” Kuzneski, who is friends with both Morrison and Brown, told the Guardian.

Thus began a novel junket of sorts, in which the three authors enjoyed a week-long tour of the Mediterranean archipelago including a visit to a war museum and ancient torture chambers, "all good grist for the mill," writes the Guardian, "if you're a thriller writer."

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Malta's pitch appears to have worked: the authors have vowed to feature the locale in their books.

“It’s been an eye-opener. You just can’t imagine a country that’s an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, that could have so much history, so many different cultures, so much to offer,” says Graham Brown, adding that "I have several ideas that just spring right from that.”

Citing the country’s “breadth of history ... from Napoleon to the Ottomans to the Knight’s Templar and World War II," Morrison also said he will use the country in his future books.

And while books are no stranger to advertising and promotion, like this book, sponsored by Sweet N' Low, and this one, which features advertisements from more than two dozen businesses, promoting tourism for an entire country may be new frontier for books.

As Kuzneski told the Guardian, “I’ve been writing over a decade now and I can’t remember any of our writing friends ever mentioning being a part of something like this."