Category Archives: Suspense

Mini Reviews: Three Literary Thrillers That You’ve Probably Read Already

I call these literary thrillers because they delve into the psychology and daily lives of the characters well as being suspenseful. These three mini-reviews are completely spoiler-free, and therefore don’t say much at all, but I hope you’ll read them anyway.

cover image partial teenage boy's face mostly obscured by messy hairFinding Jake
by Bryan Reardon

Stay-at-home dad Simon Connolly rushes to the high school with all the other parents in his family’s upper- middle-class neighborhood when they get the news that something terrible has happened there, but he and his wife Rachel, a lawyer, only get to collect their daughter, Laney. Jake, their son, Laney’s older brother, a quiet loner, is missing…and a suspect.
The writing in this first novel is a little amateurish at times, so you have to be in the mood to read uncritically. How the police behave is completely unrealistic, but to be fair, it’s hard to have a suspenseful story without having some unrealistic plot elements. The story is written in Simon’s voice, jumping back and forth from present to past, in alternating chapters, with Simon constantly questioning his parenting over the years. (For example, it starts in the present and jumps back to eight months before Jake is born.) Fans of Jodi Picoult and William Landay’s Defending Jacob should like this one.
For a more psychological, less suspenseful take on the subject of a guilt-ridden father wondering whether he raised a son capable of an atrocity, try The Good Father (Doubleday, 2012) by Noah Hawley.

Read a sample of Finding Jake.

HarperCollins, Feb. 2015
272 pp.

cover image view of countryside from train windowThe Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train, which came out mid-January, is the book everyone was calling the next Gone Girl, so I read it early  to avoid spoilers. If you liked Gone Girl, you will probably like The Girl on the Train, which is set in the suburbs of London and has an young woman narrator upset over an ended relationship. I thought it went on a little too long, but it was a fast, addictive read like Gone Girl.  (Personally, I liked The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson better, which came out shortly after and also got thrown into the Gone Girl category. I thought I had posted a review already, but I guess I haven’t!)

Penguin, Jan. 2015
336 pp.

cover image young woman with umbrella walking on rainy city sidewalkOne Step Too Far
by Tina Seskis

The cover of this debut novel, which is also compared to Gone Girl, has the tagline “No one has ever guessed Emily’s secret. Will you?” Set in England, this one alternates between past and present, with the present chapters narrated in the first-person present tense by Emily – a young woman hiding from her past and starting a new life – and the chapters about the past in the third-person. If you liked Before I Go to Sleep or The Silent Wife, you might like One Step Too Far. It kept me reading and guessing, but in an annoyed kind of way.
If I were 23 years old, instead of 53, I think I would have liked it better, so check out some of these other reviews (more detailed than mine, but still mainly spoiler-free, I think):

Traveling with T
The Well-Read Redhead

William Morrow
304 pp.

Disclosure: I feel bad about not reviewing One Step Too Far sooner because I received an advance reader’s copy from the publisher.

Weekend Read: The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson (No Spoilers)

cover imageWith its many references to the Boston area, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson has been on my TBR* list since it came out last February, but once I finally opened it and read the beginning, I was hooked. I whipped through almost all of it in a single sitting on Saturday.

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is a true literary thriller with references to novels and other literature here and there, and a main character, George Foss, who works in the accounting department of a struggling Boston literary magazine. The book is about the consequences of George’s running into the girl he fell head over heels in love with twenty years earlier during their first semester as freshmen at Mather College, whom he hadn’t seen or heard from since.

Author Peter Swanson is a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock movies. This comes through especially in the twisty pacing of the book and in several scenes during which I may have literally held my breath while reading. Boston-area readers will enjoy mentions of well-known local spots, including the Kowloon on Route 1 in Saugus, and trying to guess what actual locations the fictional locations might be (New Essex – That would probably be Essex, a seaside town north of Boston? And Mather, the New England liberal arts college George Foss attended – the author’s own alma mater, Trinity College in Connecticut?), but the characters and their motives are more interesting than the setting, so readers unfamiliar with the area won’t miss out on anything important to the story.

Although the meaning of the hard-to-remember title gets explained eventually, I assume The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is also a reference to the literary thriller The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo – another book billed as a stylish literary thriller. (The Girl with a Clock for a Heart has been optioned for film; I’ll be curious to see if a movie is given a different, easier-to-remember title.) As everyone knows, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo was the first in a trilogy. I thought the same might be true here, but Peter Swanson denies that a sequel is in the works in this interview at Coot’s Reviews.

Even with a murder, police detectives, and a private investigator, also a blurb from Dennis Lehane on the cover and elements of noir, I wouldn’t suggest this to a reader looking for realistic crime fiction, but to a literary fiction reader who maybe also likes Patricia Highsmith or Dennis Lehane. You do have to be willing to suspend disbelief a few times and go along for the “sexy, electric thrill ride,” as Dennis Lehane describes the book.

Watch out for spoilers if you read other reviews. Better just get the book yourself, and read it quick!

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart
Swanson, Peter
William Morrow
Feb. 2, 2014
304 pp.

*To Be Read

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (Audio) & Musing About Series @BlackstoneAudio

cover image of How the Light Gets InHow the Light Gets In, published by Blackstone Audio at the end of August, is another fine example of the great partnership of author Louise Penny and audiobook narrator Ralph Cosham. It’s the ninth novel about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.

If you haven’t heard of these books yet, where have you been? The author writes a unique blend of police procedural and cozy mystery that seems to please both literary fiction fans and suspense fans, as well as readers who “don’t read mysteries.” Louise Penny blends dark and light themes, using humor and the fully developed personalities of her characters to keep death and its attendant depression and despair from overwhelming the reader.

Also, the audiobook narrator Ralph Cosham, as I and many other audiobook listeners have said before, IS Armand Gamache. No other voice will do.

These books about Chief Inspector Gamache and his fellow homicide detectives, their families, and their friends in the remote village of Three Pines, are also a good example of why they should be called a sequence, not a series. “Series” used to mean that you could pick up any book – the first or the thirty-first – and find a complete story with just enough about the characters to get by on, and you would get the skinny on the characters in every book, because they stayed pretty much the same from one book to the next. It was often even different authors writing the books, all under the same pen name. Series books were formulaic, so readers familiar with the series would get what they expected and new readers could jump in any time with no problem.

Series books are different now. They are sequential in more ways than by publication date. Characters develop. Circumstances change. If you read a book out of order, you’re going to hit major spoilers for the book that came before. The main character could be married or newly divorced, thought dead, gone into retirement or come back out of retirement; secondary characters could actually BE dead, or be double agents, or be having an affair.

This is a problem for publishers, and librarians, and probably booksellers too. And not just because publishers seem to be unwilling to print the series titles in order inside the book anymore. We all want people to be as excited as we are that the latest book in one of our favorite series is out, but a reader who starts reading Louise Penny with How the Light Gets In is not going to have the benefit of understanding how events in the earlier eight books have built up to the crucial moments for Chief Inspector Gamache and his department that take place in How the Light Gets In.

So the bad news about these books being a sequence and not a series is: you need to start with Still Life and keep reading until you get to this one. The good news is: you’re going to love all of them.

If you’re an audiobook listener, you will want to listen to these! Even if you don’t like mysteries.

How the Light Gets In
Penny, Louise
Cosham, Ralph
Blackstone Audio
August 2013
$39.99 US
approx 13 hours on 11 CDs

Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook from the public library.