Posts filed under ‘Suspense’

Featured Genre Friday: Psychological Suspense

stillmissingStill Missing by Chevy Stevens / Pub Date: May 2011 / 368 pgs.

Stevens’ debut novel has become  a benchmark of the psychological suspense genre, and with good reason: she does a great many things very, very well.  Annie O’Sullivan is a Realtor in her early thirties when she is abducted from an open house she is hosting.  Annie is brought deep into the woods, and over a year’s time, forced to endure various atrocities at the hands of a man she comes to know as “The Freak.”  The reader learns Annie’s story bit-by-bit as she reveals it to her therapist, so it’s clear from the start that Annie does eventually escape.  However, Stevens’ story unfolds in such an unsettling manner that there is no shortage of twists and uncertainty.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn / Pub Date: May 2009 / 368 pgs. dark_places_l

Flynn has recently garnered much attention for this summer’s best-seller, Gone Girl. (A review of that book is forthcoming!) After reading Gone Girl in one weekend, I immediately turned Flynn’s earlier books.  Dark Places does not disappoint, blending a compelling plot with the author’s signature prickly, damaged characters and powerful setting.  Libby Day was only 7 years old when her entire family, except for herself and her then-15-year-old brother, Ben, was murdered in their Kansas farmhouse in the mid-eighties.  Ben was flagged as the prime suspect and thrown in prison for life.  After 25 years of living off donations that poured in in the wake of her family’s murder, Libby must venture out of her hermetic existence.  She gets involved with a “murder club” in the hopes of selling her story to a group that debates the details of famous murder cases.  Libby also discovers a contingent of people convinced that Ben is innocent–and must finally face the truth of what really happened that night. Flynn’s setting (the desolate mid-western town/farmhouse) makes her story come alive. Libby is the quintessential unreliable narrator. As a small, terrified child on the night of her family’s murder, are her memories valid, or were they coerced by law enforcement? Flynn expertly paces her novel: the plot is revealed bit-by-bit, keeping the reader’s interest, and there are some very satisfying plot twists toward the end. As the title implies, the book is dark, dark dark….characters, tone, and setting. Very worth it, though, for readers who enjoy well-crafted suspense.

beforeigotosleepBefore I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson / Pub Date: June 2011 / 368 pgs.

Speaking of unreliable narrators, this one may actually take the cake.   Christine Lucas wakes up every day with her mind erased of her memories.  (Kind of like the movie Memento.)  She has recently started seeing a new doctor who has encouraged her to start keeping a journal of her days, building her own history from scratch.  She wakes up every morning next to a strange man, and from her journal each day learns that this man is her husband, Ben.  But then she wakes up one morning and sees these words in her journal: “Don’t trust Ben.” From there, Watson takes his readers on an unpredictable journey as we discover, along with Christine, the keys her mysterious past.
Watson’s debut novel is highly anxiety-ridden, but incredibly interesting.  It certainly keeps you guessing.




December 7, 2012 at 2:45 pm Leave a comment

Two dark psychological thrillers

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Fiction (Young Adult)

368 pgs.


I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

Fiction (Adult)

320 pgs.

Not only did the title, I Hunt Killers, lure me in, but it reminded me of another book, I Am Not A Serial Killer, which I have always wanted to read. Since they both dealt with the same subject matter, serial murderers, I read them both! I Hunt Killers is by Barry Lyga, a guy I must admit has written some of my favorite novels thus far.  And I Am Not a Serial Killer is the debut novel from author Dan Wells.

First let us delve into the frightening mind of Jazz from Lyga’s I Hunt Killers.  Jazz (Jasper) Dent is a teenager from Lobo’s Nod. There has been a mysterious killing in town and the body was left in a field with a finger missing. The police chief, G. William Tanner, solved a serial killer case not too long ago and put Cornelius “Billy” Dent, Jazz’s father, one of the most notorious serial killers ever, away for a long time. He is hesitant to believe this body in the field is the start of another serial case, but Jazz is not at all hesitate. As the entire town is expecting Jazz to turn out just like his father, Jazz instead sets out to prove he is the opposite and helps William solve the case.

The story is complicated further by the fact that Jazz was brought up by Billy as an apprentice, with the understanding that he too would become a killer. As a result, Jazz has a desensitization and emotional detachment about crime, death, killing, bodies, blood, and more. It makes him a creepy good guy, a little like the character of Dexter from Jeff Lindsay’s book series and the popular TV show. In fact, if you like Dexter I think you will fall in love with this projected trilogy.

This crime mystery stands alone or could be supplemented by a sequel.  It is a satisfying crime novel with a teenage protagonist. I recommend to mystery-lovers and CSI-lovers everywhere.  There is more to this, though, than just a good mystery. There is a young man trying to make sense of himself, his parentage, and his place in society. The combination of the two is unique.

I found Dan Wells’ I Am Not A Serial Killer disturbing both in its content and because it was hard to put down. This is a book that because of its subject matter makes one feel at least a little self-conscious or maybe even a little guilty reading, let alone liking.

The premise is simple. John Wayne Cleaver is a teenage boy and a sociopath. He is unable to empathize with people the way others do. Because of this, and his obsession with serial killers, he is convinced he is destined to become one himself. Therefore, he constructs a list of rules he lives by to keep himself from going in that direction.

Yet trouble starts when a brutal murder is committed. John, who is also the son of a mortician, immediately picks up on the clues that this is not just a random crime, but the beginning of a serial killing spree. As more murders occur and more information develops, he becomes convinced that he is the only one who can save the town, even though it will mean having to break his rules and risk turning into the killer he fears.

Both books are not for the squeamish. The plots are not “slasher fiction” per se so much as psychological horror. Yes, they both deal with two men murdering people in brutal fashion, but the real horror is watching the progression of both Billy and John as they lose control of their own inner monster.

Each author has done his homework and has created fascinating characters in Billy Dent and John Cleaver, both of whom are bright self-aware men with an inability to feel normal emotion. And they stick with it: no matter how uncomfortable, even painful, it can get being inside the killers’ heads.

These novels were draining at times because of the tension, suspense, and dark places in which they walk. However, they invite you to notice your own dark places. Each story was well-written and a piece of work you can learn from. I enjoyed the opportunity to study an alien mind from a safe distance. That is one of the points of literature in the first place: to let you share in experiences you would not normally have the opportunity to. In the end, it was entertaining and intriguing to learning how killers and sociopaths think.


September 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm Leave a comment

Featured Contributor Friday

This Friday, enjoy a post from Nicole, our newest member of Library staff! She will be assisting in the Children’s and YA departments while earning her degree at Simmons.  Stop in and say hi! (P. S. Learn more about Nicole here.)

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Pub Date: June 2011

Fiction (Young Adult)

352 pgs.

I know, I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But with a cover like this, how could I not want to read Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children? Between the cover, the title, and a quick flip through the vintage photographs scattered throughout the book, I was eager to devour every bit of it. Riggs’s debut novel tells the tale of Jacob, who isn’t quite sure if his grandfather is a liar or a lunatic. Either way, Grandpa Portman’s fascinating tales about the bizarre orphans he grew up with both delight and frighten the young Jacob. Years later, a mysterious death and even more mysterious letter and photograph lead sixteen-year-old Jacob on a remarkable journey to discover the truth surrounding his grandfather’s life by returning to that strange orphanage in Wales that was once his grandfather’s home.

This fantasy is mysterious and at times even a bit frightening.  Fans of Tim Burton and David Lynch, keep an eye on Ransom Riggs. His own cinematography background is evident in his highly descriptive writing:  “I emerged into the sticky-hot evening to find Ricky smoking on the hood of his battered car.  Something about his mud-encrusted boots and the way he let smoke curl from his lips and how the sinking sun lit his green hair reminded me of  a punk, redneck James Dean” (p. 26).  Riggs definitely knows how to plant an image in readers’ minds.

Fans of historical fiction will likely enjoy the story, not to mention the eerie actual vintage photographs in the book that represent the peculiar orphans, at times making Riggs’s fantastic story seem all too real.  I really wanted to love this book, and I was not disappointed.  The pacing was rather uneven, which might disappoint readers who enjoy more action, since some parts of the novel move rather slowly.  The intriguing plot and format of the novel kept my interest, however.  The ending leaves one wanting more, and Riggs is in the process of writing a sequel, which I cannot wait to get my hands on.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is going to be made into a movie, but Riggs isn’t going to make it himself. Instead he’s going to let Tim Burton and Jane Goldman tackle this one. I, for one, cannot wait to see what they come up with!

Check out Riggs’s own trailer for the novel.

For more on Ransom Riggs, check out his website.


February 24, 2012 at 4:03 pm Leave a comment

Featured Contributor Friday

In lieu of a genre study this week we have something better – a new voice for the blog.  Marie works in the Children’s room at the Library, and manages our periodical collection.  The following is her review –

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

weightPub Date: January 2009

Fiction (Adult)

384 pgs.

A round of applause for Gudenkauf’s gripping and tense debut novel. At dawn, one quiet humid August morning in Willow Creek, Iowa, 2 seven year old girls from 2 separate families have been abducted in the middle of the night. The descriptive prologue immediately draws the reader into a very serious and tense situation. One of the missing young girls, Calli, is a selective mute. Antonia, Calli’s mother, speaks with a sense of relief the last four words of the prologue. “You have finally spoken.”

I picked this paperback up by accident and couldn’t lay it to rest. Calli, a fragile, dreamy child, hasn’t spoken a word for the past four years due to an incident that she witnessed in her home at the age of three. Petra Gregory, Calli’s best friend, also goes missing the same night. The reader soon discovers that Petra is more than a best friend.  She is Calli’s voice whenever they’re together.

The author moves the story along at a fast pace with brief precise chapters dealing with the important characters in the story. There are only a few main characters and the reader is constantly questioning who abducted these two young girls. “Family Silence” or “Family Secrets” would have been other appropriate titles for this novel. Calli’s mother and Petra’s father have been silent and secretive about their family situations. This unspoken silence brings into question what happened to these two girls. Let the reader be assured that this story has a happy and redemptive ending.

Heather Gudenkauf is an educator who has spent the past sixteen years working with students of all ages in the Iowa school system. She is also an individual with a hearing impairment. So this story brings into light the problems faced by children with disabilities. It is beautifully written and touches all aspects of family life. It’s definitely a pageturner!   -Marie

P.S. Have a wonderful, book-filled holiday weekend!

September 4, 2009 at 3:49 pm Leave a comment

Eye Contact by Cammie McGovern

eyecontact2 Pub Date: June 2006

Fiction (Adult)

304 pgs.

I so wanted to finish this in time for my post about suspense fiction last week.  There was a bit of buzz surrounding this book when it was published a few years ago, and I remember thinking it looked interesting. Alas, I had plucked it off the shelf only the night before I wrote the post, and my body betrayed me by falling asleep that night against my will, the book unfinished, but not before I had made a sizeable dent in it.  I compensated by staying glued to the couch for the next two evenings, unable to take my eyes off the pages. It was that good.

Billed as a “thrilling novel of psychological suspense,” Cammie McGovern’s Eye Contact was, for me, a wonderfully told, emotionally wrought story of the relationship between a mother and her 9-year-old autistic son, wrapped up in, yes, a thrilling, suspenseful package. In the woods behind Woodside Elementary, the body of a 10-year-old girl has been found, stabbed. The only witness to this horrific crime is Adam, the autistic son of Cara. Adam has severe developmental problems, language not least among them. Cara tries desperately to unlock Adam’s mental world in order to help the police solve the case. She finds an unexpected ally in Morgan, a thirteen-year-old with his own social and developmental problems who is intent on solving the case to atone for, and draw attention away from, his own unrelated crime.

The thing that impressed me about Eye Contact was the sheer number of things McGovern does well. The mystery itself not only keeps the reader guessing, but the various relationships between the characters are handled deftly and sympathetically. A young mother, Cara also attended Woodside Elementary and her own issues with herself and the people around her provide the backbone for the story. The story also provides much insight into the worlds of special-needs children and those who care for them. The mystery itself leads the reader through various twists and turns in the case–my one criticism is that it feels a bit frantic towards the end, although the twists are intriguing and each twist does reveal something more about one or another of the characters. Simply said, this is an unusual, breathtaking thriller, one you won’t soon forget.

August 26, 2009 at 1:55 pm Leave a comment

Featured Genre Friday: Suspense

Suspense is a genre I hadn’t read for years and have recently gotten back into.  I started with Stuart Woods, one of those authors I see go out all the time but had never read myself, and suddenly I was saying to myself, Oh, now I get it!

orchidbeach Orchid Beach by Stuart Woods / Pub Date: Nov. 1998 / 336 pgs.

Holly Barker moves to Orchid Beach, Florida after a scandal forces her to retire early from her two-decades-long army career.  She accepts a job offer from the Orchid Beach chief of police, an old army buddy of her father’s, to be his deputy.  Of course, by the end of her first day on the job, the Chief is left in a coma, and Holly is up to her ears in a mystery, acting Chief to a police force she’s not sure she can trust– a force who is, in turn, suspicious of her.  Woods wastes no time getting to the action, and I was surprised how fast I got into the story and into the tough and intelligent character of Holly in particular.  Woods has a particular ear for dialogue and renders his lead character compassionately.  The man knows how to write a woman’s character.  After finishing Orchid Beach in nearly a day (appropriately, I took it along with me to the beach), I quickly devoured the second in the Holly Barker series, Orchid Blues, and am waiting on the third. Thank you, Mr. Woods, for reintroducing me to the world of suspicious doings and dangerous situations.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane / Pub Date: April 2003 / 336 pgs. shutterisland

I’ve recently been on a kick of movies based on Dennis Lehane novels–Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River–I just love ’em! But then I realized I had never actually read a Dennis Lehane novel, so I figured a good place to start was with Shutter Island, as it, too, will be made into a film this fall.  A stand-alone novel, Shutter Island takes place on an island off the coast of Massachusetts in the mid-1950’s.  U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner, Chuck Aule, are summoned to the “hospital” for the criminally insane on the island to investigate the disappearance of a missing patient, Rachel Solando. The nature of the hospital and all its patients, though, isn’t necessarily what it seems.  Lehane’s is a calm, controlled page-turner;  he’s got the psychological-suspense aspect down pat, and readers are treated to a satisfyingly complex plot full of puzzles and deceptions large and small.  For fans of atmospheric, unpredictable reads, Shutter Island is tough to beat.

street where you live On the Street Where You Live by Mary Higgins Clark / Pub Date: April 2001 / 320 pgs.

I figured the next obvious place to go was to the queen of suspense herself, Mary Higgins Clark.  On the Street Where You Live is a century-spanning mystery. In the twenty-first century, we have Emily Graham, a pretty yet down-on-her-luck attorney, who has just purchased her family’s turn-of-the-century Victorian in a seaside New Jersey resort town.  Emily’s not had an easy time of it lately–she’s moving to escape bad memories of a crazed stalker.  At least her stalker is finally in jail–or is he? In the late 19th century, we have Madeline Shapely, Emily’s great-great-great aunt who’s had an even worse time–she was found murdered when she was just 19, in 1891. When a body is found in the foundation of Emily’s new house, it is of yet another young woman who disappeared four years before–but something is found in her lifeless hand that offers a connection to Madeline’s disappearance, more than one hundred years before. Emily is quickly sucked into the mysteries surrounding her ancestral home and begins her own investigation–and starts to realize that she can literally trust no one.  Read this book for the plot, not the characterization–with so many characters, it is hard to flesh them all out, and Clark doesn’t try. What she does offer is an old-fashioned suspenseful mystery that will appeal to true fans of the genre.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood / Pub Date: August 2001 / 521 pgs.blindassassin

When thinking of suspense authors, one might not typically immediately think of Margaret Atwood.  But that’s what’s great about Atwood–she defies genres.  To me, the many layers of this novel–the mysterious death, the  family secrets, the complexities of the plot–justifiably place it in suspense territory.  The Blind Assassin is the story of two sisters, one of whom dies in the novel’s opening. In her 80’s, in the present day, Iris Chase reflects on the ambiguous death of her beautiful twenty-five-year old sister Laura in 1945. Laura’s novel, called The Blind Assassin, was published posthumously, and its text makes up a good part of the novel, as a novel-within-a-novel.  Atwood’s tale weaves together important events in the twentieth century–the two world wars, Communist witch hunts, the Depression–with a sweeping family saga, mystery, suspense, science fiction, a love story…there’s a lot, a lot to like about this Booker prize-winning novel. On top of all that, Atwood’s use of language is, as always, to die for. In my humble opinion, she is one of the best writers alive today.  Set aside an evening to just dive into this novel. You won’t regret it.

August 21, 2009 at 2:46 pm Leave a comment

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