There are many genres I love to read. I have a fascination with historical fiction written about Tudor England (or anything featuring Mary, Queen of Scots), fantasy novels that can transport me, YA with strong female characters, and anything dystopian or near-future. But in terms of entertainment value, psychological suspense and thrillers are near the top of my list, even more so if there is a wonderfully creepy murder in them. I consume them with the same hearty hunger my cat exhibits when I accidentally drop a piece of pasta on the floor. So it makes sense that I would eventually write a thriller as well.
Initially, before I moved from Brooklyn to Wisconsin late last winter, I had an altogether different idea for a new novel. It would have been a fantasy, probably Young Adult or New Adult, set in a different world and told from the POV of several different characters. However, circumstances changed, and instead a brand new concept came to me (more on that in a future post). I wrote Mimicry in two months and it basically poured out of me. I couldn’t stop writing it; I had a rough story outline but the words were in such a hurry to get on the page that I just wrote and wrote until they were down. And I was surprised to see I was happy with the result in a way I hadn’t experienced before.
I credit that to 1.) being generally awesome, and 2.) the large amount of books I’ve read in this broad and interesting genre. Other authors inspired me, and I learned a lot about exactly how to write a suspense/thriller by reading MANY of them. The following are my recommendations, my top picks, and the ones that I learned the most from:
- You by Caroline Kepnes (taught me about character complexity) – What happens when your dream girl doesn’t know you exist? Well, obviously you stalk her, watch her, hack her email, and insert yourself into her life as the perfect boyfriend. You is told in a unique way, and you will weirdly find yourself charmed by Joe, even though he’s blatantly got several hundred screws loose. BONUS: it is premiering as a TV show starring Penn Badgley (a.k.a. Dan from Gossip Girl), Shay Mitchell (a.k.a. Emily from Pretty Little Liars), and Elizabeth Lail (a.k.a Amy from Dead of Summer, which like 4 people watched but I loved) in September.
- The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager (taught me about vivid settings) – Emma returns to the summer camp where her friends mysteriously vanished from when she was a pre-teen. Looking for answers, and looking to put to rest the girls who haunt her in her paintings, Emma discovers more about the camp than she bargained for. Look, I am a sucker for creepy summer camp stories (hence my enjoyment of Dead of Summer). And also for sassy, slightly sociopathic teenage girl characters.
- The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (showed me how to unsettle your reader) – Okay, I’m not a huge fan of the unreliable-narrator-because-she-drinks trope but this book is still very fun. It’s basically Rear Window, but with an agoraphobic woman instead of Jimmy Stewart in a wheelchair. It’s being turned into a movie and no wonder, it’s written very cinematically and you will have no problem visualizing the story.
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (showed me about how to write twists) – Yeah, this was obviously going to make the list. It’s one of the most famous and prominent psychological thrillers of the decade, and I didn’t think I could make a list without it since it paved the way for many more books of its kind. Do I even need to give you a summary? Just read it.
- Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas (highlighted the importance of narration) – Anna goes to Aruba with her boyfriend and her best friend. When her best friend is murdered, Anna is arrested. And hot damn, was this one wild ride. Talk about an unreliable narrator. Definitely a good beach read, one you will tear through in an effort to find out who is lying and who is telling the truth.
There are so many other good novels in this genre. Of course, it all comes down to your taste. What I like, others may not. What I find silly, others may love. That’s the beauty of reading. No one has to agree on anything. It’s all up for interpretation.