Genre: Psychological Suspense

Psychological Suspense assigned for November 27, 2012:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012; 9:45am to 12:00N at the Boxford Public Library

Benchmarks:  Everyone reads Chevy Stevens’s Still Missing  and read 2nd title in the Psychological Suspense genre. 

Appeal to be read for November meeting: Focus on all the appeal factors, but really think about the interaction of pace, plot, and person in Psychological Suspense.

Handouts—Psychological Suspense—Joyce Saricks’s The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 2nd ed. (2009) pps 229-243.

Please post your RA review of  your second Psychological Suspense choices using the 2nd Title option above on this Blog.

We will continue our conversation about topics/goals for Oct 2013 to Oct 2015 at the November 27 meeting so please think about what your goals for genre study is and remember “it is not about you.”  It is about the readers we endeavor to advise.

Minutes of MLS RA Round Table November 27, 2012 at Boxford Public Library on Psychological Suspense–submitted by Eileen Barrett, Reading Public Library

Leane asks for less plot and more appeal factors on our reviews.

What makes a book a benchmark?  The book should have all the appeal factors (character, plot, pace, and setting) well done in that particular genre/subgenre.

Benchmark: Still Missing by Chevy Stevens.  In a one way dialog with her psychiatrist, 32-year-old Annie O’Sullivan describes her year-long captivity in a mountain cabin on Vancouver Island by rapist, David, “the freak”; her escape; and her ordeal trying to put her life back together.

Group comments:

–          This book caused anxiety, reflects what could happen in real life

–          Character driven, and the setting added to the isolation

–          Several people mentioned they did not like Annie at first but some found her admirable and strong

–          Annie was terribly angry and needed to be in control to rescue and empower herself.

–          Too much clothing description throughout the book

–          Death of the baby seemed too convenient.  On other hand, this perhaps gave her the ability to kill the freak.

–          Would it have been different if Annie had had a boy?

–          Annie’s mother is totally self-centered and could not foresee what she was doing to her daughter

–          Reflecting back mitigated the reality and was important

–          Told in 1st person narrative so only getting one side of story – is she a reliable narrator?

Appeal factors: character driven, plot produces anxiety, tension, and suspense (expected of genre), setting adds to the story

2nd Titles

Nancy: The Whispering Room by Amanda Stevens.  Set in New Orleans. Starts out with a woman walking to her cousin’s house, but house all quiet despite cousin having 5 children.  Turns out the woman murdered her sons and only daughters are alive.  The story is set 30 years into the future.

Appeal: tightly woven characters, setting post Katrina New Orleans (also a character), lots of twists and turns.

Nancy also mentioned another Amanda Stevens’ book, The Dollmaker. Here a kidnapper makes dolls in the exact image of the children he kidnaps.

Becky: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.  In the mid-80’s a young woman’s family was murdered (she was 6 or 7 at the time).  Her and her brother survived, but he was a suspect and put into prison.  The woman belongs to a group that talks about murders. There is also a movement to get her brother out of prison.  The setting is dark, the tone is dark, the character is unlikable, but there are some good twists and the pace is good, but a dark story.

Cindy: Thr3e by Ted Dekker.  Twenty-eight year old seminary student Kevin has a horrific past.  One day he gets a call that he must confess his sin or he will die.   He doesn’t confess and his car explodes. Kevin is given a riddle to solve or confess. This book has a twist that the author overworks.  The story takes place in California over 4 days.  Appeal: not heavily Christian more good verses evil.

Stefanie: The Truth Teller’s Lie  by Sophie Hannah is a dark story with an engaging narrator that evokes your sympathy even though she makes some very bad decisions. Appeal Factors: twists and turns, two interwoven story lines, first person narration, good read-alike for Stevens’s Still Missing.

Sandra: Defending Jacob by William Landay. Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber’s 14-year-old son is accused of murdering another student.  Lots of legal court room talk. Appeal: anxiety, doubt – does Barber know his son, could his son really have killed someone?  Sandra also mentioned, Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson.  A woman has lost her ability to create new memories, so her husband every day tells her past.  She goes to a psychiatrist who asks her to keep a journal, but when she reads from her journal she discovers it differs from what her husband has told her.  Who can she trust? This is a fast paced book for people who like Joy Fielding or Mary Higgins Clark

Eileen: My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. Not really a psychological suspense, but rather a beautifully written book with murder/mystery, romance, and philosophy.  Set in Istanbul in the 16th century, the sultan requests a book be illustrated in the European style.  As this is sacrilege, an affront to Islam, none of the miniaturists are to know the scope of the project only Enishte Effendi, the overseer.  The book begins with the corpse one of the miniaturists telling how he was murdered and thrown in a well. Three are plots to this book, the murder mystery of the killer, a love story, and a philosophical clash of east and west cultures. Appeal: beautifully written, intriguing story, setting – Istanbul, exotic

Jan: The Siege by Stephen White. A mother receives a threatening note about the safety of her daughter who is attending Yale University. Students from a secret society at Yale are being killed. Appeal: really neat language, fascinating story

Diane: The Likeness by Tana French. 2nd book in a series, but each can be read as a standalone. Detective Cassie Maddox goes to a dying town to a cottage where there is a murdered woman who is the exact likeness of Cassie. Appeal: character driven, lots of Irish culture/history, tone is menacing, writing lyrical – like a painting, good descriptions. Wide reader appeal and listening to the book is even richer as the narrator has a great Irish accent. Read-alike authors: Tess Gerritsen, Keith  Ablow, Donna Tartt (The Secret History)

Rachel: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.  Ripley, “Dexter” syndrome, seduced by a bad character whom you know should not like but whom you want to win. Appeal: character driven, setting Venice

Tricia: Blue Monday by Nicci French. Psychologist in London takes into her practice one of her mentor’s patients whom has anxiety and reveals a dream where he needs to have a little boy.  Shortly thereafter a little boy is missing. Psychologist goes to police and tries to help solve the crime.  Appeal: the relationship between psychologist and police detective. There are twists and it feels like author working on a series.

Michelle: Under the Skin by Michel Faber. In Scotland there is a woman who goes looking for young strong men hitchhikers and if she discovers they would not be missed she drugs them and brings them to a farm.  This book veers toward horror, lots of violence and blood. It is an underground society of half animal and harvesting men for food.  Appeal: macabre, language literary, fantasy on horror side, well told, off-beat, imaginative. Con: accent/dialog heavily Scottish

Sarah:  Scold’s Bridle by Minette Walters. The term “scold’s bridle” refers to a medieval torture device which is a cage with tongue clamps.  A rude old woman, Mathilda, is dead. The physician is suspected as she is willed the old woman’s fortune. Appeal: character driven, page turner, setting in a small English village is important, tone is suspenseful, compelling writing style.

Tatiana: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. Young woman, a newspaper reporter, returns to her hometown a there have been several murders and they want her to go back to investigate the murders. Appeal: creepy, bleak, strong main character.

Leane: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Two characters you can’t stand, but a compelling read.  This would be an excellent benchmark for this genre.  Two unreliable narrators, twists and turns galore, and a very controversial unsettling ending.  Pace is breathtaking–so is droll, dark humor.

Leane:  The Breaker by Minette Walters. A three year old girl is found wandering the rocky coast of Great Britain where her mother is found washed ashore, nude. This is very unsettling, 3rd person/multiple views. Not told in a linear fashion. Appeal: Characters carefully crafted even the villains, complex interesting people. Atmospheric, artful, powerful. Top 3 appeals are characters, place and pace.

Second Titles

Jan Resnick

The Siege – Stephen White
Appeal Factors: Pace – fast; Characters – 3-dimensional, interesting backstories; Language – compelling; Story – intricately plotted; Tone – suspenseful, foreboding; Frame – Yale, New Haven CT, contemporary.

Boulder detective (temporarily suspended) Sam Purdy attends an engagement party on behalf of his pregnant girlfriend (required bed rest) and becomes involved in a Yale hostage standoff in one of the secret society “tomb.” It is a hostage situation unlike any other – messages are sent to parents before they were aware their college student children had been taken; ransom is not money, but “ammunition” for future terrorist attacks. It is the evolution of terror. Some students die (bomb, stabbing, shot), some are released. Very random. The immediate situation is resolved, but will the “ammunition” be used? Alan Gregory Novels #17 – Detective Sam Purdy is a secondary character in this series. Dr. Gregory only makes a very tiny appearance here. I doubt that the rest of the series would be a parallel to this title.

  • Similar authors: Robert Crais, Michael Connelly – 9 Dragons, John Sandford (Virgil Flowers) Bad Blood, Lee Child, Steve Berry – Cotton Malone series, Brad Meltzer, John Nance, Preston & Child

Leane Ellis

The Breaker – Minette Walters
Appeal Factors: CH/PLACE/PACE

A three-year-old girl is found wandering the streets and hours later, her mother’s body is washed up on the beach. The prime suspects are her husband and a young actor. The novel itself grows more and more unsettling, reaching into areas that would be quite distasteful were it not for Walters’ intelligent way of handling her subject matter. Her characters are carefully constructed: they’re real people, not crime-novel stock figures — would-be villain as well as police characters. Walters jumps around between characters within the same timeline allowing the suspense to grow. The book is atmospheric and each time the police settle on a suspect, everything changes. Artful mystery & intelligent and cogent suspense.

Sandra Woodbury

Before I Go To Sleep – S.J. Watson
Appeal Factors: compelling, disturbing, fast-paced

This book was compelling and difficult to put down once I started it. The premise itself is interesting – the narrator is a woman who has lost her memory due to an accident, and while she can form new memories throughout the day, she can not retain them to the next day. While she sleeps each night, her mind is wiped blank, and every morning she wakes up having forgotten over half of her life. She has a husband who explains this to her every day, telling her pieces of their history. As you can probably imagine, this is very confusing and disorienting for her, and so with the help of a doctor, she begins to keep a journal in order to keep track of who she is and what is happening in her life. Through this she comes to realize that not everything in her life is as it seems, and perhaps she is mistaken in the people she trusts.

Watson’s writing takes this premise beyond interesting, into thrilling and creepy. There is a sense of mystery, danger, and fear throughout the book, and even when I thought I knew what was happening or where the story was going, I was never certain. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a psychological suspense – especially fans of Joy Fielding or Elizabeth Haynes I think.

Defending Jacob – William Landay
Appeal Factors: Disturbing, Suspenseful, Compelling

The first half of the book (maybe even more) was quite compelling to me. There was a decent amount of question as to who committed or didn’t commit murder, the way the story was told and the courtroom antics worked for me, and the family drama and interactions were fairly believable and engaging as well. I’m not sure exactly when I started to lose interest, but somewhere along the way I found the descriptions to get a little long, the action and “mystery” to get lost and slightly ridiculous, and it just seemed to fall apart for me. I might recommend this to fans of Grisham or Turow, but I might not as I found the ending to be a disappointment and stretch…

Sarah Woo

The Scold’s Bridle – Minette Walters
Appeal Factors: Characters: well-developed; Tone: Menacing, Suspenseful; Writing style: compelling

Rich, sharp-tongued, miserable, almost universally disliked Mathilda Gillespie is found dead in her bathtub at the beginning of this story. Despite the fact that she has a torture device – the scold’s bridle – locked to her head and tongue, the police believe they have a suicide case. Very soon, however, the police and the characters in the small English village where the story takes place, question that assumption. Prime suspects include Mathilda’s daughter and granddaughter; along with Sarah Blakeney, Mathilda’s physician, who as it turns out, stands to inherit most of Mathilda’s considerable fortune. What follows is a complex tale in which the reader may very well sympathetically root for Sarah, fervently hope her estranged artist husband is as ethical as we intermittently glimpse, and pretty much fall in love with the intelligent, witty, and humorous Detective Sergeant Cooper, who attempts to bring together all the pieces of the puzzle. Lots of Mathilda’s unsavory family secrets are revealed, as are the personalities, motivations, and secrets of the well-developed major characters. It is mostly a leisurely-paced tale, providing time for suspense to build and pertinent details to be revealed. The structure of the narrative is such that it alternates between a chronological unfolding of events (with enough back story to make it real and give it depth) and excerpts from Mathilda’s diary, which are told in reverse order and are fun to try to decipher. The alternating structure makes this intelligent, suspenseful read even more compelling.

Stefanie Aucoin

The Truth Teller’s Lie – Sophie Hannah
Appeal Factors: twists and turns, two interwoven storylines, first person narration

Naomi Jenkins thinks something terrible has befallen the man she is having an affair with. She sees something that causes her to black out when she looks in the front window of his house. Now the police think shes crazy when she reports him missing. Fine, she’ll give them a story that maybe they’ll believe. She invents a story about how he raped her several years ago. The only problem is that the facts start to add up with her lie…how close can she get to the truth before the careful life she’s created is destroyed? The story is dark, as I think most stories about rape are, and Naomi is so frightened and alienated that you can’t help but engage with her. Charlie, the (female) cop assigned to help with her case is having her own love and social issues that make her attention to the case wander/lack. There is a big reveal at the end with several plot twists, some kind of hackneyed but they work in this novel. I would suggest this book to readers who enjoyed Chevy Stevens, fans of hard British detective novels, and/or someone looking for a slightly less intense mind flipping story.

Michelle Deschene-Warren

Under the Skin – Michel Faber
Appeal Factors: Tone | Plot | Writing style | Character

Isserly endelessly drives along Scotland’s back roads and highways searching for hitchhikers that fit a particular description: young, physically fit men who will not be missed by friends or family. Once she gets them in the car, she waits for the right moment and presses a button that thrusts needles up from the seat, injecting the hitchers with a drug that renders them unconscious. Once they arrive back at the farm where Isserly lives, the men are taken away, never to be seen again.

Faber tries for and mostly succeeds in achieveing a literary style; the book is peppered with insights written in lovely – and occasionally disturbing – metaphors, and detailed with stark imagery that lingers. The tone is very dark, and the entirety of the narrative laced with tension derived from multiple plot threads. One should note that this novel veers towards horror; it does not shy away from visually-told gruesome violence (including castration), and the major, won’t-in-a-million-years-see-it-coming twist adds to the genre blurring.

Cindy Grove

Thr3e – Ted Dekker
Appeal Factors: Fast pace, suspenseful story, compelling storyline, strong detail in the scenes and action taking place

Ted Dekker brings action, suspense and horror together creating a story that readers will be unable to put down. Kevin Parson, a 28-year-old seminary student with a dark past leaves school one afternoon and into the clutches of Slater. Slater is Kevin’s childhood nemesis that demands the Kevin confess a past sin to the world before a bomb in detonated. Kevin is not certain what sin Slater wants him to confess so Slater creates a series of riddles that lead Kevin to each site Slater is targeting. Each failed attempt at stopping Slater results in bombs being placed in areas with higher populations of people. Kevin along with local and federal officials have to work quickly to stop Slater from making his next move. The constant action and suspense does leave a little something to be desired in the realm of character development. The main theme of the story is the struggle between what (or who) is good and evil which is woven into multiple points of the story. I would recommend this book to readers looking for a mind bending story with faith-based themes. “And does man simply choose evil, or does he create it?”

Becky Rowlands

Dark Places – Gillian Flynn
Appeal Factors: Plot, Characters, Setting

Dark Places blends 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 when her money runs out. 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.