Adrenaline Arc: Psychological Suspense–Complicated Ladies

NE RA Round Table May 24, 2016  at the Tewksbury Public Library

Handouts:                                                                                                                                                            Gannon, Michael B. Blood, Bedlam, Bullets, and Bad Guys: A Reader’s Guide to Genre Fiction. LU. 2004.” Introduction.” pp. x-xiii.   (Original assignment 11/15)

 Saricks, Joyce, G. The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction. “Psychological Suspense.” 2nd ed. ALA. 2009.  pp.229-243.                                                                                                     —-. “At Leisure with Joyce Saricks: Psychological Suspense, Horror’s Disturbing Sibling,” Booklist. October 1, 2015 p.24.

Adrenaline Thrillers: Spies Benchmark: Everyone reads Daniel Silva’s The Kill Artist

 Please post Adrenaline Suspense: Lone Wolves & Thrillers: Spies  second title choices on this RA RT Blog under Submit 2nd Title Info above.

Appeal to be read for May 2016 meeting: Focus on all the appeal factors, but really think about pace, character, and tone.


This list is representative – not exhaustive.

Abrahams, Peter. End of Story. (2006)

Cook, Thomas H., Master of the Delta. (2008)

Egan, Jennifer. The Keep (2006)

 Flynn Gillian. Dark Places. (2009) Gone Girl. (2012) Sharp Objects. (2006)

 French, Nicci. Blue Monday. (2012) Frieda Klein series #1

 Goodman, Carol. Seduction of Water. (2003)

 Lehane, Dennis. Shutter Island. (2003)

Harris, Robert. The Ghost. (2007)

 Harrison, A.S.A. The Silent Wife. (2013)

 Hawkins, Paula. The Girl on the Train. (2015)

 Highsmith, Patricia. Strangers on a Train. (1950)

 Knoll, Jessica. Luckiest Girl Alive. (2015)

 Lippman, Laura. After I’m Gone. (2014)

 Rendell, Ruth. The Water’s Lovely. (2007)

 Van Den Berg, Laura. Find Me. (2015)

 Walters, Minette. The Chameleon’s Shadow. (2008)

 Watson, S.J. Before I Go to Sleep. (2011)

Notes for NE  MLS RA Round Table May 24, 2016 Tewksbury Public Library                        (Submitted by Beth Safford; Boxford)

In attendance:  Leane Ellis, Wakefield; Jan Resnick, South Hadley;  Jerusha Maurer, Beverly;  Tatjana Saccio, Methuen;  Beth Safford, Boxford;  Jessica  Atherton, Newburyport;  Cindy Grove, Rockport;  Jessica Fitzpatrick from Chelmsford; Michelle Deschene-Warren, Danvers,  and  Jim Riordan, Danvers.

 Adrenaline: Psychological Suspense

Benchmark: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

Even the cover with reverse letters is indicative of twists and readers will expect them

Has the major characteristics of this genre including an unreliable narrator (Mia has emotional amnesia), does not have a happy ending, is a stand-along;  however, this title is softer in tone than books like Gone Girl [because] the loose ends are tied up in this title. [Leane’s note: Is she a “good girl?” or rather how is she not “ a good girl”? The reader is anticipating a reverse if the read this genre.]

Also striking for constant changes of narrator and jumps in time: Jim noted that reading it was the “literary equivalent of getting interrogated.”

Because it is psychological suspense, everything in the story has to fulfill a certain motivation\

[Leane’s note: The detective Gabe’s character –Questioning his motives;  is there any redeeming characteristics of the Mia’s father, her sister, etc.]

[Leane’s note:  We did not really discuss frame/setting/place and Kubica builds the psychological suspense well using the remote cabin, the increasing cold, the increasingly physical filthiness of both Chloe/Mia & Owen/Colin.]


1.)  PACE– page-turning pace is necessary for the success of any titles in this genre.
2.)  TONE – Suspenseful, in some cases, menacing atmosphere
3.)  STORY LINE is character-driven for the Lone Wolf; Both character-driven or plot-driven for the spy and character-driven for Psychological Suspense.
4.) PLACE or FRAME often plays a role and is a pivotal appeal for some reading spy fiction especially.

Thank you to Jan, Diane, and Michelle for contributing to this summary.  Leane

Second titles:

Jan: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Characters were very unlikeable and self-absorbed, intricate plotting, very twisted

Discussed reasons why it was so popular

When suggesting to readers, make sure they are okay with reading books with unlikeable characters and ambiguous ending

Jan suggested Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane and [Jessica Atherton suggested] Fates and Furies by Laura Groff as next reads.

Jerusha and Beth: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Also has unlikeable characters, unreliable narrator due to alcoholism

Shifts in perspective

Not sure why it is so popular but titles with “Girl” in them are definitely a trend

Tatjana : The Chamelon’s Shadow by Minette Walters

Slow pace, tension increases in second part of book

Protagonist is self-destructive soldier back from Iraq

Somewhat happy ending

Writer is more old-fashioned, setting important, subtle descriptions so will appeal to people who like more traditional mysteries [Leane’s note: Walters tries to keep humanity in her endings.]

Jessca A.: After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

Character driven

Plot not so important

Based on a real person

Spans from 1970s to now

Jessica F.: Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet

Thoughtful author, not fast paced

Supernatural elements

Literary psychological suspense

Part of a current trend of psychological family suspense

Michelle: Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

Dual narrative

Similar to Rebecca and many other titles

Chapter endings keep people reading but the twists are not so surprising

Not for hard-core psychological suspense readers

Reliant on atmosphere/ very moody

Jim: The Singing Bone by Beth Hahn

Plot involves a cult run by Vietnam vet in the 1970s

Graphic murders

Pacing very slow

Characters and setting (upstate New York) used well

Plot holes

Leane:  Maestra by L.S. Hilton

Unreliable narrator, compelling writing

Features art world, lives of very wealthy

Setting well done

Author trying too hard to write bestseller like Gone Girl

Extremely graphic sex and violence

Getting a lot of press

How do these titles of psychological suspense fit with other two categories in our Adrenaline Arc (Spy and Lone Wolves)? Tone is the common factor

Our next meeting is September 27, 2016, in Dracut to discuss Emerging World Literature

2nd Titles:

Leane Ellis

Maestra – L.S. Hilton
Appeal Factors: Unreliable narrator/Disturbing tone/Detailed art world & European places

A con artist and femme fatale uses her talents for self-invention to assume various identities and penetrate the invisible clubs of the debonair and wealthy. Judith or Lauren starts her criminal career in a confluence of bad circumstance (unintended murder) and revenge (wrongful termination) and using the 1st POV—you understand what she is thinking a great deal of the time but not when it really counts. Her voice is a compelling and witty one: “”If I went through with this I’d never be able to be myself again. Still, we’d never been that close” (p.190). Judith or Lauren is very detached from herself—although there are a few passages when we see inside her closely held battlements. If you enjoy the intricacies of the art auction and gallery world—that is done well. If you want to taste, smell, hear and see Paris, Italy and other European locales—that, too, is well done. Especially the decadent and extreme life style of the rich and famous. If money is power, then you will understand some of our character’s motivation as she transforms herself from penurious office assistant into gallery owner. However, as much as this novel meets much of the criteria of Psychological Suspense in its tone—disturbing; its pace—mostly very measured with bursts of adrenaline; its character—unreliable narrator; I could not help but think that the author is trying too hard to write a bestseller to compete with Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins.

The sexual content—compared in some reviews as “Fifty Shades of Gray” levels of description and these reviewers have some merit; however, the language the author uses is crude, vulgar and, at times, downright gross. I am not a prude but this was over the top for me at times. She is writing for the reader who wants brutal erotica without any emotional component and, again, doing it well. Does it add to the character’s isolation and color in her psychologically? Somewhat. The violence—even when detailed and graphic—was less disturbing then the sex even when she is being clinically methodical.

Reviewers also praised this book for the empowerment of the female character and her journey from victim to victor. I see that working in this book–just not as seamlessly as I would like from a writer.

Would I read the rest of the other two in this proposed trilogy? Maybe I’d skim to see where Judith or Lauren ends up. I will not run to pick it up but I keep thinking of the character and her choices, what she left out in her narrative, and where she may end up next. So Hilton is doing something right.

RED FLAG: Crude&Vulgar language&sexual content

Jan Resnick

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
Appeal Factors: pace – fast; story – intricately plotted; language/style – multiple POV, Nick, Amy; tone – dark, suspenseful; character – unlikeable, twisted, unreliable narrators; Frame – contemporary, New York City, North Carthage, Missouri

On their 5th anniversary, after moving from NYC to Nick’s hometown in Missouri, Nick’s wife Amy Elliott Dunne disappears. A neighbor calls saying the front door is open and the cat is outside. Furniture is tumbled. The investigation begins, and Nick hints at lies. If this hadn’t been my book for RART-NE, I would not have finished it. Might have skipped to the end to see how it resolved; it didn’t…the horror continues.

Red flags: explicit language p.248

Similar authors/titles: S.J. Watson – Before I Go to Sleep; Herman Koch – The Dinner; Linda Barnes – The Perfect Ghost; Lisa Unger – In the Blood; Kanae Minato – Confessions; Paula Hawkins – The Girl on the Train; Jamie Mason – Monday’s Lie; Peter Swanson – The Kind Worth Killing; Minette Walters – The Breaker

Jim Riordan

The Singing Bone – Beth Hahn
Appeal Factors: Setting, Character development, shifting time/perspective/structure

In 1979, Alice Pearson and her friends were in their senior year of High School when they are drawn into a cult run by a Vietnam vet named Jack Wyck who lives in a farm house in upstate New York. It starts out as one big none stop party: sex, drugs and music. As time goes by though the group moves into ever more sketcher terrain, culminating in several of horrific murders that blow the group apart. Alice’s testimony sends Wyck to prison and Alice into hiding. Fast forward 20 years, Alice has done her best to disappear working as a Folklore professor at a college near her childhood home. Wyck is in prison but still drawing people to his cult. Unfortunately a documentary film maker has tracked her down and wants to open up the whole story all over again. On top of that Wyck is trying to get out of prison and is bound and determined to get revenge on Alice.

The pacing of this book is fairly slow. I think this is meant to build tension but Hahn gets the timing off and tends to loses the readers’ attention. She gets full marks for using setting to give the book a decided creepy air. Most of the action takes place in upstate New York in the fall or winter so the reader always gets this feeling of dread from the surroundings. It always feels dark and cold and surrounded by skeletal trees.

Hahn is very good at letting the characters show the scars of their experience through personality ticks that by themselves wouldn’t mean anything but in the context of the story add up to a great deal. Hans Loomis, the documentary producer, made film about another cult that ended disastrously and with the cult wanting him dead. He is always hyper-aware of his surroundings and that comes through in the details of his thoughts.

Hahn also plays with space, time and perspective in the story to alter her readers comfort levels. She moves back and forth between Alice in 1979 and Alice in 1999, as well as switching perspective between Alice and Hans Loomis, the documentary film director. This unsettles the reader and builds the tension. Sometimes they know what a result is going to be before they see the action that causes it so they are bracing for those events. Even small things have an effect. Starting out the book has clearly delineated chapters: a 1979 chapter, a 1999 chapter and a Hans chapter each with a heading telling the reader which was which. However as the story goes on, there are chapters that are both 1979 and 1999 or both 1979 and Hans. There are also chapters that don’t say what time or perspective they are from, forcing the reader the find it out from context. This lack of pattern in the physical structure of the book was surprisingly unsettling.

This book will have its greatest appeal for long time readers of the Psychological Suspense genre. It was also have strong appeal to readers of true crime and cult nonfiction.

Michelle Deschene

Black Rabbit Hall – Eve Chase
Appeal Factors: Setting/Tone/Pace

Eve Chase’s Black Rabbit Hall unfolds through a dual narrative that weaves together the lives of two women until the final knot is inescapably tightened. In 1968, teenaged Amber’s life shatters one summer evening, when her mother is thrown from her horse during a storm, cutting a vibrant life tragically short. Present day, thirtysomething Lorna pushes through the grief of her mother’s accidental death in order to plan her wedding.

Combing Cornwall for the perfect venue, Lorna’s search turns up Pencraw Hall, better known to the locals as Black Rabbit Hall. Something about the crumbling estate sets a hook in Lorna’s heart and pulls. Determined to discover why, Lorna agrees to spend a weekend with the owner, Caroline Alton. Once there, surrounded by the abandoned detritus of another family, the Hall’s pull becomes suffocating, alienating Lorna from her life outside the rotting walls.

As the Alton family’s story is revealed, piece by heartbreaking piece, Lorna’s future becomes increasingly uncertain, tied to Black Rabbit Hall in a way she could never have imagined.

Comparisons will inevitably be drawn between Eve Chase’s debut novel and Rebecca, as in both stories deceased first wives loom large over grand estates. In Black Rabbit Hall, the tension is supplied by carefully constructed chapter endings, each one designed to leave the narrating character in a state of dread, emotionally unhinged, or potentially in danger. The past and present threads come together perhaps too seamlessly, however, as twists that were no doubt meant to be shocking revelations could be seen from miles away on a fog-thickened day.

This is not a novel to give to hardcore fans of psychological suspense; those readers are likely to be let down by the simple story at the heart of the tension, by the lack of grit or blood or puzzles on the page, by the presence of two ultimately reliable narrators. But for someone who wants to gently wade into the genre? Black Rabbit Hall, with its creeping pace and moody setting, could top that list.