Wondering what The Plot Thickens is doing in the special Winter Sports Edition of The Mix? Adding a little more ice, that’s what. (Some of you, like me, are staying indoors, right? Nobody ever sprained an ankle reading a book. If you did, please tell me.)
Last month, I asked readers to recommend books in the “Gone Girl” school — gripping psychological thrillers told by narrators who quite possibly weren’t telling us the entire story, leaving us wondering what was real and what was a reflection in the book’s hall of mirrors. Back in 2012, when it first came out, I pounced on Gillian’s Flynn’s “Gone Girl” the way my cat descends on a catnip mouse: obsessively, unable to take my paws off it. I reveled in its clever structure, its utterly unlovable and irredeemable central characters (Nick and Amy, let’s be clear, deserved each other), the screeching oh-my-god-put-on-the-brakes way that Flynn brought everything to a breathless stop midway through the book, and the way that she invested me in a story so hopelessly dark. (The movie, scripted by Flynn, is pretty great, too.)
Not everyone loved “Gone Girl” (I’ve heard from quite a few of you who didn’t), but enough of us read it to make the book a mega-bestseller — and to launch an entire industry of what I will call Unreliable Lady Thrillers. (Why have Unreliable Gentleman Thrillers not caught on so much? Anybody want to recommend a few?) I’d love to know what Harriet Vane would think of these books. Anyway, I’ve struggled to find one that gripped me quite the way “Gone Girl” did, so I put out the call. Many thanks to all who’ve responded; I’ve found some good ones, and was reminded of a few worth revisiting.
To the reader who suggested Flynn Berry’s books: Thank you, and maybe I’ll catch up on my sleep eventually. Berry is an American writer whose two novels are set in England; each features a lonely female character facing the aftermath of a horrifying crime. In her debut, “Under the Harrow” — a slim volume that you just might read in one breathless go, like I did — Rachel becomes obsessed with solving her sister’s murder in a small British town; in “A Double Life,” London doctor Clare learns that her father — a notorious murder suspect who disappeared decades ago — may have been found.
Berry is an elegant writer who movingly conveys trauma and despair. Rachel finds herself unable even to read in her grief: “I keep pulling books but I can’t understand any of them, even the ones I have read before. The sentences don’t lock together.” And she’s very good at withholding puzzle pieces and then dropping them, delicately, like the tiniest of pebbles that can nonetheless ripple an entire pond. I wouldn’t quite call her books “Gone Girl”-adjacent — there’s a gentle wistfulness to them, rather than razor-sharp nastiness — but Berry, who won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel for “Under the Harrow,” is definitely a writer to watch.
Two books I’d already read got multiple recommendations from readers. “The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn (who’s really editor Dan Mallory, and whose real-life story of deception is as good as any novel; I want to see THAT movie) is the story of an agoraphobic woman who thinks she sees something terrible while spying on her neighbors. It’s sort of Hitchcock and “Gone Girl” whirled in a blender, and while I remember thinking it all felt a little bit written-to-order, it definitely had me turning pages late at night.
Like “Gone Girl,” “The Wife Between Us,” by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, is told by two characters — a spurned first wife and a sweet second-wife-to-be — and oh, does it get nasty, with twists that hit with the force of a karate chop. As I wrote earlier this year, I’m kind of afraid to say anything about this book, as it might start stalking me or something. But if you loved “Gone Girl,” do check this one out — and maybe Hendricks/Pekkanen’s latest, “An Anonymous Girl” (bonus points: “Girl” in title!) as well.
Other suggestions from readers: “The Witch Elm” by Tana French (I loved this book), “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins (I wanted to love it, but didn’t), anything by Lisa Jewell or Fiona Barton, “Emma in the Night” by Wendy Walker, and “Unraveling Oliver” by Liz Nugent. Many thanks to all who wrote in! My list grows ever-longer.
In other matters mysterious, I will confess to being a bit underwhelmed by my first encounter with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, in the 1930 novel “Murder at the Vicarage,” but I hear she gets more to do later on. And, as I write this, I’m looking forward to a train trip — four hours each way — which I intend to spend reading crime fiction. “Strangers on a Train,” anyone?