Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Recommended Psychological Thrillers (3 Reviews)

Here are Three TOP Psychological Thrillers I'd recommend this summer. They all feature 'blocks to communication' in some form or another. You can also read how I got to meet one of these authors at the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate this year!

Before I Go to Sleep - SJ Watson
My rating 4/5 stars

On one level this book is a Tour de Force. It’s an incredible task for a debut novelist in particular to portray a woman’s daily battle with memory loss – the potential for repetition is huge! With so few characters (we meet only the protagonist’s husband, doctor and best friend for almost the entire book) and the main narrator, Christine, barely leaving the house, it is amazing how SJ Watson keeps this book burning – but he manages it! With new angles on the human dilemma of being without memory, issues of truth, reality, identity, love, the impact of the past and truth versus lies, the author has covered every base it would seem, in creating a tense and intense psychological thriller.

With a diary that she reads every day to remind her of the facts of her past, Christine has to try to figure out what is real, what is information others want her to hear (husband, doctor, best friend) and therefore who she can trust. Christine can’t trust herself, because she has no reliable body of experience to draw on to know who she is. There does come a point in the book for me, however, when I wanted to shake out of this inevitable cycle; trusting, then not trusting – remembering, then forgetting. The daily re-establishing of memories, then doubting because the narrator realises they come from another person’s version of her past does become a little relentless!

In this way, I really did want to get to the end – and the outcome was along the lines I’d anticipated from around two-thirds into the book. Nevertheless, there are some shocks on the way and it does tie things up, leaving me with an unsettling residue. A difficult book to forget (see what I did there?)!

Apple Tree Yard - Louise Doughty
4/5 stars

Here the protagonist is unable to communicate the truth due to her position. Part-psychological thriller, part-personal morality tale and part-courtroom drama - Louise Doughty’s seventh novel Apple Tree Yard is about a woman who makes one rash choice that ends up putting her on trial at the Old Bailey for the most serious of crimes. Not a traditional thriller, in that the pace is steady rather than fast, but I loved the poetic language and the original imagery in terms of inner dialogue and reflections about the world. It’s not just a suspense novel – it is a book with real meaning about choices, consequences and how our actions are viewed by other people. An uncomfortable read in many ways, but gripping!

I terms of language, I’d say 5/5 stars. In terms of the storyline itself, 4/5.

Rubbernecker - Belinda Bauer
5/5 stars

Eighteen year-old, Patrick Fort, suffers from Asperger's Syndrome and after losing his father in childhood, he’s obsessed with finding out exactly how he died and where he has ‘gone’. He joins an anatomy course at Cardiff University to dissect a corpse over a number of weeks to establish the cause of death, hoping this will bring him insights about his father.

In the meantime Sam is in a coma trapped in his own body somewhere between death and recovery. Bauer uses the first person voice to show us the struggles he goes through trying to break through to the surface and be heard. Then Sam witnesses something, but is unable to convey what he has seen…

There are many threads to this story that interweave in a complex, refreshing and fascinating way, taking psychological thrillers to a new level. I love Belinda’s quirky writing style and the way she is able to mix the macabre with laugh-out-loud moments of dark humour (some very funny moments). She also manages to address issues such as communication, isolation, the assumptions we make about coma victims and empathy in a chilling page-turner. Absolute must-read!

Image: BBC News
I was lucky enough to speak to Belinda Bauer at Harrogate this year, finding her on her own in the beer tent! She graciously didn't tell me she'd already won the Crime Novel of the Year when I said I'd voted for her and was hoping she'd win!
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.