Psychological thriller

Before I Let You In – Jenny Blackhurst

Title – Before I Let You In

Author – Jenny Blackhurst

Published – 2016

Genre – Psychological thriller

This was a gripping psychological thriller with a real sting in the tail. The opening of the book sets the scene with the uncomfortable initial session of a psychiatric consultation between Karen, the psychiatrist, and Jessica, the new patient.

Karen is one of a group of three close friends – Bea and Eleanor making up the trio. The women are quite different characters – which is probably true of most groups of close friends. Eleanor is the maternal figure, loving being a Mum, Bea is footloose and fancy free and Karen is the ‘fixer’, the one who sorts out her friends’ problems. But all is not sweetness and light – Bea is still affected by an incident from her past, Eleanor feels as if she is falling apart and Karen’s long-term partner is often absent.

Over a period of five weeks the psychiatric sessions continue and Jessica continues to be a confrontational patient.  There is a gentle increase in tension as Karen becomes increasingly disturbed about how much her new patient knows about her and her closest friends. And Karen understands the importance of the rules of confidentiality.

The chapters are told from different points of view – Karen, Bea, and Eleanor in the past tense, third person, a number of chapters in the past first person from someone who isn’t identified and interspersed with these are a number of short pieces of what seem to be interview transcript in the present, hinting at the events that will unfold.

As well as being a psychological thriller this is also a book about female friendships – but perhaps in a more realistic way than they might be portrayed in ‘chic lit’ where you might normally find them. These are all characters with shades of good and bad and they are all put under an increasing amount of pressure. With the secrets within the group and a series of sinister events the book was bound to reach a compelling climax.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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29 Seconds – T M Logan

Title – 29 Seconds

Author – T M Logan

Published – March 2018

Genre – Psychological thriller

Sarah is a young mother wit a professional job at a university, her husband has moved out and she’s trying to juggle her career and childcare. Her boss is the worst kind of lecherous sexual predator and she finds that she has no-one to turn to for help when he sets his sights on her. The ’29 Seconds’ of the title is the time it takes Sarah to make a phone call to take up the offer from a mysterious Russian, repaying a debt he owes her.

The book is incredibly timely and highlights the issues that have cropped up in the #MeToo campaign. Sarah is put in the invidious position of having to decide if she wants to keep her job enough to have sex with her boss.

I could empathise with Sarah up to a point but the plot felt like it took things too far, losing some credibility (I know, it’s fiction). I’m not a fan of stories of any kind, book, film, play, that depend on a single decision, one that as a reader you would prefer them not to take, I find the outcome frustrating when you could see it would be the wrong thing to do. The author has painted Sarah into a corner where she feels she has nowhere else to turn but as soon as she has made her move (and things don’t pan out quite as she anticipates) there is someone that she confides in who would have helped if she’d asked. The other characters felt like caricatures – the repugnant boss, the mysterious Russian, the earnest best friend – but they served their purpose.

I read the book quite quickly but that was partly because the phone call of the title doesn’t happen until half way so I was spurred on to get to the crux of the story. The premise is an unusual one and the aftermath of the call isn’t what I expected.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Breakdown – B A Paris

Title – The Breakdown

Author – B A Paris

Published – Feb 2017

Genre – Psychological thriller

With a set of bookshelves that are just my ‘to read’ books it can be difficult choosing the next book to read, in this case I went for a book that Goodreads told me was in the running for their annual Goodreads Choice Awards in the ‘Mystery and Thrillers’ category.

On a stormy night Cass takes a shortcut home through the woods and drives past a woman parked in her car. When the news the next day is that the woman has been found dead and she also realises that she knew the woman, Cass becomes consumed by guilt.

I wasn’t hugely keen on Cass as a character. She’s suffering from memory lapses and is worried that she, like her mother before her, is suffering from early onset dementia, but her initial decision not to tell her husband what happened felt like a frustrating mistake when you’re looking in from the outside. I know authors play with ‘what if’ scenarios but as a reader I’m not keen on the plots that rely on the main character making the wrong choice at the beginning (usually keeping a secret) on which the rest of the plot depends. Despite my misgivings I couldn’t fault the writer in creating a character who felt fragile, fractured and brought to close to breaking point.

As with The Roanoke Girls it would be very easy to compare this to (in this case) a single film/play which would give away the main premise (I won’t). As it was I felt the author was trying to keep the suspense going until close to the end of the book when I had realised some (admittedly not all) of the key elements much earlier on.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Other Woman – Laura Wilson

Title – The Other Woman

Author – Laura Wilson

Published – Oct 2017

Genre – Psychological thriller

The question is how to review the book without giving too much away. So the title tells you that there is another woman involved, the two-page first chapter takes place six months after the main story opens and tells the reader that at some point in the book someone will die. And there we have it because much more and I will spoil the book.

The main character is Sophie and she is the epitome of the smug, wealthy woman often found in these thrillers, she has it all but doesn’t seem to realise it. Being suspicious of her husband Sophie gets herself into a situation that offers both tension and farce. Event spirals out of control and the more she tries to make things better the worse they become. The more farcical aspects deliver some black humour, although there was nothing to laugh about and often I felt like shouting at Sophie! Needless to say that the more the events resemble a farce the less realistic they seem but when engrossed by the book – who cares! It had me absolutely gripped, the pace is unrelenting. I was so invested in the character that when I wasn’t reading I found I was feeling guilty and it took a while to realise that it was being driven by what I’d been reading.

And all the time you’re still wondering ‘so whose death is referred to in the first chapter’! The plot throws all sorts of things at you but I didn’t suspect the ending until very late on when it became inevitable and it was only on the last page that you were sure of what had happened.

I’ve had a quick look on Amazon and this really seems to be a ‘marmite’ book that’s dividing readers. I would say give it a try.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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He Said/She Said – Erin Kelly

Title – He Said/She Said

Author – Erin Kelly

Published – April 2017

Genre – Psychological thriller

I occasionally start a book with preconceived ideas because I’ve heard other people talking about it or seen it being promoted but in this case I hadn’t come across many references – I requested the Netgalley on the strength of the author without reading the blurb. Which means it’s perhaps a little odd for me to say that the book wasn’t what I expected. Without any idea of what the story would be about, my assumptions kept catching me out; the opening made me think I was going to be reading a legal thriller and then it was more about crime and rape and perceptions and then it was about stalking and then … well it keeps you on your toes!

The opening of the book is sparse on background, leaving the reader to figure things out for themselves. Young couple Laura and Kit are appearing as witnesses at a trial after an incident that took place when they were watching the eclipse in 1999. The story hinges on a momentary outburst from Laura and what may have been an error of judgement haunts her and Kit. His obsession with chasing eclipses provides a framework for the story which spans 15 years to bring events up to date and is told from their two perspectives.  But enough said – it feels important not to give too much away though!

What I will say is that the story is cleverly crafted and there are plenty of moments when you kick yourself for not having spotted the clues, but Kelly’s writing ensures these are subtle and not ‘signposted’, the moments of revelation unexpected but plausible. The characters are realistically drawn, warts and all, most of them aren’t particularly likeable but this wasn’t a book where you felt you were being forced to hate them. In the moments of tension (and there are plenty) you root for them even though you might not always agree with their choices.

An unusual psychological thriller, smartly executed,  that will keep you intrigued as the plot unravels.

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When She Was Bad – Tammy Cohen

41mathmktglTitle – When She Was Bad

Author – Tammy Cohen

Published – 2016

Genre – Psychological thriller

The book is split between events taking place in America and the UK. In the US a child psychologist sees the news of a ‘crime that shocked a city’ being reported. And it’s obvious that she knows the accused. In the UK the story is about office politics. In a recruitment firm mild-mannered manager Gill has been replaced by unapproachable Rachel who is set to drive better performance in the department.

In the UK the story is told from multiple points of view by the colleagues involved; it’s a tale of office politics but you just know that this is linked to the disaster which will unfold on the television news and you are left to wonder how. Having worked in offices where Machievelli would have been jealous of the deviousness of the staff it was easy to recognise the characters. With the knowledge that somehow this is all going to end in tragedy it’s inevitable that you read more into the characters and their behaviour with an eye on who could be the killer, the victim.

In the US, Anne relates her involvement in a horrific case of child abuse and the story and its outcome says as much about how women were treated in the 1970s as it does about what people have learned about child psychology since. As a fan of Jonathan Kellerman I’m no stranger to the child psychologist and my only comment on this thread of the story is that I would have liked it to explore the interaction with the children a little more.

There was a great element of suspense in knowing something of the final outcome. The story kept me guessing, no sooner had I ruled one of the characters out than I ruled them back in again. It seemed to be neatly plotted to draw the threads together and adding a twist of a whodunnit to something that is a psychological thriller. Although I do have one issue with the book but if I were to explain it would be quite a spoiler!

I enjoyed the very recognisable setting and characters and the the slightly twisty way of telling the story, this isn’t a conventional psychological thriller.

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Never Alone – Elizabeth Haynes

515wJ5JzzzL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Title – Never Alone

Author – Elizabeth Haynes

Published – 28 July 2016

Genre – Psychological thriller

Elizabeth Haynes’ debut, Into The Darkest Corner, remains the book by which I judge all other psychological thrillers – the tension she creates in that book is what most other authors who choose that genre can only aspire to. Since her debut there have been two further thrillers and she has started a police procedural series, all of which I have enjoyed, so I was thrilled to be offered the chance to review her newest title.

Sarah is a widow living with her two dogs in a farmhouse on the Yorkshire Moors. With some financial difficulties and suffering a little from ’empty nest’ syndrome she offers to let an old friend, Aiden, stay in the cottage across from her house. It’s a spur of the moment offer as she hasn’t seen Aiden in a long time.

The story moves slowly with the rekindling of the friendship between Aiden and Sarah against the backdrop of her domestic life. Told from three slightly different perspectives – Sarah’s, Aiden’s (which is in the second person), and interspersed with fragments that are unattributed – adding another layer of mystery. It becomes clear that everyone has secrets but the masterly way the story develops means that you’re kept guessing.

Part of the fascination with the story is the relationship between Sarah and Aiden. Although they were close when at University they haven’t seen each other in more recent years and there was some sort of falling out that involved Sarah’s husband who was a mutual friend. This all means that the two characters are trying to feel their way through the new situation and understand how things stand between them. They both appear to have regrets about the past but it’s not clear how they want things to develop.

Something I should also mention is that there’s a decent amount of sex involved – the relationships are central to the story so this isn’t gratuitous but there is possibly more than readers of the genre might expect.

I thought Sarah was a fabulous leading character and a very credible one which seems to be particularly unusual in a psychological thriller. So often the leading lady can be a caricature rather than realistic, and frequently they’re unsympathetic. I really liked Sarah, though, and when things got tough there was no doubt who I was rooting for. I think developing the characters in this way is one of Haynes’ strengths – the more you care about them the more the you’re drawn in and the more effective the tension. The final denouement didn’t disappoint either – remaining all too believable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and it was one of those books that may sound cliched to describe as ‘unputdownable’ but once I had started I read it at every opportunity. Coincidentally I see that, like Into The Darkest Corner, this also started during NaNoWriMo – something that seems to be a winning formula. With a small cast of characters, a remote location and a severe snowstorm the gripping story ramps up to a thrilling climax. Scandi noir eat your heart out!

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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