Psychological thriller

He Said/She Said

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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The First Cut – Ali Knight

516-rWwFUDLTitle – The First Cut

Author – Ali Knight

Published – 2012

Genre – Psychological thriller

This psychological thriller feels like it has a lot in common with some of the Nicci French standalone novels.

Five years earlier Nicky’s best friend, Grace, was murdered during a girls’ weekend away, a murder that was never solved. Nicky was badly affected by the events but fell in love with, and subsequently married, Grace’s boyfriend, Greg. But Greg is a cameraman who travels all over the world and a chance encounter on a plane with a young man called Adam leads Nicky to be tempted into being unfaithful.

We’re introduced to a number of supporting characters – there’s Troy who’s something of a thug and a blackmailer, Adam’s family including his aunt who was the doorwoman at an infamous nightclub, and Greg’s over-protective sister. There’s also Greg himself who seems to have something of his own to hide.

As Nicky pursues her flirtation with Adam things become stranger and stranger. I don’t want to give too much away because there’s tension that I wouldn’t want to spoil but for me some of the action veered between the farcical and the incredible. I also suffered that issue of not actually liking Nicky very much and therefore not caring greatly what happened to her. The plot did keep me guessing though!

You can see another point of view at the Shots site.

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You Belong To Me – Samantha Hayes

Title – You Belong To Me

Author – Samantha Hayes

Published – 2015

Genre – Crime / Psychological thriller

If you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ll know that I can be extremely demanding when it comes to reading psychological thrillers. They have to be tense – ‘I don’t really want to know what happens next’ tense. They have to be credible – people (usually women) scared of things which are all in the mind are a let down. Finally they have to provide an explanation for what happens. And I have to say that You Belong To Me meets all my criteria!

I’m faced with a difficult task in reviewing this book because the less you know when you start it the better. And as I’m so behind on my reviews that’s perhaps no bad thing! The story features Isabel who has fled to India following something terrible that happened back home in Birmingham. No sooner has she begun to feel able to enjoy her time in India than a stranger arrives bearing news that throws her life into turmoil. She feels compelled to return to the UK but having lost everything when she left she is particularly vulnerable.

The book follows not one but two women spiralling out of control and the second is DI Lorraine Fisher. Haunted by the images of a woman she believes she let down she’s putting herself under enormous pressure, not sleeping, not eating and taking copious amounts of painkillers. Her obsession with the death of a young woman affects her judgement and she is forced off a possibly connected investigation. Behaving recklessly and jumping at shadows she can’t let the case go.

There’s a line when Lorraine says ‘I’ve lost sight of the real me’ and this could apply equally to both women. Whilst they do have similarities, Hayes manages to give them quite different voices and they both have likeable qualities alongside some dangerous flaws.

The use of first person, present tense for all the characters brings a real immediacy to the writing which certainly helps with the tension. I found the first quarter of the book to be really tense, proper heart in your mouth stuff. On the face of it the story is a mix of murder investigation and stalking but the plot is intricately woven, moving along at a fair pace but interspersed with the backstory that fills in some of the blanks. Here Hayes is masterful at teasing the reader!

If I have a yardstick by which I measure psychological thrillers it’s Into The Darkest Corner and this stacks up very well against it. A tense and disturbing read.

I read a NetGalley of this book.

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The Replacement – Patrick Redmond

51deE1X+L-LTitle – The Replacement

Author – Patrick Redmond

Published – 2015 (paperback)

Genre – Psychological thriller

It’s an odd way to start a review but I must say up front that I really didn’t like this book. If the trend is for books with dislikable characters at their heart then this has them in spades. Nevertheless, I couldn’t put it down, it is like the literary equivalent to gawping at a car crash.

The story starts by featuring the Randalls, a well-to-do family living what appears to be an enviable life; it is certainly one where appearances seem to matter more than people’s feelings. We’re rapidly introduce to the characters: mother Caroline who is at the heart of village life, the recently retired lawyer father, and the twin sons in their twenties who are both trying to live up to their parents’ expectations. We’re also introduced to Stuart whose life no one would envy. The same age as the twins, he is working for an estate agents, worrying about his elderly grandmother, having lost his parents and sister at an early age. The cast of characters goes on with extended families and girlfriends. All have their part to play in the condensed saga (it takes place over just a few months) that unfolds.

The author begins by providing some insight into the personalities involved and by and large they all come across as unpleasant in one way or another – they are all manipulative, devious and scheming. Appearance is everything and ruthless behaviour at the cost of others is the way to get ahead. Stuart is the complete contrast to this, perhaps showing that his life without entitlement has bred a more pleasant person.

The main plot starts when Stuart and the Randalls’ paths cross and an unexpected connection is discovered. Stuart’s introduction into the Randalls’ life is divisive and this brings out the worst in all involved. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that the characters are also fickle and their feelings can change in the blink of an eye (or in response to a single sentence). And just when you think that the behaviour can’t get any worse there’s an incident which is truly shocking.

The tension in the story is delivered by the relationships and the reactions of those involved – and the belief that if you hang on until the end of the book then someone must rise above the rest. The story is also full of secrets and there’s some pleasure to be taken in waiting to see if and how people will be found out.

Redmond has created an intriguing book and an unpleasant cast of characters, with a story that is a cross between a family saga and a psychological thriller.

You can see another review of this title at Raven Crime Reads. Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Hidden Girl – Louise Millar

HiddenGirlTitle – The Hidden Girl

Author – Louise Millar

Published – May 2014

Genre – Psychological thriller

Louise Millar isn’t an author that I have come across before, a journalist for publications such as Marie Claire and Red,  this is her third psychological thriller.

The story centres around Will and Hannah, a young couple who have left London to make a new start in a rundown house in a remote area of Suffolk. Pretty standard fare for a thriller.

The couple have underlying relationship problems, some are the reason for their move and some seem to be caused by it. The situation isn’t helped when Will is stuck back at his work in London leaving Hannah to stress about the house on her own. The forced separation has a divisive effect and leads Hannah to rely on some of the locals for support.

Hannah has had an unusual and demanding job but seems to crumble when faced with a more domestic setting. Part of the plot, which is only alluded to in the early part of the book, explains the importance of the move to her and is the explanation for this sudden loss of confidence.  She seems unable to make the right decision for any and every situation, despite having a well-developed sense of right and wrong.

There are mysterious goings on and I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that there are some recognisable scenes – mobile phones with no signal, inexplicable footprints in the snow and sinister locals. The plot built to quite an action packed climax and it did keep me guessing.

For me the thriller aspect didn’t really work and the tension never quite ramped up in the way that I thought it would. This left the book feeling more like a story about the couple and their relationship where the mystery was less central to the plot.

Millar’s background shows through in her writing style which is easy to read and on the popular rather than literary end of the scale, and in some places it made me think of chick-lit but without the laughs (which is meant to be in no way derogatory!).

Thanks to Pan Macmillan for the review copy.

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