Three thriller novels you won't be able to put down
Ever since The Girl on the Train began its path to world domination in January 2015, Britain’s publishers—clearly a superstitious lot—have decided that any books intended to follow suit need to come out at the start of the year. And in a crowded field, three in particular are being tipped for success in 2017…
The Girl Before Me
Of the three, this sticks to the usual pattern most closely. For one thing, it’s got the word “girl” in the title (the publishers’ consensus being that the psychological-thriller revival began with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl). For another, there are two alternating narrators telling their stories at different times.
In the sections headed “Then”, Emma moves into an ultra-minimalist London house where the rent is unexpectedly low, but where the architect insists that his tenants must obey a strict set of rules to avoid clutter. She then falls for the architect himself. In the “Now” parts, Jane, recovering from the trauma of a stillborn child, moves into the same house, falls for the same man—and discovers that a girl called Emma died there mysteriously a few years ago.
J P Delaney is apparently the pen-name for an already successful author, which may explain why the book is written with such assurance, constantly cranking up the suspense, while also depicting Jane’s grief with complete conviction. The result is a thoroughly satisfying read, even if the big twist—neat though it is—may leave experienced thriller readers with their socks not entirely blown off.
Behind Her Eyes
Still, if it is guaranteed sock-blowing you’re after, look no further than Sarah Pinborough’s latest book. Again, the story is told by two female narrators: this time, Adele, whose husband is drifting away from her, and Louise—the woman he’s drifting towards.
Again, the suspense is built with impressive cunning, as Adele tantalisingly reveals herself to be up to something very sinister indeed. But then comes… well, one of the most astonishing twists I can ever remember.
It’s an ending that seems likely to be one of the literary talking points of the month—and well beyond. And yet, for my money, once my socks were back in place, it also felt a bit of a cheat. (Given that you’ll never guess it anyway, I think I can just say that it appears to come from another genre altogether.)
Good Me, Bad Me
Michael Joseph, £12.99
And so to the best book of the lot by Ali Land. The surprisingly sole narrator is 15-year-old Milly, who’s just shopped her mother to the police for serial child abuse and murder. (Her mum also made Milly “help” with the abuse, although one of the novel’s many qualities is that we only get chilling hints of exactly what went on.)
Now she’s with a foster family where the psychologist father is preparing her to give evidence in the forthcoming trial.
Milly’s endlessly conflicted feelings about her mother are captured with utter precision: “The person I want to run from is also the person I want to run to.” But she’s far too vivid a character for the novel ever to feel merely like a careful case study.
Instead, as her relationships with the girls at her new school deteriorate, you’re filled with both huge sympathy for such a damaged soul and increasing terror about what she might do.