Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Foray into Thriller & Suspense

Posted by Simcha 7:54 PM, under | 3 comments

I've never been one to browse in the Thriller or Suspense section of a bookstore but recently I've found myself drawn to several books within these genres due to particularly compelling reviews. In each case, after hearing a description of the book's plot I just had to find out how each one ended, which required me to read the complete book for myself.

One thing I discovered is that I don't think I'm going to ever become a regular thriller or suspense reader because they all seem to have endings that leave me frustrated and unsatisfied. It's as if the author knows the kind of ending the reader wishes for and goes out of their way to head in the opposite direction. Not that I'm opposed to surprise endings but, because I usually enjoy them, but the ones in these books just really frustrated me.

OK, this review is starting to get side tracked before I've even begun, so let's head back on course.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Amy Dunne goes missing on the day of her fifth wedding anniversary and her husband, Nick, is the number one suspect. Amy's diary paints the picture of a loving wife in a troubled marriage but Nick's narration doesn't quite match up.

It's hard to know who the reader should believe, Nick or Amy, which is part of what's so compelling about this book. Even though we are inside of Nick's head we still don't know everything that he's thinking. He's hiding something from us, but is it murder? But don't we have to believe Amy if we are reading her personal diary?

Halfway through the book a revelation is made that turns the story on its head and forces us to reevaluate everything that we've read so far. Until the very end I had no idea what to expect, and even then I was still surprised. 

I have to say that pf all three books, I disliked the ending of this one the most. Actually, I think I would go so far as to say that I hated it. It just seemed so wrong.  In the course of reading the book I came up with at least several acceptable scenarios that I hoped to find on the last page, none of which came to pass. But what did happen just bothered me so much that if I had a paper edition of this book I would have been strongly tempted to shred those last few pages. Maybe even rewrite the ending myself.

Alright now, moving on....

The Expats by Chris Pavone

A story about a housewife undercover spy? Sign me up! While I usually like my spy stories to be of the non-fiction variety I couldn't resist picking up a copy of this one as soon as I read a review of it. It sounded like a fun, suspense mystery that I would enjoy.

Kate Moore has been living a double-life that even her husband isn't aware of. She's done a good job of hiding the fact that after dropping off the kids at school each day she goes off to do super-secret, sometimes dangerous, spy stuff. But keeping so many secrets gets exhausting after a while, so when her husband announces that they are moving to Luxembourg, Kate isn't too disappointed to say goodbye to her life as a spy.

Learning how to be a housewife in a foreign country offers up a new set of challenges full of laundry, cooking and playdates. Slowly Kate begins adjusting, and even starts making new friends with some of the other expat wives. But a spy's instincts are hard to turn off so when some of these new friends begin acting suspiciously Kate can't help wondering if there is something strange going on that she should be aware of, and if it might have to do with a secret from her past that she's done her best to erase.

Even Kate's husband isn't immune from her suspicions, and now with all this extra time on her hands Kate's wondering what exactly it is that her husband does all day. Suddenly this housewife has a lot of suspicious activity to investigate and the answers she discovers are not at all what she had expected to find.

It's actually been a while since I read this book so I can't quite remember all of my impressions of it, so I will only be able to offer those few that really stayed with me.

Overall I had enjoyed the story, but there were several things about it that frustrated me. First, there was the matter of Kate's husband. I wanted to be convinced that he was worth the love and dedication that Kate felt towards him, as well as the sacrifice of leaving a job that she loved, but this never comes across because his character was so undeveloped.

Second, the story jumps around quite a bit to different time periods, some from before the move, some from after (which is when most of the story takes place) and some from Kate's spy missions. Sometimes these transitions were not made very smoothly and I was confused as to when some events were taking place.

And finally, I remember being somewhat let down by events towards the end, but I can't quite remember why. I don't think I disliked the ending but not everything came together in a way that really made sense to me. The book was a lot more lighthearted than I had expected it to be, which I was happy with, but if you go in to it anticipating a thriller then you might be disappointed. 

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Of all the three books, Defending Jacob was the one that required me to step the furthest out of my reading comfort zone, because not only is this a mystery and a thriller but it also involves lawyers and legal stuff.

But, once again, a review pulled me into a book I would never have otherwise picked up, forcing me to read it just so I could discover how the story ends.

Although my only intention was to find out if Jacob was guilty or not I soon realized that this wasn't actually what the story was about. This wasn't a mystery which would, after a series of clever clues, provide me with the answer that I so badly wanted. Instead, Defending Jacob turned out to be an exploration of the parent- child relationship, questioning how well it is that parents really know their children and how far into the deep end will a parent go for their child.

When a small New England town is shaken by the murder of a fourteen-year old boy, Assistant D.A, Andy Barber, takes on the case himself, determined to hunt down the killer. But slowly the evidence begins to point to a single suspect, Andy's own son, Jacob. Soon Andy is taken off the case and is forced, instead, to stand on the other side of the courtroom, defending his son.

I imagine that any parent reading this book is certain to put themselves in Andy's place and wonder what they would do in a similar situation. As we get to know Jacob through the eyes of his friends and classmates we wonder how it is that his parents could have overlooked so many of his strange behaviors. We would certainly notice if our own kids did such strange things, wouldn't we?

Eventually even Laurie, Jacob's mother, begins to voice her own doubts about Jacob, and Andy finds himself having to defend his son to his own wife as well.

As seems to be common with these type of books, there is no nicely wrapped up conclusion, providing us with a simple yes or no answer to the burning question.  But I wasn't necessarily dissatisfied with the way the book ended because I did feel like I got an answer, it was just the story itself that didn't play out in the manner I had expected to, which wasn't neccessary a bad thing.

So, in conclusion, I had an interesting time stepping over the genre line for a bit but it's with some relief that I'm going to retreat back to my fantasy books now. 
I think that one of the reasons that I enjoy reading fantasy so much is that I know that at the end of the adventure I'll be rewarded with a victorious hero (or heroine) and a satisfyingly vanquished villain. Each author has their own way of getting there but that predictability of the genre is partially what makes it so enjoyable for me. All these inconclusive endings and loose threads just make me very uneasy and somewhat on edge. Yeah...that's enough of that for me for now.


Oh, I read The Expats too, fairly recently! I guess probably over the summer and I never bothered to renew it when I came back to blogging. I think I felt much the same as you -- the husband seemed like a cipher, I didn't like how none of the stories moved forward at a fast enough clip, and I didn't love how they wrapped it up.

Jenny: Yes, it was kind of disappointing because the book could have been so much better with just a bit of tweaking, but it was still a rather enjoyable read.

Ok...I do not like the sound of the ending in that first book. hating it?! Nooo, I do not want that

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