I have been on somewhat of a mystery/thriller reading kick lately.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – This reads like a Gillian Flynn wannabe. Barely ten pages in, I was already comparing this to Gone to Girl which lead me to have high hopes. Two hundred pages in, I was still making the comparison, but not in a favorable way. The story follows Rachel who, three years post divorce, is still emotionally reeling from the demise of her marriage and struggling with alcoholism. Rachel is soon drawn into the mystery of a missing woman she’s never met, but one big twist brings her world and that of the missing woman’s into the same orbit. The plot is well paced, although the story unfolds a bit unevenly. The main thing that kept me reading was my desire to know what the twist was. I think this would have been a more enjoyable read for me if I had liked the characters – any of them – more. I think Rachel’s alcoholism is used to throw the reader off and lead them to question whether they can trust Rachel’s perceptions, which makes it more difficult to figure out the plot twist before Hawkins is ready to reveal them. Unfortunately, the way Hawkins draws Rachel makes her fairly unlikeable and difficult to root for. By the time the reason for Rachel’s breakdown and retreat into the bottle is revealed, it’s too late to feel any empathy or sympathy for her. If you’re looking for a fairly quick read with a twisty, dark plot, you’ll probably enjoy this, but know that it’s mostly a guilty pleasure romp into the dark side of suburbia.
The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner – this was my Kindle First selection a few a months ago, but I only recently got around to reading it. This is another fast paced thriller that has, ironically, also been compared to Gone Girl. Much like The Girl on the Train, I don’t think this book lives up to the comparison. The book opens with a devastating house fire, descends into the depths of a troubled marriage, and ends with a twist that is a bit predictable. Much like Hawthorn’s book, this story explores the fear that we never really know our neighbors and that dark things can be going on behind closed doors – even in idyllic and bucolic settings like small towns and the suburbs. The big difference between this book and The Girl on the Train is that Sarah, the main character, is likeable and the reader can understand and empathize with her motivations and actions. Clocking in at a little over 200 pages, this is a quick, fun read (and fairly inexpensive in the Kindle store)
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling’s pen name) – I’ve had this book on my list for a while but had friends give me mixed reviews, so I had put off reading it until now. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book – so much so that I’m currently reading the second in the series. This book follows main character Cormoran Strike, a crusty down on his luck PI, as he investigates the death of a tabloid darling. Not only is the story good, but the eccentric cast of characters is lovingly created and deliciously complex. The crusty, down on his luck PI is a genre cliche and could easily feel tired, but in J.K. Rowling’s capable hands, Strike rises above plot device and becomes a fully formed, multi dimensional character that you can’t help but root for. They mystery itself isn’t particularly sophisticated, but the book has enough additional substance that the entirety of its execution doesn’t rest on the mystery alone.