Wednesday, November 5, 2014

When Mysteries / Thrillers Cease to Surprise by Sarah from Sarah's Book Shelves

Today, please welcome Sarah from Sarah's Book Shelves, who's here to discuss unthrilling thrillers and unmysterious mysteries. Welcome, Sarah!

*Warning: There are spoilers for We Were Liars and Big Little Lies in this post!

This year, I've read more mysteries / thrillers than ever before. I'm not sure why...I didn't purposely seek out this genre, it just happened that a lot of the books that sparked my interest were thrillers! I actually found myself reading so many in a row that I got a little genre burn-out, if there is such a thing.

In fact, I got to a point where I'd read so many thrillers back to back that the plot twists all started running together and failed to stand out anymore...

Have you ever read so many thrillers that they cease to surprise you?

I remember reading Gone Girl when it first came out...before all the media hype and before people (I mean the general public, not book bloggers) were talking about the huge twist. I also wasn't reading a lot of mysteries / thrillers at that point. And, I was SHOCKED by the plot twist...I think because mysteries / thrillers were a pretty fresh genre for me and I went into the book blind to the fact that there even was a big twist. What I loved about Gone Girl's twist was that, though it was completely shocking to me, all the details still made sense even with my new, post-twist perspective.

Following Gone Girl's success, there were the copycat thrillers. The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison, in particular, was marketed as "the next Gone Girl". Sadly, The Silent Wife's plot twists and overall "screwed up people in a screwed up marriage" theme felt completely warmed over. However, I probably would have loved it had I not read Gone Girl first, thus alerting me to what was probably going on in The Silent Wife's marriage.

Warning: Spoiler for We Were Liars (by E. Lockhart) ahead

Fast forward to this summer's We Were Liars, which I read in the midst of my mystery/thriller binge. I did not go into this book entirely blind. I knew there was a big plot twist, I just didn't know what it was. Weirdly enough, I didn't even try to guess the twist (lazy reader!). When all was revealed, I smacked myself in the head and said "duh...this is 'The Sixth Sense' all over again". I was mentally berating myself for not guessing the twist in advance. And, although I did really like We Were Liars and recommended it on my blog, I was a bit annoyed that the central plot twist had already been done in a big way.

Warning: Spoiler for Big Little Lies (by Liane Moriarty) ahead

Though Big Little Lies isn't technically a thriller (I don't think?!), it relies on surprise to hook readers, so I'm going to bring it into this discussion. I listened to Big Little Lies during my second mystery / thriller binge of the year and it was the fifth in a string of eight thrillers for me. And, guess what?! I wasn't surprised at all by the ending. As soon as Perry was painted as the perfect husband (which was early in the story), I suspected it was a facade. And, the reveal that Perry and Celeste had an abusive marriage happened so early in the book that it erased any remaining doubt that he was the one who would meet his end at the school trivia night.

Mystery / thriller authors ride a thin line of having to surprise their readers in a unique way over and over again. But, if they go too far, they run the risk of "jumping the shark". In TV terms, this is when a show's writers run low on material and resort to something completely bizarre that makes no sense within the context of the show. Remember the "Melrose Place" moment when Dr. Kimberly Shaw (Marcia Cross) miraculously rose from a coma to pull off her wig, revealing her stubby hair and vicious scar from the car accident that almost killed her?! That show was never the same again! Mystery / thriller writers face the same dilemma...plot twists have to shock and awe, but still make sense in hindsight to be truly effective.


  1. The mystery genre is one of my favorites and I am not easily surprised. I often figure out what the outcome or twist will be before it happens. I've tried turning that part of my brain off, the part that tries to figure things out as I go, but I can't. I think it's because I was in an investigative type job for so long. That's beside the point though. For me, I've come to like the process--and seeing the characters maneuver in their environments. So, the not being surprised isn't such a big deal. When I am surprised though . . . Well, I love it.

    I do believe there is such a thing as genre fatigue. I used to go on author/series or genre binges and would overdose on them to the point of burn out. I think that's why I like to mix my reading up so much--to avoid falling into that trap again. I do go on genre binges though--I just try to pay attention to the signs that tell me I need to move onto something else.

  2. That is hilarious. In the G+ convo I totally referenced We Were Liars lol. I figured it out, but I also knew there was a huge plot twist. Maybe that's why I saw it coming. There were clues, though more subtle than some story lines.


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