Tag Archives: thriller

“Ill Will” by Dan Chaon

Pages:  480

Published:  March 7, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Unique, dark, suspenseful psychological thriller that cycles back and forth in time focusing on 2 separate sets of murders.  In the 1970s, Dustin’s parents and aunt and uncle were brutally murdered while he and his cousins slept in a trailer in the driveway.  It was his and his cousin, Kate’s, testimony that landed Dustin’s foster brother, Randy in prison.  As a result of this traumatic event, Dustin became interested in studying the psychology of Satanic cults and violence expressed through them.  He developed his thesis around it, testified in many cases as an expert, and currently works as a therapist.  In present day, Dustin’s life starts unravelling as the delicate tendrils that were holding it together gradually give way.  His wife dies of cancer at the age of 43, his two sons have graduated from high school, and his foster brother Randy has been released from prison with the help of the Innocence Project working on his behalf.  In current day, Dustin is drawn into investing a possible homicide cluster of drunk college boys who were determined accidental drownings by the police.

The books chapters are narrated by various different characters (sometimes in the first person and sometimes in the third) and they deeply reflect the mindset of the characters.  The characters become more and more isolated from each, so the reader knows more about what is going on with them than they know what is going on with each other or in some cases themselves.

The chapters from Dustin’s mindset are particularly troubling.  His thoughts and sense of reality seem to be losing footing.  He takes up drinking and smoking.  His thoughts are repeating themselves.  He trails off not finishing thoughts or sentences.   He wonders if he’s in a fugue state.   His cousins and foster brother describe the young Dustin as trusting and gullible.  It seems without his wife as an anchor, he has become so again, particularly with regards to his patient Aqil.  Aqil is obsessed with the “murders” of drunk frat boys that have drown in waterways while intoxicated.  Dustin becomes drawn into “investigating” these incidences with Aqil, presenting himself to others as an investigator or writer.  He confides in Aqil so much that it seems there is a role reversal.  In fact, he knows very little about Aqil, but has become emotionally dependent upon him.  Dustin has trouble seeing what is right in front of him.  His son is getting deeper into drugs and pretends to go to a college he never enrolled in.  Dustin becomes an easy victim once again, trusting and gullible as always, without a strong sense of self.

This book brings up many questions.  What are memories composed of?  How reliable are our memories?  Can a fictionalized statement in the past be remembered as a truth?  What defines us?  Is it our perception of ourselves or how others perceive us?  How does grief shape our thoughts and mental stability?

This is a long, dark twisted mystery delving deep into the psychology of its characters.  At points it’s hard to read as the writing reflects the altered and distressed mental states of its characters.  It experiments with writing in chart format, chunking bits of information together in little boxes,  letting the reader grasp that it is not making coherent sense with the character.  I enjoyed the story and the writing, although it felt more difficult to get through because of it’s style.  I felt the quotations at the beginning of each chapter were perfect for setting the chapter up for it’s intended purpose and were very thought provoking in and of themselves.   The last chapter begins with this quote: “In the end it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation.” – Sacheverell Sitwell, For Want of the Golden City.  

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Wave tells Kate that she sacrificed them and that this is her reward.  What does she mean by that?
  2. What do you think happens to Aqil at the end of the novel?
  3. Who are the gibbeners and what do they represent in this novel?
  4. How is the self defined?  By those close to us or by ourself?  Why is Dustin so concerned that Rusty will change his son’s perception of him?
  5. How are these two sets of murders connected?
  6. How were Dustin’s parents and his Aunt and Uncle really killed and why?  Who is killing these boys and why?  What is Dustin’s role in each set of “murders”?
  7. Why do you think Dustin becomes wraps up in Aqil’s investigation?
  8. Why do you believe that Dustin’s reality is decomposing in this novel? What factors are contributing?
  9. Why does Wave stop speaking to Kate after Rusty’s trial?
  10. What is the meaning and importance of memories in this novel?
  11. Why doesn’t Dustin want to read the letter written to his wife that he finds in his son’s desk?
  12. Why is Dustin blind to his son’s heroin abuse?
  13. Discuss the meaning of the title?  Ill will toward whom?  From whom?  Why?
  14. Discuss the little mantras that Dustin is always spouting.  What meaning and importance to these have to Dustin?  What does it say about Dustin that he is always spouting mantras?  Which mantras stick out in your mind?

 

Ron Charles’ Review in The Washington Post

Review by Scott Bradfield in the Los Angeles Times

An Interview with Dan Chaon as conducted by The Millions

Dan Chaon’s website

“I Let You Go” by Clare Mackintosh

Pages: 371

Published: November 9, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

This book is fabulous.  I don’t usually gush about thrillers, but this one I just might!  The twists are what make this book so interesting, keeping you on the edge of your seat.  I listened to the audible version and loved it.  I thought the two narrators, Nicola Barber and Steven Crossley, did an incredible job, each very compelling in their roles.  The characters in this novel are all so well developed that you quickly begin developing feelings about them, both good and bad.

This is a police thriller.  The novel starts out with a mother walking home with her 5 year old son, Jacob, on a rainy afternoon after school. As he runs ahead of her to cross the street to their home,  a car comes speeding around the corner striking and killing the boy on impact.  The grief-stricken mother does not get a good look at the driver because of the heavy rainfall and the driver backs up, turns around, speeding away.   She withdraws into her own guilt, stating she only let go for a second.

Ray and Kate are two detectives involved in investigating this case.  During their investigation they become uncomfortably close, despite the fact that Ray is married.  Because he and Kate spend so much time together, he finds himself talking to Kate more easily about problems at home and with his children than he does with his wife.

Jenna Gray is so upset because in her mind she is guilty of the murder of her son.  She keeps thinking, “I let you go.”  She runs away escaping to Wales, dropping her cell phone in a puddle, renting out a small cottage, retreating into solitude. One day she rescues a dog that’s been tossed to the side of the road in a bag with another that has already died.  She takes it to the local vet, Patrick, who convinces her to keep the dog, whom she names Beau.  She and Patrick begin spending more time with each other.  It seems she is slowly beginning to recover from her trauma.  She is trusting herself more, developing affection for Patrick, and finding joy in her photography.  It is all interrupted by a knock on the door by Ray and Kate.  Thus ends Part 1 and begins Part 2, which I cannot say anything about without giving away too much.

The novel moves swiftly from there.  It is cunning, well-written and superbly crafted, such that this twist will take your breath away wondering how it could be, how you could have gotten it wrong.  It’s a compelling, thrilling, thoroughly enjoyable book!  I highly recommend it.  

 

Penfach is a fictionalized Welsh town on the lower Gower Peninsula

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What did you expect was going on with Ray and Mag’s son?  Were you surprised at the truth?
  2. When Jenna Gray is narrating in Part one, did you think she was the mother of the 5 year old boy, the murderer or someone else?  I was certain she was the mother of the 5 year old boy.  What clues were present that would have told us this was not the case?
  3. Compare and contrast the relationship Ray has with Mags to that he has with Kate.  What is it about Kate that appeals to Ray?
  4. Which characters do the words “I let you go” apply to?  Explain.
  5. Discuss Jenna’s mental state when she is living in Wales.  She is fearful of people, experiencing nightmares, and does not trust herself to make decisions.  How did you interpret this when you thought she was the mother of the 5 year old boys?  How do you interpret this knowing who she is?
  6. Why do you think Jenna yearns so much for solitude?
  7. Why do you think Jenna finds relief in being accused of murder?
  8. Discuss the reaction of the villagers in Penfach to Jenna’s arrest.
  9. Discuss the relationship between Eve and Jenna.  What has driven them apart and what brings them back together?
  10. We never found out what happened to Marie, Ian’s previous significant other.  Do you think she made it out alive?  What do you suppose happened to her?
  11. What do you make of the epilogue?  Is Ian still alive or is it only the memory of domestic abuse that will never die?
  12. How do you imagine Jenna’s future unfolds?

Clare Mackintosh’s website

Fellow Blogger, Novel Gossip’s Review

Review by “The Bookworm’s Fantasy” Blog

“Behind Closed Doors” by B.A. Paris

29437949Pages:  304
Published:  August 9, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

“Behind Closed Doors” is the debut novel of B.A. Paris, reminiscent of “Gone Girl” and “The Girl on the Train.”  It is a thriller that one wants to plow through.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat, needing to know the eventual outcome.  I listened to the audio version of this and thought the narrator, Georgia Maguire, did a terrific job.

This book made me very uncomfortable, however.  The narrative is from the perspective of a psychologically abused wife, Grace, whose husband, Jack, meant physical harm to the Grace’s younger sister with Down’s syndrome, Milly.   Grace is literally imprisoned by her husband who derives pleasure from the fear he senses in his victims.  She is locked in a room most of the time and cannot write emails or socialize unless under strict supervision of her husband.  Although this book invokes some real truths of domestic abuse, it really goes way over the top.  Jack, the psychopath, is absolute scum of the earth.  It was mind-blowing to me that someone could dream up this scenario, and the harm he wishes to inflict on Milly.

I found that the novel required the reader to take several leaps of faith to allow the wife to fall into this situation.  Jack and Grace have only a few short months of getting to know each other, and during this time have very little quality or intimate time.  Jack asks Grace to quit her job, handover the money from selling her flat, and convinces Grace’s parents to move to New Zealand immediately after the wedding.  He is whittling away her autonomy even before they are married.  He does not like the idea of having Grace’s sister, Milly,  in the wedding, and when Milly falls backwards down the stairs to the church (necessitating hospitalization for a broken leg), as he is walking alongside her, Grace is completely non-suspecting.  The wedding proceeds despite this.  Then, Jack disappears on their wedding night not to return until the next day just before their flight, sending a repugnant text message and then refusing to take Grace to visit Milly before heading to the airport as they had planned.  And Grace still agrees to go to Thailand with him!  These things were all hard to swallow!

However, once Grace is fully secured as his prisoner, and the mind games begin, it is rewarding to see Grace begin to win some of these games, and eventually come out as a survivor.  It is also rewarding to find that Ester and Adam had connected the dots and would help her in the end.

In summary, for those who love a good edge of your seat thriller, you will probably really enjoy this.  The writing isn’t spectacular and if you look closely, there seem to be flaws in the creation of the premise, but if you can let that go, it is enjoyable.  Again, I thought Georgia Maguire did an excellent job with the audible version, so you might want to give that a go.  3-stars

Discussion Questions:

  1.  The format of the book alternates between past and present.  How does this add to the book?
  2. What clues are present prior to Jack and Grace’s marriage that Jack might be a psychopath?
  3. Do you think Grace falls in love with Jack before marrying him or just the idea of having a charming man who is accepting of her sister as well?
  4. Why do you think Grace is so vulnerable to Jack’s charms?
  5. How do the Jack and Grace appear to their friends?
  6. What key pieces of information does Ester pick up on?
  7. What tactics of domestic abuse does Jack employ in his dealings with Grace?
  8. How is Milly depicted in this novel?  What are some key roles that she plays?
  9. Is the ending satisfying or were you hoping that Jack was found out publicly?
  10. What do you predict will happen in the aftermath of this novel?  Will Grace be cleared?

 

Review on bookchatter.net by a fellow blogger

Discussion Questions by Litlovers

 

 

“You” by Caroline Kepnes

 

20821614

 

Pages: 422

Published: September 30, 2014

 

 

 

 

It’s been 14 hours and 2 days since reading YOU…

Could you stand 400+ pages of being inside the head of a psychopath, a stalker and murderer?  Despite hating what I was reading and the feeling while reading that I was somehow an accomplice,  I felt compelled to finish.. and not just skim, but really read it.   It reads like an internal train of thought that happens to be that of a psychopath working in a book store, obsessed with a hyper sexualized  recent Brown University graduate also living in NYC.  He is able to uncover and follow her almost every move and is willing to murder anyone who gets in his way.  It is frightening how much information we put into the world with social media and texting and how easily discoverable it is.  This is different from any book I’ve read before and I must give it points for originality, but I didn’t love it.  3-stars

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you think Joe’s upbringing affected him?
  2. What do you think of Beck’s friendships?  Do they seem shallow or deep?
  3. Beck always seems to need to be writing, but isn’t.  When she does the writing seems to be stories of herself.  Why do you think she writes?  Do you think she is a good writer?
  4. Joe’s first interaction with Beck in the bookstore when she is buying books.  What do her book choices say about her?
  5. What do you think of Beck’s relationships with men?  Is this typical of today’s culture?
  6. Did you find it realistic that Joe got away with all the murders?
  7. What did you think of Dr. Nicky?
  8. Were there any characters in the book you liked?  Who and why?
  9. Did it surprise you that Joe tried out a relationship with Karen Minty?  Why do you think he was dissatisfied with this relationship?
  10. Joe and Beck seem opposite in many ways:  education, social media usage…  Do you see any similarities?  What do you think was the appeal of Beck to Joe?
  11. What do you think happened to Joe when he had been in the cage?  It is alluded that he was put there for an extended period or periods, but it is not spelled out.
  12. Did you find yourself rooting for Joe or against him?  How did the point of view affect how you felt about the outcomes in the book?

Discussion Questions from Lit Lovers

Reading Group Guide by Simon & Schuster