It's officially fall and the month of Halloween, so it's the perfect time to read mysteries and thrillers. I started reading the genre last year and, has with any genre, it has tropes and commonalities among stories. Since I started reading the genre there have been three things I have looked for/that pique my interest when I learn about a book. I am going to briefly discuss these three things, why I love them, and then give 2 book recommendations that feature them for each. That way if our reading tastes align then you'll have some new books to check out this spooky season!
Why I Love it
This was the first thing I fell in love with when it came to mysteries and thrillers. This trope is quite common within the genre. I like it because it adds to the stakes and conflict of the novel. Being cut off from the outside world means that you have no means of reaching out for help and you’re trapped with a culprit who you probably don’t know the identity of. Stranger danger indeed! Tensions between characters are also generally higher because they are obviously in an incredibly stressful situation and may start suspecting one another.
My first recommendation for this trope is the Truly Devious series by Maureen Johnson. This isn’t strictly isolation until the final novel of the original trilogy. However, I included it anyway because they are in a boarding school on a mountaintop that is not easily accessed, surrounded by forests, and with plenty of secret passageways for someone to escape or hide in.
My second recommendation is One by One by Ruth Ware. This one is true isolation because it takes place in a mountain chalet during a blizzard. They are quite literally snowed in. The only way in or out has been destroyed and the power goes out.
2. Mixed Media
Why I Love it
Mixed media within novels can come in a variety of forms. There may be newspaper clippings, text messages, diary entries, photographs, the inclusion of a podcast, etc. Really the possibilities are endless and that’s part of the appeal of it for me. I get so excited when mystery books include this and it fits the genre perfectly as they can act as clues/evidence. They also add an extra level of fun and engagement to the reading experience.
My Recommendations My first recommendation for this is the Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series by Holly Jackson. Please note that I have only read the first two books in the trilogy and have not YET read the final recently released book (though I bought it and will be reading it soon). The first book, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, includes excerpts from the protagonist’s project notes (she’s investigating a cold case as part of a school project). The second book, Good Girl, Bad Blood includes a podcast where Pip shares the details of her current case. There are other mixed media elements incorporated, but those are the main ones.
The second recommendation I have is Night Film by Marisha Pessl. Now, be forewarned this book has a LOT of potential to be very triggering. The problematic protagonist is misogynistic, racist, and transphobic. Its use of mixed media like photographs and website articles is meticulous and the reason why I still own it as I want to use it for ‘research’/inspiration for a future novel of my own.
3. Haunted Houses/Creepy Old Mansions
Why I Love it
What really sold me on finally getting into mysteries and thrillers was the atmosphere. I have always had this strange obsession with horror but I’m also the world’s biggest scardey-cat. I’ve found that reading eerie/creepy elements in thrillers has satiated my desire for scary things without giving me nightmares. I like haunted houses/mansions because they walk that line of just creepy enough and are the ideal setting for those vibes. They are unsettling and often leave you wondering if the causes behind the missing and moved objects and shadowy visions are paranormal or someone playing a trick on the protagonist. It's all the better if there are hidden rooms to explore!
My first recommendation is another Ruth Ware book, that being The Turn of the Key. It had two things setting it apart from other haunted house stories. The first, more minor aspect, is that there is a poison garden at the house which I remember thinking would work great in a fantasy and indeed I recently read a fantasy with one as well. The second, biggest reason, was the use of technology. The house in this novel is a smart house in which everything is controlled by a malfunctioning app. It added a lot of really disconcerting moments throughout the story. Fun fact: this one could also work for the isolation and mixed media trope!
My second recommendation is The Missing Years by Lexie Elliot. This one adheres to the very common haunted house tropes of an old mansion that is part of the local legend in which strange and gruesome objects keep appearing and vanishing. I personally enjoyed The Turn of the Key a little more, but this one gave me more trouble sleeping while reading.
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