The psychological thriller genre has been defined as a “suspenseful book which emphasizes the psychology of its characters more so than the plot.”
I have just completed three British psychological thrillers and I might add that my definition is each of these characters are in definite need of some time on a psychologist’s couch. Their motivations and behavior are so bizarre — in some cases downright creepy. Yet, I was compelled to keep on reading to see how their twisted minds worked.
Take for example, Mr. Hemming, a successful and trusted realtor in a small British village. He has spent hours with you acting in your best interests, searching properties and negotiating a price that allows you to move into your dream home. You trust him, but you shouldn’t. Unbeknownst to you, he has kept the key to your home, as he has every home he has sold in the last 17 years.
He visits your home often when you are not there, not to steal, but to observe your lifestyle. He opens drawers in offices and bedrooms and prides himself on knowing some of your most intimate secret habits and pleasures. Did I mention creepy? He doesn’t consider himself a criminal or dangerous. However, when he falls in love with Abigail, one of his clients, he sets into motion a series of events that show how dangerous his twisted mind can be. The book, “The Pleasure of His Calling: a Novel by Hogan,” is a tense read, so much so that you might want to consider changing your locks after reading it.
Also set in England, “The Girl on the Train,” by Paula Hawkins, has been dubbed the new “Gone Girl” and hit the best-seller list shortly after publication. The main character, Rachel, becomes obsessed with a couple she observes from her daily commute into the city by train. As the train passes a suburban area and stops at a signal that allows her to watch the same couple daily as they breakfast on their patio, she fantasizes what their perfect life must be like. She even gives them names. (More creepiness). Because her own life has recently fallen into shambles their “perfect” existence grows out of proportion in her mind. “They’re happy, I can tell. They’re what I used to be. Tom and I five years ago. They’re what I lost; they’re everything I want to be.”
Then one day on her commute, she observes a scenario on the patio that destroys the perfect couple image. She feels compelled to let one of the partners know what she has seen.
It is difficult to discuss any more of the story without plot spoilers, but leave it to say there is suspense and tension. “The Girl on the Train” has also been compared to Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”
The third book, “Her, A Novel,” by Harriet Lane, also set in England, is the story of two seemingly very different women. It seems at first glance that Nina and Emma have little in common. Emma, who left a thriving television career, is now the mother of toddler Christopher and pregnant with her second child. Her once glamorous life now consists of picking up rice cakes and LEGOS. Nina, on the other end of the spectrum, is an artist who has already raised her family and lives a seemingly ordered and successful existence, which includes posh dinners and a vacation home.
From the opening sentence, when Nina recognizes Emma, we are aware that something chilling is about to unfold. Told in both women’s voices with alternating chapters, we hear first from Nina, “The sensation of it, of finding her there in front of me after all this time, is almost overwhelmingly powerful: like panic or passion … I’m scared of seeing her, and I’m scared that I’ll never see her again.”
• Former bookstore owner Vy Armour has been a resident of Ahwatukee Foothills for more than 20 years. She reviews books on her blog, http://serendipity-reflections.blogspot.com, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.