Self-Incrimination – Amanda Reynolds
Amanda Reynolds picks her favourite psychological suspense novels for our regular Self-Incrimination blog piece!
Posted on December 1, 2016 in Guest Author, Self incrimination
Tags: Amanda Reynolds, Appletree Yard, Author Content, Disclaimer, The Widow, psychological suspense, psychological thriller, self incrimination, thriller
Dysfunctional relationships, the mainstay of psychological suspense, are endlessly fascinating to me. I could have chosen many books from this genre, but these three have all brought something to my writing as well as being feverish reads, devoured in a few greedy bites. The chilling thought that those we share our lives with are sometimes the greatest threat, is both appalling and enthralling. It’s the very ordinariness of these extraordinary tales that draws me in. These books and their authors have inspired me to be more daring in my own work, to explore the depths of humanity and relationships to see what lies beneath the façade of apparent happiness and respectability.
Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty is one of my favourite domestic noir/psychological suspense novels and was a huge influence on my writing. In many ways, it was ground-breaking: a woman in her fifties portrayed not only as a sexual being, but also capable of dark thoughts and deeds. I saw Louise Doughty at the Cheltenham Literature Festival not long after the book was published and she spoke of how the opening scene had come to her fully-formed. She knew there was a woman in the dock accused of a terrible crime, and she wanted to know what events had led her there. She also used the delightful phrase ‘a bit of a knee trembler’ to describe the scene when her fifty-something protagonist, Yvonne, engages in an impromptu tryst with a shady character. Apple Tree Yard inverts many stereotypes of the bored wife who seeks solace outside her marriage. Yvonne is a scientist, well-respected and deeply logical. Her husband loves her and she loves him. They have an aspirational lifestyle, and although they have their difficulties, there is little reason for her to stray. But she does, and despite her usual pragmatism, she continues to do so, with truly disastrous results. The final scene, a twist which made me gasp out loud (not something I recall doing as reader before or since), not only shocks, but also makes perfect sense. This book gave me the confidence to write about women of my age, to make them daring, difficult, and sexual. All the things we know they are capable of, and more.
Disclaimer by Renee Knight is built on the killer hook, ‘Imagine if the next thriller you opened was all about you’. Beginning with a hook is now part of my planning process. It focuses me on what I’m trying to say, and perhaps even more importantly, why a reader will want to read on: the question I set up in the readers’ minds that is hopefully so intriguing it will keep everyone guessing and turning those pages. In Disclaimer, Catherine finds the book she’s reading is about a chunk of her life she’s kept hidden, the disclaimer ‘any resemblance to persons living or dead…’ crossed through in red pen. It’s one thing to set up such an audacious and intriguing premise, quite another to pull it off, but in my opinion Disclaimer achieves this. As the twists and turns keep you guessing, a malevolent but also sympathetic antagonist emerges. Stephen is the perfect example of a dislikeable character who still engages the readers’ sympathy; and is my favourite in the book. I love an unreliable narrator; they are great fun to write as well as read.
The Widow by Fiona Barton is a portrait of a woman who has stood by her man, despite overwhelming evidence of his wrongdoing. At times, she appears deluded, at others lucid and clear-sighted; she may have even been implicated in her husband’s come-uppance. But at the root of the story is an unforgivable act. The idea of divided loyalties, even blind faith, is explored throughout the book, as well as the central mystery; the disappearance of a small child. In Jean, we meet a woman on the edge of society, almost childlike in her naivety. It’s easy to see how the charismatic Glen charmed her. I like the idea of playing with the readers’ sympathies, opening a debate about such a moral and emotionally resonant issue. Reading a book should be an active experience, a marriage of two minds, the author’s as well the reader’s. The Widow was just such a thought-provoking read, but also a damn good story.
Amanda Reynolds is the author of CLOSE TO ME