After I posted my last blog about book-to-movie adaptations I was, unsurprisingly, asked what I thought about the Gone Girl film. I hadn’t talked about Gone Girl in that post since I have mentioned Gillian Flynn’s work more than once lately. The answer to the question was that I thought it was not only a good film but a good adaptation of the book as well. Which it should have been considering who the screenwriter was. With Gone Girl we have the trifecta: great book, great movie, great soundtrack.
One of the things we do here at the library is a service called “Reader’s Advisory”. In a nutshell this is when someone comes in and asks for a book similar to the one they just read, or for an author that writes like their favorite does, and we find them something new to read. This can be pretty easy or a real challenge, depending on how unique the original book or author is. A great example is To Kill A Mockingbird, which has no true equivalent. Over the years I have had many people ask for something like it, and I can only shake my head sadly and point them towards works that pale in comparison.
Which brings us back to the point. If you did like Gone Girl there are some other books that I think you will like. My wife refers to them as “dark fiction”, which seems as good a name as any other. They all have a similar feel, and they have some recurring themes as well. The protagonists tend to be damaged in some way, whether it be through memory loss, or psychological trauma, or addictions, or just making bad decisions. They are all flawed. Also, we see “regular” people doing bad things, particularly murder. We aren’t dealing with mastermind serial killers or super hacker terrorists. The characters, both good and bad, are grounded in reality. Plus the ladies are just as likely to be the bad guy as the men are. These books can be classified as some mix of (murder) mysteries or thrillers, but the focus is on the people and not the crimes.
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
Rachel, the lead character in Hawkins debut novel, has issues. Shattered by her divorce, she drinks herself into blackouts during which bad things happen. The train that she takes into London stops each day at the same place, where she can look upon a couple enjoying their back deck. A couple that lives only a few doors down from her old house, where her ex-husband still lives with his new wife and baby. Rachel invents stories about this couple to occupy herself. One morning she sees the wife kissing a different man, and the next day the wife goes missing.
Told through the perspectives of Rachel, Megan (the missing woman), and Anna (Rachel’s ex’s new wife), Hawkins does a nice job of building suspense through flashbacks and foreshadowing. As the end approaches you as the reader are left trying to determine which of these women, or the men in their lives, is the villain of the story.
In The Woods, by Tana French
Another debut novel, this time set near Dublin, Ireland. In 1984 three 12 year olds went out to play in the woods near the Knocknaree housing estate. Only one, Adam, is found, his shoes full of blood and his memory of what happened gone. Twenty some years later in the same area another 12 year old is struck down, although this time her body is found. Murder Squad detectives Rob and Cassie are assigned to the case. Is there a connection to the previous incident?
Yes there is. Rob is in actuality Adam, now sporting an English accent thanks to boarding school, and with no one except his partner knowing the truth. He remains on the case, hoping that his past might help to find a killer, and help him discover what happened all those years ago. Many secrets are uncovered, but not the ones that are needed. The stress of the case and Rob’s erratic memory lead him to making poor decisions, ones that come with real consequences.
Rob says right at the beginning that he is a liar, and that and the tease of supernatural events helps turn this from a standard police procedural into something more. I also liked how the police were competent in the story. Too often police, FBI, or whomever are shown as bumbling idiots. Do be warned that French uses a lot of words. Her style takes a bit of getting used to.
The Silent Wife, by A.S.A. Harrison
Okay, I promise this is coincidental! The Silent Wife is yet another debut novel. Jodi is a middle aged woman, happy in her carefully structured life, and is a successful psychologist. She knows that her husband Todd cheats on her, but it is okay as long as he follows her protocols and the illusion is maintained. But the illusion is just, hmm, an illusion. Jodi is not as secure as she thinks, evidenced by her secret petty acts of revenge on Todd, things like taking the key to his office building off of his keychain while he sleeps. And when Todd goes too far with his latest infidelity lines are crossed, and the dissolution of their marriage will not be pretty. Or safe.
The Silent Wife is told alternately through both Jodi’s and Todd’s perspectives. You get to see the rationalizing they engage in. And you get to see how bright, smart, and (in her case, at least) educated people can make bad choices that take them to dark places.
Night Film, by Marisha Pessl
A young woman, daughter of a famous but reclusive cult film director, commits suicide. Or did she? Scott, a reporter who lost his job (and his marriage) due to his investigations of the director, isn’t so sure. Assisted by a wannabee and boisterous actress and a “friend” with plenty of secrets, Scott makes an effort to uncover the truth, both about the suicide and about the family.
Some stories start out complicated and as the end nears they narrow down. Night Film goes the other way, getting more convoluted, and more intriguing, as it progresses. Pessl also incorporates multimedia elements into the book, allowing the reader to deeply immerse themselves into the story. This one is as much Stephen King as it is Gillian Flynn.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
Originally I had planned to write just about the four books above, but as I got on with it I decided to add in this one as well, and not just because it was another debut novel (although Larsson had co-authored several non-fiction books previously). This was a big time best seller, and many of you may have already read it, but thinking about it I felt it fit the theme too well to leave out.
Mikael is a magazine publisher who is convicted for libel against a rich and powerful industrialist. After serving his sentence he is offered a chance at redemption, after a fashion. A retired businessman hires him to investigate the disappearance of his grandniece, an event that occurred decades ago. Part of the payment will be damaging information against the man Mikael had libeled. As he starts uncovering family secrets he enlists the help of a computer technician, a gifted and very mentally damaged young woman named Lisbeth, the inked girl of the books title. Together they discover that some dark deeds are never forgotten, and that some people will go to lethal lengths to try and keep them buried.
The book is set in Sweden, which is neat. This is story that shows that not only can people you think are normal turn out to be abnormal and evil, but also that people can overcome the horrors inflicted upon them and become the hero. Or heroine. Sort of. Oh, and I am clearly not the only one who likens this to Gone Girl, as David Fincher directed both movies (and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross did both soundtracks).
Five books that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and are likely to keep you up past your bedtime turning the pages. You can also try these Young Adult books that are in the same vein, although not quite as dark and with tamer content.
I Hunt Killers, by Barry Lyga
Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake
Dangerous Girls, by Abigail Haas
And finally the magazine Dark Scribe used to give out the Black Quill award to dark fiction. You can check out their lists of winners and nominees for some more good reading options, but bear in mind their definition includes some true horror titles.
All of these titles can found in the library catalog here: