Last year’s trend amongst suspense and mystery novels seemed to be the domestic thriller. Books like Lisa Jewel’s Then She Was Gone or the outstanding Our House by Louise Candlish, focused on families in the middle of a dark crisis. Towards the end of the year, the focus seemed to be leaning more towards friends and the dangers inherent in trusting the wrong people with our secrets. That fad has continued into 2019, offering up some truly memorable, chilling books that expose the dark underside of the term ‘besties’.
Maggie: Most suspense tales have a mix of both family and friends but a friends or frenemies thriller has the action derive from the friendship. Would you agree? What draws you to a best friend drama?
Shannon: I would definitely agree with this assessment. It’s hard to have a thriller that’s completely centered around either family or friends since both play pivotal roles in our lives. We can’t choose our families, but we do choose our friends, and this choice sometimes backfires. I love it when authors examine what happens when someone chooses the wrong friends, or when a solid friendship suddenly goes sideways.
Maggie: I felt the year got off to a really strong start with Her One Mistake by Heidi Perks, to which you gave an A in your review. It’s the story of Charlotte, who takes her friend Harriet’s daughter to the fair along with her own three kids. While the three older children play on an inflatable obstacle course, Charlotte deals with her youngest, glancing at Facebook posts on her phone while she waits. When Harriet’s little girl goes missing, all hell breaks loose and the community turns on the popular Charlotte with a vengeance. One thing I felt the author showcased very well was the give and take of women’s friendships. How we become embroiled in each other’s lives through our simple kindnesses to each other. I’ll add that I felt one of the two characters was someone I would most definitely not want in my life. What did you think?
Shannon: Her One Mistake is definitely one of the high points of my 2019 reading. It was a book I hated to put down, one that compelled me to keep reading, even when I had other things that needed to be done. That doesn’t happen to me with all thrillers, so it’s a real treat when an author can manage to hook me in so completely.
Maggie: My other missing child book this year was She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge. This is more of a police procedural which revolves around a group of seven friends who go into the woods – and emerge as a group of six. It wasn’t quite as intense as Her One Mistake but it is a deeply riveting story nonetheless. Do you have any other novels you’d recommend with that theme from the past six months?
Shannon: She Lies In Wait is one I haven’t read, but I’ve heard a ton of great things about it. I’m hoping to get to it soon. I haven’t read any other missing child books that involve friends over the past few months, but I’m always on the lookout for more.
Maggie: I Invited Her In by Adele Parks which came out in February explores the theme of friends who reunite with disastrous results. One of the things I thought the author did really, really well in this book is create a believable friendship between the two protagonists. With many stories I find myself wondering how the two women became friends to begin with but with these ladies I understood their dynamic almost instantly. Which made it far more chilling to me when everything started to unravel. What did you think of the dynamic between Mel and Abi?
Shannon: It’s frustrating when the friendship that is supposed to drive the plot forward doesn’t feel convincing. Fortunately, that wasn’t at all my experience with I Invited Her In. Mel and Abi had a very authentic relationship. I understood the highs and lows they experienced over the years, and when things did start to go south, I kept hoping they could find a safe, healthy way to sort things out. There was something so compelling about the way they used to relate to each other, and I really wanted them to be able to reclaim that feeling.
Maggie: I agree, although I don’t know that it would ever have been possible after some of what happened. My other friend-visit-turned-nightmare novel is You Were Made For This by Michelle Sacks. It’s a far darker, more disturbing story but fans of grim, twisty tales about sinister characters will love it. Do you have any other recent recommendations along this line?
Shannon: Girls Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke kind of fits into this category. It’s the story of three best friends who go on vacation in the hopes of patching up their differences, but one of them ends up disappearing while on the trip. The reader is left wondering if her friends had something to do with her disappearance. It’s one of those books where the reader has absolutely no idea who to trust.
Maggie: Girls Night Out is on my TBR list. Changing pace, lest we have anyone thinking the best thing to do would be to purge the contact list on their phone, let’s talk about the dangers of not having friends. In An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen bad circumstances have forced Jessica Farris into a lifestyle of isolation, aside from her one bestie. She doesn’t mind this solitary existence but it does lend itself to a situation which leaves her vulnerable to a powerful protagonist. I found Jessica a very interesting person, a mix of strong and susceptible, generous and desperate. What did you think of her?
Shannon: Pekkanen and Hendricks really hit the ball out of the park with An Anonymous Girl. I had no clue what to expect going in, and I was completely entranced by the story. Jessica is a heroine we could so easily encounter in our daily lives, and those are honestly some of my favorite types of protagonists. It’s nice to read about someone who doesn’t have mad skills that set them apart from the rest of the world.
Maggie: I agree. Another book I felt highlighted that a lack of friends can be every bit as dangerous as having the wrong one was The Last Woman in the Forest by Diane Les Becquets. In this novel, Marian works with rescue dogs in remote locations. She has many acquaintances but the people who work the job tend not to be gregarious or close, preferring nature to nurture. Which leaves the lovely Marian to become prey to the worst kind of predator. Do you have any other recommendations for this trope?
Shannon: This isn’t a really recent release, but Cass Green’s In a Cottage in a Wood features an isolated heroine who has hit rock bottom. She inherits a run-down cottage in a remote part of the English countryside, and she decides to spend some time there to lick her proverbial wounds. Of course, things don’t turn out to be as peaceful and serene as she’s hoping for, and her isolation plays a huge role in what happens next. It’s an incredibly creepy and atmospheric story that I’m more than happy to recommend.
Maggie: I’m adding that to my list! Let’s end on a positive note and talk about friends who help. A popular theme is the tale of the investigative friend. In Three Little Lies by Laura Marshall a roommate launches an investigation to find her missing friend – and find out why she’s disappeared. I thought Ellen, the main protagonist of the tale, was also very representative of the clingy friend. She seemed to always need someone’s coat-tail to hang on. What did you think of Ellen and her style of friendship?
Shannon: I’m fortunate not to have had someone like Ellen in my life. She definitely took way more than she ever gave in return, and I found myself frustrated by her selfishness. Of course, people like this do exist in the world, and I found Marshall’s representation of this type of friendship to be pretty spot-on.
Maggie: Another story that revolves around a friend who investigates and discovers a lot more than she bargained for is Camryn King’s Triple Threat about Mallory Knight, a young lady that won’t accept her best friend committed suicide. She launches an investigation to discover just what happened, uncovering some surprising secrets along the way. Do you have any other recommendations with this trope?
Shannon: Again, I’m reaching back a few years for this one, but K.A. Tucker’s He Will Be My Ruin is a must read if you enjoy this trope. It sounds pretty similar to Triple Threat in that our heroine learns her best friend has committed suicide, something she has a hard time accepting. She starts digging into her friend’s life and uncovers all kinds of unexpected things. Tucker’s writing is super compelling, and I loved every second of this story.
Maggie: I’ll have to check into that one, too! Thanks for talking mysteries with me. It’s been a lot of fun!
Shannon: You’re very welcome. Mysteries are some of my very favorite things, so I’m always happy to rhapsodize about the ones I’ve loved.