Why the rise of the Psychological Thriller is ruining the classic ‘whodunit’

As far as I’m aware, the psychological thriller sub-genre is a relatively new one. It’s certainly one I’ve only come across recently in any case. For those who aren’t familiar, it is used to categorise books that have some sort of large twist; something that messes with your mind and makes you go ‘ERM WHATWHYHOW’ when you reach it. Twists that are so unexpected and yet so cleverly written that you truly did not see it coming.

This all stems from the success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, released in 2012. Suddenly, everyone wants to cash in on Flynn’s success, by branding their book as ‘the new Gone Girl’. I’ve seen so many books with this sort of reference on the cover I can’t even count, and yet the majority of the ones I’ve actually read, really fail to hit the mark. This term ‘psychological thriller’ is being used to describe any generic thriller with a female protagonist and a creepy looking cover. Not that I haven’t enjoyed the ones I’ve read, I have, they’ve just disappointed me. I’ve learnt that expecting something on par with Gone Girl is just not going to work.

I understand that publishers need to use certain marketing tools to sell books, and trying to cash in on one of the bestselling novels of the decade is not a bad idea. Clearly it’s working; I certainly keep falling for it myself. The problem is, these are books that I’ve ended up being disappointed by, when if they didn’t have the ‘Gone Gir tag on the cover, I would have really enjoyed. It’s difficult to know when to draw the line, but many books marketed as ‘psychological thriller’ have very average ratings on websites such as Goodreads. Many of the two and three star ratings that are dragging the overal average down are simply people who feel they’ve been duped into believing this would be something that it’s not.

I’m reluctant to name names here, although you’ll see many examples in the reviews on my blog, as I don’t want to insult the authors in question. It is the publishers that are responsible for this trickery, not the authors, who just want a crack at writing a decent thriller.

One name I will mention is arguably the most overhyped book of the last year, and that’s The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I read an article recently about the rise of books with ‘Girl’ in the title, and that goes some way to summarising what I’m trying to express here. The Girl on the Train is the driver of the ‘psychological thriller’ bandwagon. Now, I enjoyed the book, despite having a few issues with the ending’ yet I fail to see why this is better than other similar book of the same genre. I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh is much more suibtable categorised, and is the only book I’ve read so far that even comes close to Gone Girl, yet it hasn’t taken off in the same way at all. Yes, I’m sure Claire Mackintosh is enjoying modest success and has achieved a very decent number of book sales for a debut author, yet as far as I’m aware, there are no movie deals here. This is not ‘the book that everyone’s talking about’ in the same way that The Girl on the Train is. Now this is pure speculation, and I do not have sales figures for either book, but the reason I believe for The Girl on the Train’s incredible success is because of that one word in the title. The reader automatically compares this to Gone Girl and expects something of the same, even if it’s subconscious.

For me, the best thing about Gone Girl is the intelligence in the writing. Gillian Flynn’s style is something matched by no other. She manages to cleverly weave a stomach churning plot with deeply unlikable characters, yet still managing to make it a joy to read. All three of her books are masterfully crafted, yet unbelievably messed up; so much so, that you begin to worry for her sanity. This clever style is unmatched by anything I’ve ever read, particularly by anyone attempting to slot themselves into this genre.

Of course, this is no bad thing. An author must always bring something new to the table, otherwise what’s the point in picking up debuts rather than well-published reliables?

I’m not an author. I’ve never even attempted to write a book myself, I lack the creativity. I am, however, an avid reader. I am a reader who is getting sick to death of being disappointed by the books I read, simply because of inappropriate marketing.

4 thoughts on “Why the rise of the Psychological Thriller is ruining the classic ‘whodunit’

  1. Sarah says:

    The main issue I’m finding is more with the editing in a lot of cases, as in the stories aren’t tightened up, the excess information isn’t taken out, etc. They’re just pumping out books left, right and centre in order to cash in on the market which means that a lot of people aren’t taking the time to really think about and work hard on what they want to write.

    I’ve read so many disappointing books, as well, it’s making me a lot more picky where i used to feel I could pick up almost anything and enjoy some aspect. I personally love thrillers and crime novels, but they don’t all need a twist! I read one recently which I have a review scheduled for where the twist led to the killer being someone who wasn’t so much as mentioned in the book until the last chapter.

    They could have made a much stronger choice where the killer would have been guessable but much more disturbing and would have made more sense.


  2. alilovesbooks says:

    Psychological thrillers have been around for a while but I do think Gone Girl and Girl on the Train seem to have caused a massive surge in the genre. I know I definitely have a stack of them on my tbr. I do like a good thriller but there are quite a few pale imitations out there and just the sheer number is making them difficult to find.

    While I hate when books are marketed as “the next … ” and I’m not a fan of Girl in the title (they are women and where are the “boy” books) I think it’s just sheer volume that’s the biggest issue. Anyone can and is writing books at the moment with some authors churning out one every couple of months. I think sheer volume and the rush to publish is the biggest cause of falling quality and this isn’t unique to the psychological thriller genre. It seems to be happening everywhere there is a big book. I’ve noticed a bit of an increase in weepys for example since Me Before You.


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