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The Takeover of Contemporary Crime


When Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl crashed onto the literary scene, it seemed inconceivable that anything as riveting, shocking or popular could follow in its footsteps. Instead, it sparked a new cult of chilling noir thrillers with just as much promise as its predecessors. Departing from the cosy comfortability of solving bloody murders or playing detective, this new generation of chilling psychological dramas brings the elements of modern life into question. With a crime wave rippling through the world of fiction, here are the top five reads to sink into this spring.

1. Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
 This tense, beautifully written thriller details the story of Tessie Cartwright, who was left to die in a shallow grave shrouded in black-eyed susans with other victims’ bodies. Now, eighteen years on, the suspected killer is about to be executed and Tessie can’t help but feel the wrong man is being convicted. Heaberlin spares us the gory details of Tessie’s attack, and instead pieces together the truth through insightful accounts of the past and present. We’re given an understated glimpse into Tessie’s marred mind-set and the turbulent journey she undertakes to accept the horrible event in her life and finally find some closure.

2. The Grown Up by Gillian Flynn
 This short and not so sweet tale highlights the predicament of a young woman who, after dabbling in psychic sex work, stumbles into a new job with gruesome consequences. Oozing with gothic drama, the story centres around an ominous Victorian house whose owner is convinced that a dark force is lurking behind its walls. Our protagonist becomes ensnared in the haunted happenings and witnesses plenty of gory goings-on, leaving her unnerved and searching for answers. Flynn hints at the home’s disturbed history and ties it all together in great gothic style.

3. The Girl on the Trainby Paula Hawkins
 Hawkins’ riveting tale sees Rachel, your average commuter, become embroiled in the lives and wrongdoings of strangers she passes by on her way to work. After she witnesses something she cannot keep to herself, she unearths the dark secrets at the roots of a missing person case, and something unexpectedly closer to home. This edgy tale keeps you guessing with its twists and turns, while the chapters leap from one unreliable narrator to the next, until the explosive truth relieves us, and Rachel, from the inescapable pressure building with every page.

4. The Widowby Fiona Barton
 Barton’s succinctly written debut novel gives an inside look into the rabid world of the media and its role in the wreck, ruin and rehabilitation of those at the centre of criminal cases. Jean, the widow of the title, is ravaged by her husband’s alleged involvement in a missing child case and it’s Kate, the cutthroat journalist, who wants to claim the inside scoop from the widow herself. Barton depicts the struggle to achieve the very delicate balance between a public and private life, and exposes the underlying habit of self-denial that can sustain a marriage in the worst possible circumstances. With the search for the missing girl running alongside each character’s account, Barton portrays the unforgiving nature of the media and provides a cathartic conclusion for Jean with a refreshing and unnerving sense of realism.

5. In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
 A sporadic invitation from a long lost friend, a remote, wooded location in the dead of winter and a dark secret buried deep in the past; Ruth Ware sets the scene for a chilling and ghostly tale. When protagonist Nora agrees to attend a hen-do of an out-of-touch friend, she can’t help but feel tinged with doubt and uncertainty about the whole thing. As the getaway trip goes on, Ware builds an atmosphere of suspense as Nora notices odd behaviour and strange occurrences, unnerving the reader with a sense of uncanny. It’s only at the very end that Ware releases us and Nora from the inescapable tension with an unexpected turn of events, dredging up the hidden and horrible history Nora longed to forget.

Written by Jessica Panton

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