Since my reading journey began about a year ago, I’ve read nearly 30 books that can be classified into the genres of mystery, suspense, and/or thrillers. I have started to notice trends in terms of my likes and dislikes when it comes to the structure and plot of stories in this genre. To be a stand out, 5 star read for me personally, quite a few boxes need to be checked. In this post, I want to explore those requirements and highlight the books I’ve read that have that specific component in the plot or the structure of the book.

If I’ve rated a book in this genre 5 stars, it’s likely have 3 or more of the following features, listed in no particular order:

1 | a diverse and interesting cast of characters

I want 5+ characters, multiple likely suspects, unique and well developed characters, unreliable witnesses

2 | various timelines

I want to be transported between the past and the present, but I don’t want to be too confused by it

3 | unique story structure and elements

I want a story told in reverse, a book within a book, podcast transcriptions, hand written letters, phone conversations, chat room exchanges, photocopies of classified evidence

4 | multiple unanswered questions

I want to be following bread crumbs, I want to get frustrated and confused trying to keep track in my head the clues laid out by the author, I want the bait n’ switch

5 | my visceral, physical response

I want a literal jaw dropping moment, I want genuine fear, heart pounding anxiety, I want to gasp out loud, I want to be afraid trying to fall asleep that night

6 | health, wellness, medical

I want chronic illness and disease, I want medical representation, medical terminology, I want mental health rep, psychosocial disorders, psych wards that remind me of my own place of employment

7 | atmospheric setting

I want descriptive language and imagery, I want creepy houses, islands, forests, and backdrops for crime and murder

Can we see why Home Before Dark is literally my perfect and favorite thriller of all time? It checks 6 of the 7 boxes, it’s basically perfection. I don’t know that there is a book or story out there that will tick all 7 boxes, but you bet I’m going to spend the rest of my life searching for one (recommendations welcome).

What you’ll notice is missing from the titles above are domestic thrillers. Ehh, they just aren’t my jam. In my experience with the books I’ve read in the past year, often times domestic thrillers involve emotional, physical, sexual, and verbal abuse and I just don’t love reading about vulnerable women being harmed by people they know, love, and/or trust.

Here’s a few of my most anticipated books in this genre I hope to get to this year!

Until next time, Meryn

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