ISO recent mysteries/psychological thrillers with great openings
August 28, 2023 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Which mysteries and/or psychological thrillers have hooked you from the very beginning? I'm looking primarily for novels or short stories written in the last three years or so, but also happy to hear about older works as well as non-fiction, films and/or TV shows. Please also let me know what you found so compelling.
posted by rpfields to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
True Crime Story, by Joseph Knox. I listened to the audiobook and definitely think this is how best to experience it. It’s all interviews with the people involved in a crime, so it’s almost like an oral history. Everyone has a different point of view, of course, and some people are unreliable narrators, so it’s fun to figure out who is and isn’t telling the truth (or doesn’t even know they’re not telling the truth).

The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels, by Janice Hallett. Unlike the previous one, I think this one is best enjoyed in print. This one is about a strange cult where a small group of people thought they were angels and they planned to kill a baby they thought was the antiChrist However, instead, the baby was saved and half of the cult members died by suicide. Or was it??? The crime happened about 20 years ago and now a journalist is trying to track down the grown-up baby, who was thought to have ended up in care but no one knows their identity. The book consists of her emails, texts, and transcripts of her interviews with witnesses. I liked this one because the crime itself was very odd, and I like epistolary books. I enjoyed reading what purports to be private correspondence and trying to sift through the clues.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:25 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]

It's really more mystery-horror (there are supernatural elements and it gets pretty messed up, fair warning) but I can't remember a book that grabbed me harder in its opening pages than Sundial (2022) by Catriona Ward. Ward's really gifted with unreliable narrators, and so from the beginning there's this incredibly strong tension between the suburban life protagonist Rob is trying to have, and how it's undermined when she discovers that one of her daughters might be a psychopath. But Rob isn't a normal person herself either. So both the character mysteries and plot mysteries are immediately put into play in a way that's really compelling.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 6:26 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

Ruth Rendell's A Judgment in Stone reveals the crime, the victims, the perp, the method, the means, the motive, and the opportunity on the first page and yet you still can't put it down.
posted by scratch at 6:31 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I can't remember a book that grabbed me harder in its opening pages than Sundial (2022) by Catriona Ward.

OMG, thanks for this, I downloaded the free sample on my Kindle and had to buy the book. I have now spent the entire afternoon mesmerized by the narrator's voice, the writing, the layered plot, everything. 5/5, can recommend, even though I am not normally a horror fan.

Thanks also for the other recommendations, they definitely fit the bill.

More welcome if anybody has them.
posted by rpfields at 2:59 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]

The Lightness by Emily Temple hooked me mostly because everything about it falls so squarely and unabashedly into the mystery subgenres I'm a particular sucker for (a turbulent friend group of teen girls slowly and painfully torn apart from the inside! wry, heavily foreshadowed hindsight on a coming of age story! literary pretensions!) but you can probably decide whether or not you are similarly susceptible by this, from the first page:

A suicide, they said. Nothing to suggest otherwise. If not a suicide, perhaps an accident. The steep cliff, the shifting rocks. When you see hoofprints in the forest, the authorities said. What would horses be doing in our forest, we wanted to know. Accidents happen all the time, the authorities said. We know you had nothing to do with this.

I’ve found the authorities to be, in some matters, unreliable.

posted by eponym at 5:25 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]

As a TV example, I found the setup of the first episode or two of The Expanse to be highly compelling, and I also liked the Miller bits in the beginning the best in terms of the TV series. (A bit different reading the books later, which also worked for me, but the setup style was different.) I’ve watched the first season or two so many times.

I think it was the space opera setup of “here’s this thing happening and you don’t know what’s going on, but it’s not good” plus the gradual revelation of what was going on was intricate, interesting and mostly plausible in a hard sci-fi kind of a way, with lots of interesting visual flourishes like the way the sparrow flew on Ceres or the focus enhancer used by the Martian interrogator. Interesting details that made me want to know more.

Plus there was none of the reset noise of “how will they fail to progress this week?” that you can find with shows that started well with the same conceit. I’m thinking particularly of that show Prison Break. I mean, sitcoms are fine with a reset, procedurals are great — I liked The Closer a lot, but if you start with a certain type of progressing mystery, that’s a bit different for a setup. Actually, The Closer is another good example of a strong and compelling setup: “Looks like love…” I do like a strong ensemble cast as well.

However, what I liked about The Expanse might not be universal as my husband was just so confused until he started reading the first book. He was interested after a few episodes, but probably missing a lot of nuance because he tends to look at his phone when watching TV. (I read and watch mysteries a lot more.) But then he also got hooked and has read all of the books.

For a book recommend, Jane Harper’s The Dry really had a great hook. It’s been a while since I read the book, but detective Aaron Falk makes an interesting character along with the book’s intricate detail about life in the Australian bush, with farming, fire risks, relationships. The movie was great, but there was just so much nuance about country life in the book. Similar thing for her book The Lost Man with some different aspects of how people relate to a land that often wants to kill you.

Really just some great Australian noir lately, with her work and the Mystery Road series. (Origin is my favorite! Slow burn.) Harrow also has a great setup with Ioan Gruffudd as sexy Quincy, although that is more balanced as an evolving mystery vs. procedural. I hope it gets renewed as it’s the closest thing to a replacement for The Closer/Major Crimes that I’ve seen for a balance of mystery, ensemble cast, good characters, not too dark but not too silly.
posted by ec2y at 9:44 PM on August 30 [1 favorite]

The Mystery Road series ec2y mentions above has its origin in a 2013 feature film of the same name - the director, Ivan Sen has a new film that is also gripping from the first scene, Limbo.
posted by goo at 12:42 AM on September 24 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much everybody, these suggestions have all been very useful and have led me to discover quite a few great writers I didn't otherwise know about.
posted by rpfields at 1:26 PM on September 28

« Older The one true [condiment] is [brand].   |   What is the name of this Italian cake Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments