We both LOVE a good thriller, but we’ve also both realized over time that we’re a bit picky about what works for us, and as a result sometimes the most popular books in this genre can miss the mark. So, what hits our sweet spot? Characters we can empathize with (but not necessarily like – we often dislike them intensely!). An interesting setting. A premise we can sink our teeth into. And what are such premises? Well, dysfunctional families are always great (in fictional thrillers, that is). But some of our favorite thrillers are those set in the world of publishing. So in this blogpost we’ll review three recent “publishing thrillers” we’ve read that kept us turning the pages.
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
When The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz first came out over a year ago, it was to incredible hype (“Insanely readable!” says Steven King). Did the book live up to this level of adoration? Perhaps not, but it’s a solid thriller and definitely worth picking up.
The premise of the novel is compelling. We open with a slumping author who hears about a “can’t miss” plot from a writing student. Then that student dies, so, of course, the slumping author decides to write the book himself. As predicted, the book becomes a huge hit. But soon there are anonymous messages coming in and he fears being found out. Who is sending these messages? Is the student really dead? And will our “hero” be found out?
We’ll say right away that the plot of the “can’t miss” novel doesn’t seem quite as breathtakingly original as promised. We’ll also acknowledge the “who” part of the whodunnit is pretty easy to figure out. That said, it’s a fun read, and we especially liked all the “author-y” things about the book business and questions of appropriation and who has the “right to write” a particular story.
Who is Maud Dixon by Alexandra Andrews
Who is Maud Dixon by Alexandra Andrews is a another great example of this “publishing thriller” subgenre. We’re given an ambitious editorial assistant who makes spectacularly bad decisions and a mysterious author named “Maud Dixon” who has written a megahit book called “Mississippi Foxtrot” (think Crawdads, but bigger). The action whips us from NYC to a secluded house in upstate New York to Morocco. The plot turns are fast and furious, and we were in for every single twist.
The themes at the heart of this book are ambition and identity and whether we can ever become the person we truly think we deserve to be – all themes we both resonate with. But the fun of the book turns on the twists. Neither of us see ourselves as readers who are especially good at (or try hard at) guessing twists, but the ones in this book were well-done and (for some of them, anyway) surprising. So on the good characters, fun settings, and interesting premise criteria, this one hits on all cylinders!
True Crime Story by Joseph Knox
When Kalena was about twenty pages into this book, she had to Google the title just to *double-check* that it was a novel and not actual non-fiction. (It is.)
True Crime Story is centered on the case of Zoe Nolan, a university student who disappeared in 2011. Crime writer Joseph Knox knew it as a cold case – sad, but not particularly sensational. Then Knox’s friend, Evelyn Mitchell (a struggling writer) starts investigating, thinking it would be a great story to publish. As she investigates, she emails Knox about what she’s finding, and then Knox embeds himself in the case and then … Well, you get the idea. It gets a bit twisty.
Told in alternating interview transcripts and email exchanges, True Crime Story is an engrossing and fun read. The positioning of Joseph Knox, the character, as a slimy, egotistical novelist—in contrast to Joseph Knox, the real person, who is undoubtedly lovely—was brilliant. The book was occasionally confusing and could probably have been fifty to a hundred pages shorter (but, seriously, we think that a lot), this book will keep me guessing until the very end.
So there you have it – three books-about-books thrillers. Have you read any of these? What did you think? And do you have any other suggestions for publishing thrillers that we should pick up – let us know in the comments!