One day I will stop going on about how un-thrilling I find most thrillers, and likewise how un-mysterious I find most mysteries.
The problem I have with thrillers is that so many of them are based on the premise that the perpetrator of the misdeeds is an unhinged psychopath, which takes away the interest of a proper motive that you always used to get with a good old fashioned Agatha Christie. The other problem I have with them is the inexplicably stupid things that many of the protagonists (many of them women) do that get them into trouble, eg Yvonne Carmichael in Apple Tree Yard, or any of the three interchangeable women narrators in The Girl on The Train, which was Radio 4’s most recent Book at Bedtime. All the women had quite different sounding voices, but they all spoke with the same tone of wistful uselessness that had me really confused as to what was going on, and everything revolved around their relationships with two quite horrible sounding men.
What everyone needs to do is read some Shirley Jackson 🙂
We Have Always Lived In The Castle is about two sisters, Constance and Mary Katherine Blackwood, who live in a large house just outside a village. The novel opens with Mary Katherine (Merricat) on a shopping trip in the village; the sense of enmity and foreboding is terrific. Then there is an extended sequence of the sisters in their own territory, which is fairly batty, but the pattern of normality is still recognisable, just more or less twisted in different places. On one level, you feel the sense of comfort the sisters have built up around themselves, but on another, you wonder just what the twists hide. Everything is character driven, nothing is random.
I don’t tend to creep out that easily from classic books (found both The Woman in Black and The Turn of the Screw fairly ho-hum) but Shirley Jackson really knew how to do tension.
Here is a link to her most famous, and controversial, short story The Lottery.