Fall is just around the corner, a season that comes with chilling breezes, colorful leaves, and the carving of bright orange pumpkins for Halloween. The following bone-chilling psychological thrillers are just short of light horror, convey the classic feel of a “dark and stormy night,” and are perfect for getting into the mood of the windy fall season.
Thrillers are one of my favorite genres because they completely hook you into the story. Unlike other lighter genres, you can’t put them down, and when you do you’re still focused on solving the mystery and chasing the ending.
Shutter Island (2003)
In Dennis Lahane’s classic novel (made into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio in 2010), U.S Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck arrive at Shutter Island, home to the Ashecliffe asylum for the criminally insane, some of whom are guilty of murdering their own families. They are there to find Rachel, a repeat murderess who has escaped from the wards of the asylum into the dark forests and stone cliffs of the island. Ashecliffe houses some of the most dangerous psychotics in North East. Surrounded by water, the patients are removed from the sphere of reality, denying them any contact with the outside world. This isolation will also impact the fate of Teddy and Chuck as they look for Rachel.
During his time at the asylum, Teddy starts to notice some peculiar things. Inmates secretly warn him to get off the island, but the psychiatrists try to prevent him from leaving. Worst of all, there’s a mysterious lighthouse high up in the island’s cliffs, that everyone except Teddy seems to know all about. Or maybe Teddy knows more than he’s letting himself believe?
This haunting masterpiece completely lives up to its reputation. It manages to tie in almost all of the aspects of a classic thriller set in the 50s: an isolated location, stormy weather, and cynical, cigarette-smoking detectives. Of course, this thriller has the extra flavor of mentally-ill runaways in a haunted asylum run by corrupt officers.
Shutter Island accomplishes all of this without an ounce of predictability, which is great news for experienced psychological thriller readers who often predict endings halfway through books. Not only did I not see the ending coming, but I was still trying to wrap my head around it days later.
One of the best books I’ve read to date, I was left questioning everything I thought I knew, especially the blurred line where reality ends and imagination takes over.
As a warning, this is not a YA/NA read and contains some disturbing elements. You’ll have haunting realizations, and chills are guaranteed. My advice: only read in a public space, in broad daylight, and never alone.
Three Truths and a Lie (2016)
A thriller in more of a YA/NA vein, Three Truths and a Lie is a little more tame and less gruesome, but just as haunting as Shutter Island. The story follows four friends as they retreat to a secluded cabin deep in the green Washington forests for a weekend of fun. Their getaway takes a twisted turn when Rob, the narrator of the story, starts to notice some strange things: his friend disappearing for hours at a time, feeling like he’s being watched, and blood-curdling screams outside the cabin.
His friends, of course, don’t believe him and they ignore his protests to go home. One night, the four friends all reveal shocking secrets that make Rob wonder if he can trust anyone. Is there a reason why none of them want to go home? With no one on his side, and refusing to dismiss his beliefs in what he thinks is happening, he becomes increasingly paranoid and frustrated. Is he right to be? Are things as dangerous and twisted as he perceives? Or should he stop trusting his own mind?
I really enjoyed this book, and the fact that it was teens facing a great mystery rather than adults gave the book a scarier feel. Because this was the first psychological thriller book I have ever read, I was shocked by the ending, but after reading similar books, I found out this ending is pretty common. However, the author did put his own twist on it, making it anything but generic.
Both books are excellent fall reads, with twists that aren’t gimmicky and that make you rethink the entire plot, and with explosive endings.
In my opinion, the best part is that both books play with the concept of the unreliable narrator. You never truly know whether the narrator is telling the truth or has a warped sense of reality. This possibility forces you to question everything you’re told by the main character. Can you even trust that the events in the book really happened? Or is it all just one big illusion?