Tag Archives: psychological thriller

THE WIVES by Tarryn Fisher

My final read of 2019 was The Wives by Tarryn Fisher. (This book comes out today! I never time reviews this well. Yay, me.) The Wives is a psychological thriller about a woman – “Thursday” – who is the second wife in a plural marriage. She sees her husband Seth once a week on Thursdays when he comes to Seattle, and the rest of the week he is with Wives 1 and 3 in Portland. Thursday is deeply in love with Seth, and for a while is contented to stay in a marriage where she shares her husband with two other women she has never met. But she is also lonely and depressed, and as her dissatisfaction with her marriage increases, she grows curious and ultimately obsessed with learning more about the other two women she sees as her competition.

When Thursday finds a clue as to the identity of Wife #3, she tracks her down and invents an excuse to meet her. She sees bruises on Wife #3 and starts to worry that Seth may not be who he seems. As the book progresses, her obsession with getting to know the other two wives grows and her behavior grows more risky. Are they in danger? And is Seth responsible for troubles she has faced in her own life? Is she in love, or in denial?

I sped through The Wives on vacation. It grabs you from the beginning with the polygamy premise – hard to resist – and takes off from there. I don’t want to spoil the plot or give away how it resolves, but I can say that by the end I found it unsatisfying and kind of a silly book. There are a lot of loose ends that go untied, as well as some frustrating stereotyping about women and mental health. I am generally not a big fan of psychological thrillers, and while The Wives kept my attention, it left me feeling empty in the end.

The Wives was a December BOTM pick and most reviews on Goodreads are very positive, so this may be my continuing challenge with psychological thrillers.

Last book of 2019!! Here’s to a great reading year in 2020.

THE OTHER WOMAN by Sandie Jones


The Other Woman by Sandie Jones is about a boyfriend’s-mother-from-hell. Emily, a twentysomething in London, meets Adam at a pub one night. They start dating, and he seems too good to be true – handsome, successful and attentive. After a few months, Emily meets his mother Pammie. At first, Pammie seems sweet, but by their second meeting, Emily starts to realize how manipulative she is. Pammie undermines Emily at every turn, excludes her and constantly makes her feel insecure about her relationship with Adam. As the chapters go by, Pammie’s behavior grows more and more egregious. Emily is constantly torn between her love for Adam and her hatred of his mother. (She is a rather frustrating and unlikable character herself, but she was in such an unenviable position that I tried to forgive her and cheer her on.)

The cover of The Other Woman proclaims that it is “fiendishly clever with a twist you will not see coming”. So I am not spoiling anything by saying that there is a twist in the book. But I do not want to say much more about the plot for fear of giving anything away. Pammie is definitely a force to be reckoned with and as I read I wondered how things could possibly be resolved. Which of these two women would win out in the end? That kept the pages turning.

I learned from an interview with Sandie Jones that she didn’t know where she was going with the plot when she started, that she worked it out as she went along. I can see that – the resolution wasn’t really consistent with the rest of the book and felt hastily appended.

The Other Woman was a fast read and certainly kept my attention. But it’s popcorn, in the end. If you’re in the mood for an engaging psychological thriller, you might enjoy this one.

I listened to The Other Woman on audio until I was near the end, when I finished it off in print. Great narration by Clare Corbett, who made Pammie just deranged enough to be realistic and communicated Emily’s insecurity and poor judgment credibly. I love those British accents!

THE FALLOUT by Tamar Cohen

I have been home from vacation for 2 1/2 weeks and I am finally getting the last of the reviews up! My 7th vacation read was The Fallout by Tamar Cohen. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was still good.

The Fallout is the story of what happens when one of two couples who have been friends for a long time break up. Josh and Hannah are married with a young daughter, and their best couple friends – Dan and Sasha – have grown to depend on each other for friendship, for backup child help, for long lunches that extend into dinner – for all of the things that adult friends expect from and give to each other. They are shocked when Dan announces that he is leaving Sasha, and even more shocked when it turns out he’s already seeing another (younger) woman.

The Fallout examines – in great detail – how Sasha and Dan’s breakup affects not only their individual relationships with Hannah and Josh, but also Hannah and Josh’s own marriage. Sasha is devastated, leaning on Hannah for emotional support and rallying Hannah in her campaign to malign Dan, while Dan seeks out Josh’s support and confidence as he grows more and more impatient with his increasingly unhinged wife.

I was expecting domestic drama – analysis of these relationships and how they changed through the strain of the breakup. What I wasn’t expecting was a psychological thriller, where the tension ratchets up throughout the book and you never know what outrageous thing is going to happen next. Instead of simply being weary and conflicted, Hannah and Josh become victims of increasingly disturbing intrustions in their lives. Who’s behind the nefarious stunts – and does it have to do with Sasha and Dan? Will Hannah and Josh’s marriage survive the strain?

The Fallout was a page-turner, to be sure. If you’re looking for relationship fiction, be warned that there is something more sinister at work here. It was a decent read, though, and with a few weeks’ distance, I am surprised at its staying power. I especially enjoyed Cohen’s observations about marriage and parenthood – all pretty spot on.


I know I said I was swearing off psychological thrillers.

But  I went to the Editors’ Buzz Fiction session at BEA, and the Simon and Schuster editor promoting Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent was so passionate about it, and the story sounded interesting, and then I almost got trampled trying to get my paws on a copy of it, so I decided to read it.

It is a psychological thriller, a genre I have compared to popcorn for its irresistibility, quick intake and vaguely sickening aftereffect. But Unraveling Oliver is a notch above most of the other thrillers I’ve read. It’s about a children’s book author, Oliver, who has just beaten his wife so badly that she is in a coma. What would move this man to do such a thing? Nugent unravels Oliver’s life from the present back to his childhood to get at what caused him to attack his gentle, loving wife so monstrously.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, providing a range of interpretations of and opinions about the title character. There are a few twists and turns, including one that made me gasp so loudly that my husband asked me what was wrong. Just when you think you understand Oliver, Nugent peels back another layer that reveals even more egregious behavior.

I don’t want to say too much more. If you’re looking for a book that you will have trouble putting down (but that won’t scare you half to death) then this is a good one. You won’t be thinking about it for days on end, but you’ll enjoy the ride while it lasts.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

So I jumped on the bandwagon and read the Book of 2015, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s one of the recent crop of Psychological Thrillers Narrated by Women that may or may not achieve Gone Girl success. The Girl on the Train has three narrators: (1) Rachel, a depressed alcoholic who is divorced from Tom and rides the train to London every day past his house, where she used to live and where Tom now lives with (2) Anna, who has a toddler, is happily married to Tom, and enlists babysitting help from (3) Megan, Anna and Tom’s neighbor who is married to Scott and has a checkered past.

Rachel, who is obsessed with Tom and mourning the loss of her old life, sees Megan and Scott’s house every day and romanticizes their relationship, naming them Jason and Jess and creating personas for them that reflect the life she wishes she had. But one day, when she passes the house from the train, she sees Megan with another man. And a few days later, Megan has disappeared – on the same night that Rachel was in the neighborhood, so drunk that she can’t remember what she saw. Rachel is devastated by the demise of this perfect couple she has concocted, and ends up getting involved with the investigation. She goes to the police with what she knows, she tells Scott about Megan’s affair, and she even manages to interact with the man Megan had the affair with, all the while continuing her unwelcome intrusions into Tom and Anna’s life. In short, her already teetering life goes entirely off the tracks.

The Girl on the Train is told from Rachel, Anna and Megan’s perspective, and as the chapters go by, you realize that the three women are not as different as they might seem. They each have their own insecurities and complicated feelings about motherhood. They are involved with some of the same men. Their interior thoughts reveal ugliness and weaknesses that they try, often unsuccessfully, to hide from view.

I can’t reveal much more without giving away what happens in the book, but there is a twist toward the end that brings the women’s stories together and resolves the question of what happened to Megan. I was a little disappointed by the twist, because it ultimately wasn’t one that the reader could have reasonably figured out on his or her own. I prefer twists that were hinted at, even briefly, by the plots leading up to them, and I think Hawkins hid the ball on this one. But the ending was nonetheless pulse-quickening and mostly satisfying (though in retrospect there are a few key things that don’t hold up).

I think I liked the experience of reading The Girl on the Train more than I like the book now. I was kind of glad to finish it. I listened to it on audio, so it was quite an investment of time for a story that in retrospect is basically a thriller. But it was definitely entertaining and held my attention. The narrators’ voices were fantastic – sad, humiliated Rachel; confident, no-nonsense Anna; and wispy, melancholy Megan. I think they did a great job bringing these characters to life.

I’d like to give away my audio copy of The Girl on the Train to someone who wants to take a crazy ride with this book. If you’d like to win, leave me a comment here and I will pick a name on Friday, February 20.