Thriller

Behind Closed Doors

Author: 
Paris, B. A.

The perfect marriage? Or the perfect lie? The debut psychological thriller you can’t miss!

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You might not want to like them, but you do.

You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult, because you realise Jack and Grace are never apart.

Some might call this true love. Others might ask why Grace never answers the phone. Or how she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work.

How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. And why there are bars on one of the bedroom windows. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 


1. Talk about the characters, both good and bad. Describe their personalities and motivations. Are they fully developed and emotionally complex? Or are they flat, one-dimensional heroes and villains?

2. What do you know...and when do you know it? At what point in the book do you begin to piece together what happened?

3. Good crime writers embed hidden clues in plain sight, slipping them in casually, almost in passing. Did you pick them out, or were you...clueless? Once you've finished the book, go back to locate the clues hidden in plain sight. How skillful was the author in burying them?

4. Good crime writers also tease us with red-herrings—false clues—to purposely lead readers astray? Does your author try to throw you off track? If so, were you tripped up?

5. Talk about the twists & turns—those surprising plot developments that throw everything you think you've figured out into disarray.

  1. Do they enhance the story, add complexity, and build suspense?
  2. Are they plausible or implausible?
  3. Do they feel forced and gratuitous—inserted merely to extend the story?

6. Does the author ratchet up the suspense? Did you find yourself anxious—quickly turning pages to learn what happened? A what point does the suspense start to build? Where does it climax...then perhaps start rising again?

7. A good ending is essential in any mystery or crime thriller: it should ease up on tension, answer questions, and tidy up loose ends. Does the ending accomplish those goals?

  1. Is the conclusion probable or believable?
  2. Is it organic, growing out of clues previously laid out by the author (see Question 3)?
  3. Or does the ending come out of the blue, feeling forced or tacked-on?
  4. Perhaps it's too predictable.
  5. Can you envision a different or better ending?

8. Are there certain passages in the book—ideas, descriptions, or dialogue—that you found interesting or revealing...or that somehow struck you? What lines, if any, made you stop and think? 

9. Overall, does the book satisfy? Does it live up to the standards of a good crime story or suspense thriller? Why or why not?

The Woman in Cabin 10

Author: 
Ware, Ruth

From New York Times bestselling author of the "twisty-mystery" (Vulture) novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, comes The Woman in Cabin 10, an equally suspenseful and haunting novel from Ruth Ware—this time, set at sea.

In this tightly wound, enthralling story reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s works, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins.

The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant.

But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

With surprising twists, spine-tingling turns, and a setting that proves as uncomfortably claustrophobic as it is eerily beautiful, Ruth Ware offers up another taut and intense read in The Woman in Cabin 10—one that will leave even the most sure-footed reader restlessly uneasy long after the last page is turned. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. What’s the effect of having Lo’s e-mails and various news reports interspersed throughout Lo’s narration? In what ways do they help you better understand what’s happening aboard the Aurora?

2. When Lo first enters the ship, she says, "I had a sudden disorienting image of the Aurora as a ship imprisoned in a bottle—tiny, perfect, isolated, and unreal" (p. 37). In what ways does this statement foreshadow the events that take place on the ship? Describe the Aurora. In what ways do you think life on the ship may seem unreal? Discuss the book’s title. Why do you think Ware chose it? Did the title influence your reading of the novel? If so, how?

3. Who is Carrie? Did you like her? Why or why not? Describe her relationship with Lo. In what ways, if any, are the two women alike? How do Lo’s feelings about Carrie change as Lo gets to know her? Did your opinion of Carrie change as you read?

4. Lo questions Alexander about eating fugu during dinner aboard the Aurora, and he tells her that the fact it is poisonous is "what makes the experience" (p. 74). What does Alexander mean by his statement? Lo seems dubious about the appeal of it. Does Lo strike you as someone who takes risks? Were you surprised by any of her risky actions aboard the Aurora? Which ones, if any?

5. After Lo’s flat is burglarized, she calls Velocity’s assistant features editor, Jenn, and tells her about it. Lo says, "I told her what happened, making it sound funnier and more farcical than it really had been" (p. 13). Why do you think Lo underplays the break-in? How might this make her feel more in control? Have you ever underplayed an event of significance in your life?

6. When Lo panics on one of her first nights aboard the Aurora, she says, "I imagined burying my face in Judah’s shoulder and for a second I nearly burst into tears, but I clenched my teeth and swallowed them back down. Judah was not the answer to all this" (p. 49). Why is Lo so resistant to accepting help from Judah? Do you think that she’s right to be reticent? Describe their relationship. Do Lo and Judah support each other?

7. When Nilsson challenges Lo’s claim that she’s seen something happen in the cabin next to hers, she tells him, "Yes, someone broke into my flat. It has nothing to do with what I saw" (p. 141). Did you believe her? Did you think that the break-in made Lo more jumpy and distrustful? Give some examples to support your opinion.

8. When Lo first speaks to Richard Bullmer, she notices that he gives her "a little wink" (p. 79). What is the effect of this gesture? What were your initial impressions of Bullmer? Did you like him, or were you suspicious of him? After a prolonged conversation with Bullmer, Lo says, "I could see why [he] had got to where he had in life" (p. 194). Describe his manner. What does Lo think accounts for his success?

9. Archer tells Lo that self-defense is "not about size, even a girl like you can overpower a man if you get the leverage right" (p. 73). Is Lo able to do so? What kind of leverage does she have? What different kinds of power and leverage do the people on the Aurora use when dealing with each other? How did you react?

10. Judah tells Lo that "I still think, in spite of it all, we’re responsible for our own actions" (p. 334). Do you agree? In what scenes did you think the deception and violence that occurred were justified? In what scenes did you think it not justified?

11. When Lo sees the staff quarters on the Aurora, she says, "the rooms were no worse than plenty of cross-channel ferries I’d traveled on.... But it was the graphic illustration of the gap between the haves and have-nots that was upsetting" (p. 113). Contrast the guest quarters to those of the crew. Why does Lo find the discrepancy so unsettling? Much of the crew seemed unwilling to speak to Lo. Do you think this was caused by the "gap between the haves and have-nots"? Or some other reason?

12. Lo tells Judah, "You don’t know what goes on in other people’s relationships" (p. 333). Describe the relationships in The Woman in Cabin 10. Did you find any particularly surprising? Which ones, and why?

13. Bullmer tells Lo, "Why wait?... One thing I’ve learned in business—now almost always is the right time" (p. 190). Do you agree with his philosophy? In what ways has this attitude led to Bullmer’s success? Does this attitude present any problems aboard the Aurora? Do you think Lo shares the same life philosophy as Bullmer? How would you describe Lo’s philosophy on life?

14. Describe Lo’s relationship with Ben. She tells him "[e]verything I hadn’t told Jude. What it had been like....that I was vulnerable in a way I’d never thought I was before that night" (p. 82). Why does Lo share all this information with Ben rather than Jude? Did you think that Ben had Lo’s best interests at heart? Why or why not? Were you surprised to learn of their history?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

The Shack

Author: 
Young, William Paul

Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation, and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend.

Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack's world forever. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. How did reading this book affect your faith? Does it change, challenge, strengthen your image of God? Why is God portrayed as a woman, what reasons does God give Mack?

2. Does God answer convincingly the reason for the trinity?

3. Does the idea of God a character in the book, or God's first-person voice, bother you...or does it work within the context of The Shack's story?

4. Why did God let Missy die? Do you think The Shack answers convincingly the central question of theodicy, the existence of evil—or why, if there is a God, bad things happen to good people?

5. What does The Shack say about forgiveness—toward the self or toward those who have wronged you.

6. Young has been criticized for advocating lawlessness (p. 122) ...or universalism (p. 225)? Do you think that is a fair or unfair criticism?

7. Many readers find the first 4 chapters of The Shack almost too painful to read. Could they have been written in a way that would be less painful—without changing the book's message?

8. Does the book's ultimate message satisfy you? Is it possible to let go of control and certainty in life? Is it possible to live only in the present?

(Questions by LitLovers)

The Lake House

Author: 
Morton, Kate

An intricately plotted, spellbinding new novel of heartstopping suspense and uncovered secrets.

Living on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, innocent, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories. But the mysteries she pens are no match for the one her family is about to endure…

One midsummer’s eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. What follows is a tragedy that tears the family apart in ways they never imagined.

Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as an author. Theo’s case has never been solved, though Alice still harbors a suspicion as to the culprit. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall.

While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old estate—now crumbling and covered with vines, clearly abandoned long ago. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone...yet more present than ever.

A lush, atmospheric tale of intertwined destinies, this latest novel from a masterful storyteller is an enthralling, thoroughly satisfying read. (Fromthe publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. The structure of this novel lies in recreating different time periods in Cornwall and London—in the early 1930s and in 2003. Do you feel that the author was successful in moving the reader between the historical and more contemporary times?

2. Thinking about the stories and histories in The Lake House, what themes were most interesting to you?

3. The Lake House is the English translation of Loeanneth, the house’s Cornish name. Have you read other novels in which a house features within the text as vital and alive, almost as if it is another character in its own right?

4. The main female characters, Sadie, Alice, and Eleanor are all strong women with flaws. Is this the way you saw them? Did their imperfections allow you to identify or sympathize with one more than another? If so, why do you think that was?

5. Sadie Sparrow’s job as a detective and Alice’s bestselling crime-writing career has allowed an interesting incursion of the crime genre into The Lake House’s gothic mystery genre. Were you aware of this in your reading?

6. Both World War I and II have tragic and far-reaching effects on the characters and narrative of The Lake House. Discuss.

7. Mysteries, twists, family secrets, carefully placed red herrings, and unexpected revelations are now compelling traditions in Kate Morton’s novels. What parts of the novel were key to your enjoyment of the story?

8. The author poses the often complex question of what moral obligation each character has to another within their particular stories. Were decisions made within the novel with which you disagreed? Or could you see yourself making similar decisions?

9. After Sadie stumbles upon Loeanneth, she’s drawn to it, returning daily and “no matter which way she headed out on her morning run, she always ended up in the overgrown garden.” (p. 135) What is it about Loeanneth that intrigues Sadie? Why do you think she dives head first into solving the mysteries of the estate?

10. What did you think of Eleanor when you first encountered her? Did your feelings about her change? In what ways and why?

11. Many reviewers have praised Kate Morton’s writing, particularly the way she reveals family secrets. What family secrets were revealed in The Lake House? Did you find any particularly shocking? Which ones and why? (From the publisher)

I Am Pilgrim

Author: 
Hayes, Terry

An intelligent and taut debut thriller that depicts the collision course between two geniuses, one a tortured hero and one a determined terrorist.

Pilgrim is the code name for a world-class and legendary secret agent. He’s the adopted son of a wealthy, Waspy family and was once the head of an internal affairs force for US intelligence services. He held the vaunted title Rider of the Blue, which he acquired after he was forced to assassinate his turncoat predecessor in Moscow.

His adversary is a man known only to the reader as the Saracen. As a young boy, the Saracen sees his dissident father beheaded in a Saudi Arabian public square. But the event marks him for life and creates a burning desire to destroy the special relationship between the US and the kingdom. Everything in the Saracen’s life from this moment forward will be in service to jihad.

At the novel’s opening, we find ourselves in a seedy apartment near Ground Zero. A woman lies facedown in a pool of acid, features melted off her face, teeth missing, fingerprints gone. The room has been treated with DNA-eradicating antiseptic spray. All the techniques are pulled directly from Pilgrim’s book, a cult classic of forensic science written under a pen name.

In offering the NYPD some casual assistance with the case, Pilgrim gets pulled back into the intelligence underground. What follows is a thriller that jockeys between astonishingly detailed character study and breakneck globetrotting. The author shifts effortlessly from Pilgrim’s hidden life of leisure in Paris to the Arab’s squalid warrior life in Afghanistan, from the hallways of an exclusive Swiss bank to the laboratories of a nefarious biotech facility in Syria.

The inevitable encounter between Pilgrim and the Saracen will come in Turkey, around the murder of a wealthy American, in a thrilling, twisting, beautifully orchestrated finale. (From the publisher)

Discussion Guide: 

1. Discuss the structure of I Am Pilgrim. Why do you think Hayes chose to begin his story with a crime scene in a New York apartment? Were you surprised by how the opening scene fit into the plot?

2. Before Terry Hayes wrote I Am Pilgrim, he was a successful screenwriter. Were there any scenes in I Am Pilgrim that you found particularly cinematic? Which ones and why? If you were casting I Am Pilgrim, who would you choose to play the role of Pilgrim and of the Saracen?

3. What did you think of the Saracen? What do you think led to his radicalization? Explain your answer.

4. I Am Pilgrim begins with the line, “There are places I’ll remember all my life.” (page 3) Discuss the places that Pilgrim names. Why are they memorable to him? Are there any places that are particularly significant to you? What are they? Tell your book club about them.

5. S. Krishna’s Books writes that I Am Pilgrim “features . . . an expansive, ambitious storyline as it sets the standard for the post-9/11 spy thriller.” How do the events of 9/11 factor into the plot of I Am Pilgrim? Many of the characters were affected greatly by events of that day. Who are they and how were they affected?

6. In interviews, Hayes has cited Stephen King, Khaled Hosseini, David Baldacci, and Vince Flynn as writers he admires. How do you think these writers inspired Hayes while he was writing I Am Pilgrim? Do you see any similarities between I Am Pilgrim and their works? Discuss them with your book club.

7. Describe Pilgrim’s friendship with Ben Bradley. How did they become friends? In what ways, if any, are the two men alike?

8. When I Am Pilgrim was published, it was praised by the Associated Press in a review that said, “The storytelling and a truly intriguing protagonist make I Am Pilgrim a contender for best-of-the-year lists.” Did you think Pilgrim was an intriguing protagonist? Why was he such a compelling character? Is there anything you wish you knew about him? What?

9. What was your initial impression of Leyla Cumali? Did your opinion of her change? If so, how and why?

10. When asked if his writing took unexpected turns, Hayes said, “Did the book take unexpected turns? Oh boy, did it.” Were there any plot twists in I Am Pilgrim that were particularly shocking to you? Which ones and why? Were you surprised by the way I Am Pilgrim ended?  (From the publisher)

The Girl on the Train

Author: 
Hawkins, Paula

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck.

She’s even started to feel like she knows them. "Jess and Jason," she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut. (From the publisher.

Discussion Guide: 

1. We all do it—actively watch life around us. In this way, with her own voyeuristic curiosity, Rachel Watson is not so unusual. What do you think accounts for this nosy, all-too-human impulse? Is it more extreme in Rachel than in the average person? What is so different about her?

2. How would you have reacted if you’d seen what Rachel did from her train window—a pile of clothes—just before the rumored disappearance of Megan Hipwell? What might you or she have done differently?

3. In both Rachel Watson’s and Megan Hipwell’s marriages, deep secrets are kept from the husbands. Are these marriages unusual or even extreme in this way? Consider how many relationships rely on half-truths? Is it ever necessary or justifiable to lie to someone you love? How much is too much to hide from a partner?

4. What about the lies the characters tell to themselves? In what ways is Rachel lying to herself? Do all people tell themselves lies to some degree in order to move on with their lives? Is what Rachel (or any of the other characters) is doing any different from that? How do her lies ultimately affect her and the people around her?

5. A crucial question in The Girl on the Train is how much Rachel Watson can trust her own memory. How reliable are her observations? Yet since the relationship between truth and memory is often a slippery one, how objective or "true" can a memory, by definition, really be? Can memory lie? If so, what factors might influence it? Consider examples from the book.

6. One of Rachel’s deepest disappointments, it turns out, is that she can’t have children. Her ex-husband Tom’s second wife Anna is the mother to a young child, Evie. How does Rachel’s inability to conceive precipitate her breakdown? How does the topic of motherhood drive the plot of the story? What do you think Paula Hawkins was trying to say about the ways motherhood can define women’s lives or what we expect from women’s domestic lives, whether as wives, mothers, or unmarried women in general?

7. Think about trust in The Girl on the Train. Who trusts whom? Who is deserving of trust? Is Rachel Watson a very trustworthy person? Why or why not? Who appears trustworthy and is actually not? What are the skills we use to make the decision about whether to trust someone we don’t know well?

8. Other characters in the novel make different assumptions about Rachel Watson depending on how or even where they see her. To a certain extent, she understands this and often tries to manipulate their assumptions—by appearing to be a commuter, for instance, going to work every day. Is she successful? To what degree did you make assumptions about Rachel early on based on the facts and appearances you were presented? How did those change over time and why? How did your assumptions about her affect your reading of the central mystery in the book? Did your assumptions about her change over its course? What other characters did you make assumptions about? How did your assumptions affect your interpretation of the plot? Having now finished The Girl on the Train, what surprised you the most?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

Author: 
Bohjalian, Chris

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless teen living in an igloo made of ice and trash bags filled with frozen leaves. Half a year earlier, a nuclear plant in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom had experienced a cataclysmic meltdown, and both of Emily's parents were killed.

Devastatingly, her father was in charge of the plant, and the meltdown may have been his fault. Was he drunk when it happened? Thousands of people are forced to flee their homes in the Kingdom; rivers and forests are destroyed; and Emily feels certain that as the daughter of the most hated man in America, she is in danger.

So instead of following the social workers and her classmates after the meltdown, Emily takes off on her own for Burlington, where she survives by stealing, sleeping on the floor of a drug dealer's apartment, and inventing a new identity for herself—an identity inspired by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson.

When Emily befriends a young homeless boy named Cameron, she protects him with a ferocity she didn't know she had. But she still can't outrun her past, can't escape her grief, can't hide forever—and so she comes up with the only plan that she can.

A story of loss, adventure, and the search for friendship in the wake of catastrophe, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is one of Chris Bohjalian’s finest novels to date—breathtaking, wise, and utterly transporting. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. Emily says, “Obviously I made some bad choices. I’m still here, however, so I made some okay ones, too” (p. 41). How much does her fate depend on her own decisions, wise or unwise? What role do events beyond her control—in particular, the public’s unrelenting hostility toward her father—play in these decisions (pp. 41, 53)?

2. Emily overhears a National Guardsman saying that “the energy company will want this to be human error. If it’s human error, then nuclear power doesn’t look so bad. . . . And [the Shepards are] both dead by now. There’s not a lot of collateral damage when you have dead people you can blame” (p. 77). Do you think this is an accurate assessment of how industries and perhaps governmental agencies react to disasters? Can you think of real-life examples when this might have occurred?

3. Emily’s descriptions of her life as a runaway and of Cameron’s childhood experiences (pp.162-63, 166) are often grim and graphic. For the most part, Emily presents them in a straightforward, almost flip manner (p. 172, 174-5, 187). How does this illustrate the realities of life on the streets? What do her attachments to Andrea, Camille, and especially Cameron, and her reminiscences about her parents (pp. 113-14, 201, for example) show about Emily’s ability—and need—to deal with the harsh situations she faces? 

4. In telling her story, Emily moves back and forth in time. How does her narrative reveal her state of mind and the ways in which she perceives or filters her experiences? Do the language and the style accurately reflect the voice of a teenage girl? What passages ring particularly true to you?  What is the significance of her noting, “Sometimes when I reread what I’ve written, I find myself creeped out by what’s between the lines. What I haven’t written” (p.48)?

5. Why does Emily divide her story into B.C., “Before Cameron,” and  A.C., “After Cameron”? Does the division represent something more than mere chronology

6. How would you characterize Emily’s decision to return to the Northeast Kingdom? Is she acting foolishly or is her decision understandable, a necessary, essential conclusion to all that has gone before?

7. Many of the stories we read about teens in crisis explore the lives of those raised in crime-ridden, poverty-stricken areas. Emily comes from an educated, upper-middle-class family, and lives in a “meadow mansion.”  What does she share with troubled teens from less fortunate backgrounds? In what instances do Emily’s reactions to her circumstances embody the positive aspects of her upbringing?

8. Did you know where the title of the novel came from before it was revealed (p. 238)? Why do you think Bohjalian chose this phrase as his title? How does it relate to Emily’s philosophy about the world and the challenges she faces over the course of the novel?

9. How would you describe the overall mood and tone of the novel? How does Bohjalian balance the darkness at the heart of the story with an engaging, often humorous portrait of its protagonist? Would you call Emily a heroine? Why or why not?

10. How do the quotations from Emily Dickinson throughout Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands illuminate the themes of the novel? Consider the relevance of “I’m Nobody! Who are You?,” one of Dickinson’s best-known poems (p. 59), as well as the extracts on pages 19, 78-79, 134, and 154. Does the use of Dickinson’s poetry enrich your experience as a reader? Why is Dickinson’s life, as well as her poetry, so appealing to Emily?

11. Several serious accidents have occurred at the nuclear plants on Three Mile Island, and in Chernobyl and, most recently, at Fukushima Daiichi. What is your opinion on Emily’s assertion about the public’s reaction to these and similarly horrific events: “We watch it, we read about it, and then we move on. As a species, we’re either very resilient or super callous. I don’t know which” (p. 139)?

12. Close Your Eyes, Hold Handsdeals with some of the most difficult issues of our times: the possibility of nuclear catastrophe, homelessness, drug dealing, prostitution, and child abuse. In what ways does it offer insights that news reports and official studies cannot duplicate?

Subscribe to RSS - Thriller