Thriller

Camino Island

Author: 
Grisham, John

A gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a secure vault deep below Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Their loot is priceless, but Princeton has insured it for twenty-five million dollars.

Bruce Cable owns a popular bookstore in the sleepy resort town of Santa Rosa on Camino Island in Florida. He makes his real money, though, as a prominent dealer in rare books. Very few people know that he occasionally dabbles in the black market of stolen books and manuscripts.

Mercer Mann is a young novelist with a severe case of writer’s block who has recently been laid off from her teaching position. She is approached by an elegant, mysterious woman working for an even more mysterious company. A generous offer of money convinces Mercer to go undercover and infiltrate Bruce Cable’s circle of literary friends, ideally getting close enough to him to learn his secrets.

But eventually Mercer learns far too much, and there’s trouble in paradise as only John Grisham can deliver it. (From the publisher.)

Genre: 
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?

(Generic Mystery Questions by LitLovers)

The Family Upstairs

Author: 
Jewell, Lisa

Be careful who you let in.

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions.

Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom.

Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

In The Family Upstairs, the master of "bone-chilling suspense" (People) brings us the can’t-look-away story of three entangled families living in a house with the darkest of secrets. (From the publisher.)

Genre: 
Discussion Guide: 

1. The Family Upstairs is told from three perspectives: Henry, Lucy, and Libby’s. Was there one character in particular whose point of view you especially enjoyed? What is the effect of having Henry’s sections told in first person narration and Lucy and Libby’s told in third person narration? Why do you think Lisa Jewell structured her novel this way?

2. Henry, rightfully, hates David. Yet, Henry and David share many similar tendencies and qualities. Compare and contrast the two men.

3. There are many intriguing characters who do not directly narrate the novel. Is there a character whose point of view you’d have liked to had included? What do you think Martina, for example, thought about David and Birdie’s choices?

4. What is the effect of characters calling Libby "the baby" throughout the novel? How does this inform your opinion of Libby and her role in the story?

5. Which of adult Henry, Lucy, and Clemency’s behaviors can you directly trace back to their harrowing experiences as children? How do you see the influence of their abuse in their grown up lives?

6. The relationship between Henry and Phin is pivotal to the plot, but we aren’t told as much about the friendship between Lucy and Clemency. What details do we glean about their relationship from Henry and Lucy’s memories and Clemency’s account toward the end of the novel?

7. What types of power are wielded in this novel? Who has power, who loses it, and who wants it? Is there a character without any agency?

8. Do you think Henry’s lies and violent acts were born out of his need to survive an unimaginable situation, or do you think there is, as Clemency states, "a streak of pure evil" (page 280) in him?

9. Lucy and Clemency experienced unspeakable abuse as children, but, miraculously, they managed to break the cycle and become good mothers to their children. What are their relationships like with their children? What makes them good moms?

10. After Clemency tells Henry that her father tried to con his own family once, Henry decides he must act against David. As he remembers his conversation with Clemency, he thinks,

It was a fork in the road, really. Looking back on it there were so many other ways to have got through the trauma of it all, but with all the people I loved most in the world facing away from me I chose the worst possible option" (page 274).

While Henry claims he would have resorted to less violent ways of escaping the Lamb house, do you really believe him? Or do you think part of him wanted revenge?

11. Libby finds many disconcerting traces of the house’s previous inhabitants when she tours it. Which artifacts did you find the eeriest? Which intrigued you and made you want to find out what had happened inside the house?

12. In your opinion, who is the most tragic figure in this novel? Do they experience healing or redemption?
(Questions issued by the pubisher.)

The Other Mrs.

Author: 
Kubica, Mary

Hypnotic and addictive, The Other Mrs. is the twisty new psychological thriller from Mary Kubica, the blockbuster bestselling author of The Good Girl.

Sadie and Will Foust have only just moved their family from bustling Chicago to small-town Maine when their neighbour, Morgan Baines, is found dead in her home. The murder rocks their tiny coastal island, but no one is more shaken than Sadie, who is terrified by the thought of a killer in her very own backyard.

But it's not just Morgan's death that has Sadie on edge. It's their eerie old home, with its decrepit decor and creepy attic, which they inherited from Will's sister after she died unexpectedly. It's Will's disturbed teenage niece Imogen, with her dark and threatening presence. And it's the troubling past that continues to wear at the seams of their family.

As the eyes of suspicion turn toward the new family in town, Sadie is drawn deeper into the mystery of Morgan's death. But Sadie must be careful, for the more she discovers about Mrs Baines, the more she begins to realise just how much she has to lose if the truth ever comes to light.

Discussion Guide: 

1. Discuss Sadie’s role as a victim in the novel. Do you think she should be held accountable for her actions in the story? In what ways is she the hero of her own story?

2. Trauma and recovery are important themes in the book. Talk about how each of the characters experience trauma and how it informs their actions and behaviors. Do you think it’s possible to ever fully recover from trauma?

3. What do you think of Sadie’s relationships with Otto and Tate? How do you think her experiences from the past shaped her approach to motherhood?

4. Discuss the characters of Sadie, Camille, and Mouse. How does each perspective enhance the story?

5. Did you think Will was a good husband throughout the novel? Do you think he ever truly loved Sadie?

6. How does the isolated setting play into the novel? In what ways does it compound the circumstances in the story and Sadie’s state of mind?

7. What is the significance of the title, The Other Mrs.? Who did you think it referred to at different parts of the story?
(Questions from the author's website.)

American Dirt : a novel

Author: 
Cummins, Jeanine

"También de este lado hay sueños. Lydia Quixano Perez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable. Even though she knows they'll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with four books he would like to buy--two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia's husband's tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same. Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia-trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier's reach doesn't extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?"-- Provided by publisher.

Discussion Guide: 

1. Throughout the novel, Lydia thinks back on how, when she was living a middle-class existence, she viewed migrants with pity:

All her life she’s pitied those poor people. She’s donated money. She’s wondered with the sort of detached fascination of the comfortable elite how dire the conditions of their lives must be wherever they come from, that this is the better option. That these people would leave their homes, their cultures, their families, even their languages, and venture into tremendous peril, risking their very lives, all for the chance to get ,to the dream of some faraway country that doesn’t even want them (chapter 10, page 94).

   Do you think the author chose to make Lydia a middle-class woman as her protagonist for a reason? Do you think the reader would have had a different entry point to the novel if Lydia started out as a poor migrant? Would you have viewed Lydia differently if she had come from poor origins? How much do you identify with Lydia?

2. Sebastian persists in running his story on Javier even though he knows it will put him and his family in grave danger. Do you admire what he did? Was he a good journalist or a bad husband and father? Is it possible he was both? What would you have done if you were him?

3. Lydia looks at Luca and thinks to herself: "Migrante. She can’t make the word fit him. But that’s what they are now. This is how it happens" (chapter 10, page 94). Lydia refers to her and Luca becoming migrants as something that happened to them rather than something they did. Do you think the author intentionally made this sentence passive? Do you think language allows us to label things as "other," that is, in a way, tantamount to self-preservation? Does it allow us to compartmentalize things that are too difficult to comprehend?

4. When Lydia is at the Casa del Migrante, she learns the term cuerpomatico—"human ATM machine"—and what it means. Were you surprised to learn how dangerous the passage is, and for female migrants in particular?

5. When Lydia, Luca, Soledad, and Rebeca are at the Casa del Migrante, the priest warns them to turn back: "If it’s only a better life you seek, seek it elsewhere…. This path is only for people who have no choice, no other option, only violence and misery behind you" (chapter 17, page168). Were you surprised that he would be issuing such a dire warning when he must know how desperate they are to be there in the first place? Under what conditions might you decide to leave your homeland?

6. When they get to the US–Mexican border, Beto says, "This is the whole problem, right? Look at that American flag over there—you see it? All bright and shiny; it looks brand-new. And then look at ours. It’s all busted up and raggedy" (chapter 26, page 273). Later he says, "I mean, those estadounidenses are obsessed with their flag" (chapter 26, page 274). Do you agree with Beto? Do the flags symbolize something more than just the countries they represent?

7. The term "American" only appears once in the novel. Did you notice? Why do you think the author made this choice?

8. When Luca finally crosses over to the United States, he’s disappointed:

The road below is nothing like the roads Luca imagined he’d encounter in the USA. He thought every road here would be broad as a boulevard, paved to perfection, and lined with fluorescent shopfronts.This road is like the crappiest Mexican road he’s ever seen. Dirt, dirt, and more dirt (chapter31, page 329).

Discuss the significance of the title, "American Dirt." What do you think the author means by it?

9. Read the passage below from the novel. Then consider: Do you think the narrator intends for the reader to wholeheartedly censure Lydia in this scene? Do you think Lydia is a stand-in for the reader and that the author is sending a broader message? After reading the author’s note, do you think the author includes herself in this group?

Lydia had been aware of the migrant caravans coming from Guatemala and Honduras in the way comfortable people living stable lives are peripherally aware of destitution. She heard their stories on the news radio while she cooked dinner in her kitchen. Mothers pushing strollers thousands of miles, small children walking holes into the bottoms of their pink Crocs, hundreds of families banding together for safety, gathering numbers as they walked north for weeks, hitching rides in the backs of trucks whenever they could, riding La Bestia whenever they could, sleeping in futbol stadiums and churches, coming all that way to el norte to plead for asylum. Lydia chopped onions and cilantro in her kitchen while she listened to their histories.They fled violence and poverty, gangs more powerful than their governments. She listened to their fear and determination, how resolved they were to reach Estados Unidos or die on the road in that effort, because staying at home meant their odds of survival were even worse. On the radio, Lydia heard those walking mothers singing to their children, and she felt a pang of emotion for them. She tossed chopped vegetables into hot oil, and the pan sizzled in response.That pang Lydia felt had many parts: it was anger at the injustice, it was worry, compassion, helplessness. But in truth, it was a small feeling, and when she realized she was out of garlic, the pang was subsumed by domestic irritation. Dinner would be bland (chapter 26, pages276–77).

10. Read the below passage from the novel. Then consider: If you were writing the rules for asylum eligibility, what would they be.

'I heard if your life is in danger wherever you come from, they’re not allowed to send you back there.'

To Lydia it sounds like mythology, but she can’t help asking anyway, 'You have to be Central American? To apply for asylum?'

Beto shrugs. 'Why? Your life in danger?'

Lydia sighs. 'Isn’t everyone’s?' (chapter 26, page 277)

11. Toward the end of the novel, Soledad "sticks her hand through the fence and wiggles her fingers on the other side. Her fingers are in el norte. She spits through the fence. Only to leave apiece of herself there on American dirt" (chapter 28, page 301). Why do you think Soledad spits over the border? Is doing so a victory for her?

12. "Luca wonders if they’re moving perpendicular to that boundary now, that place where the fence disappears and the only thing to delineate one country from the next is a line that some random guy drew on a map years and years ago" (chapter 30, page 317). In his 1971 book Theory of Justice, the philosopher John Rawls came up with what he called the "veil of ignorance." Rawls asked readers to think about how they would design an ideal society if they knew nothing of their own sex, gender, race, nationality, individual tastes, or personal identity. Do you think the decision-makers of the borders might have made a different decision if they had donned the veil of ignorance? Do you think borders are a necessary evil or might their delineation serve a societal good? Do you think that the world would be a better place if we all brought Rawls’s thought experiment to bear in our everyday individual and collective decision making?

13. Why do you think there are birds on the cover of the novel?

14. Read the passage below from the novel. Then consider: Do you think Lydia is better or worse off for not having known about the moment of her boundary crossing? What importance do rituals have in marking milestones in our lives? Can the done be undone, the past rewinded?

But the moment of the crossing has already passed, and she didn’t even realize it had happened. She never looked back, never committed any small act of ceremony to help launch her into the new life on the other side. Nothing can be undone. Adelante (chapter 30, page323).

15. Was Javier’s reaction to Marta’s death at all understandable? Humanizing? Do you believe that he didn’t want Lydia dead? Is what he did, in the name of his daughter, any less paternal than what Lydia does for Luca is maternal? (Questions issued by the publisher.)

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?

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