Killer Books – You Will Know Me and Dear Mr. M

If you are feeling withdrawal from The Girl on the Train, two thrillers may help you sort through your need for psychological suspense.

9780316231077_p0_v2_s192x300   You Will Know Me

Did the Greeks have the modern formula in mind when they prepared for the Olympics?  In Megan Abbott’s thriller You Will Know Me, the author uses girls’ gymnastics as the focus for yet another  unreliable narrator with a killing secret.

The story envelopes the reader in a family’s ambition to see daughter, Devon, rise to the top, with financial and psychological cost to both her and her family.  Only the younger brother, Drew, seems unscathed until later in the plot, when he too becomes an unlikely and silent victim.  As mother Katie tells the tale, she notes three pieces of the story driving the eerie plot: a lawn mower accident with her three year old daughter’s foot, cutting off her toes; her daughter’s fall at the end of a competition; and the pit in the renovated gym, bringing a handsome lover into their lives.

Although finding the killer keeps the suspense, the lives of the young gymnasts and their hovering parents may be more frightening.

9781410491572_p0_v1_s192x300   Dear Mr. M

Herman Koch once again managed to scare me in the first fifty pages, with the promise of more eerie episodes yet to be explored.  I still shiver when I think of reading The Dinner and Summer House With a Swimming Pool.  I may wait to read Mr. M another time, but here is the short summary, if you are up to it.  When the book opens, Mr. M is being stalked by his neighbor who has a mysterious connection to his past.

“Once a celebrated writer, M had his greatest success with a suspense novel based on a real-life disappearance. It told the story of a history teacher who went missing one winter after having a brief affair with a beautiful student of his. The teacher was never found. Upon publication, M’s novel was a runaway bestseller, one that marked his international breakthrough.” Kirkus


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The Dinner

9780770437855_p0_v4_s260x420What is it about horrible characters that can capture and hold my attention, and then leave a sour taste afterwards, with a depressed feeling of having wasted a day in reading about them?  Gillian Flynn did it in Gone Girl, and now the Dutch writer Herman Koch has repeated that hypnotic guile in The Dinner.

As he marches his characters through a family dinner at an elite restaurant, the innocuous descriptions of fussy waiters and overpriced food lull the reader into wondering why the tale had been listed as a thriller.  Slowly, the inadequacies and quirks of Paul, the history teacher whose psychiatric disorder has forced him to take a leave of absence, and Serge, his brother, the aspiring prime minister with a penchant for control and overeating, escalate from petulant commentary to sinister foreboding.

The parents have met for “the dinner” to discuss their children – teenagers whose recent horrendous criminal action (no spoiler here), recorded by a security camera, has gone viral on the internet – with the faces of the boys unrecognizable to all, except their parents.  The pressure increases when one of the boys uses his phone video posting on YouTube, with more specific identification of the perpetrators,  to blackmail the others.  The parents are meeting at “the dinner” to decide what to do.

As the courses are served, Koch uses the narrator, Paul, as an observer of the inadequacies of the world in general; his thoughts seem benign and a little caustic, but soon the inferences become prejudicial and sarcastic. No one is innocent, moral, or with any semblance of conscience, and parenting is an exercise in avoidance, bad example, and promoting bad behavior in the interest of protecting one’s child.

Like Gone Girl, this tale is told by an unreliable narrator, who is at once unlikable yet compelling, and with twists in the story that are disorienting.  If you like to get your thrills through skeptical illustrations of the dark side of the mind, you might appreciate Koch’s manipulations – and wonder if those around you, who are seemingly normal, are just one close step from becoming dangerously asocial.