When I’m asked what genres I love to read, I inevitably reply, “mysteries and thrillers!” The next question I’m bound to receive is this one: “The reading experience isn’t ruined for you? Don’t you figure out whodunnit every time?”
I’ll admit, six books into my career writing thrillers, murder mysteries, and domestic suspense, my eyes are wide open to certain tricks of the trade. Yes, I’ve been known to see a twist coming or to clock a red herring for what it is. But knowing how the sausage is made has rarely lessened my enjoyment because no, I almost never figure everything out. Thriller-writers are a wily bunch. Crafty suspense novelists know how to deliver a story with layers, a series of reveals, and multiple twists-and-turns to keep even the most experienced readers on their toes. And experimenting with form is one of the most effective ways to entice readers who have grown hip to the most beloved genre conventions.
In my latest domestic suspense novel, The Split, I employed one of my absolute favorite storytelling techniques—the split reality structure, also known as “sliding doors,” a nod to the 1990 Gwyneth Paltrow film—to craft a thriller with two interlocking mysteries and two twisty endings. Twenty-eight-year-old Jane Connor (dependable, highly functioning, and unlucky in love) answers a call from her flighty younger sister Esme informing her that she’s left her high society husband and needs a place to stay. Jane’s response splits her life into two realities: one in which Esme comes to live with Jane in their childhood home, forcing the sisters to reckon with the darkness in their past and the distance between them now, and the other in which Esme vanishes into the night, leaving Jane tortured by regret.
I hope readers will have as much fun taking the journey through Jane’s two realities as I had creating them. If you’re drawn to thrillers with unusual—and well-executed—structures, here are seven more contemporary thrillers to add to your reading list:
This story of two missing women one decade apart is inventively told backwards, starting with Nic’s return home on Day 1, then flashing forward two weeks to Day 15 and working back in time as Nic attempts to uncover the truth about what really happened to Annaleise—and Corinne.
Readers are treated to the text of Ewan Holt’s chilling memoir interwoven with the primary narrative for a twisty book-within-a-book experience.
As Maya delves into the trauma that defined her past, this dual-timeline thriller plays with memory (and missing memories) to propel both timelines forward. Readers are also made privy to hidden messages in a book written by Maya’s deceased father, and a story written years ago proves crucial to understanding Maya’s present.
Criminal defense attorney Lila Bennett places her faith in the court system. It’s her job to give her clients the best possible defense, no matter the crime. But if she’s being honest with herself (or had one too many glasses of wine) the fact of the matter is she often knows the difference between an innocent and guilty defendant—and Jeremiah, the client she just successfully got off, was probably guilty of murder. The case is hitting Lila harder than most, and so is the guilt of an ongoing affair—with her boss Sam, the husband of Lila’s best friend. So when Sam invites Lila out for a drink while Lila’s unsuspecting husband waits at home with their takeout, Lila’s choice splits her world into two realities: one in which she is taken hostage by a stranger who seems to know her intimately, and the other in which she evades capture but is pursued in a different, just as threatening, manner. In this sliding-doors-style thriller, readers follow Lila’s two realities (“captured” and “free”) as she reckons with a laundry list of bad choices and fights to salvage what’s left of her career, her marriage, and her freedom.
The primary storyline is interspersed with peeks into the past, taking readers back to 1983, to the story of Kendra Rae and Diana, Black women who wrote and edited the number one New York Times bestselling Burning Heart, the book that drew Nella to Wagner in the first place. An accent point of view from Shani, working for the mysterious Resistance in 2018, rounds out this dual-timeline, multi-POV thriller about book publishing, race, and privilege.
On Halloween night, Jen witnesses a murder: a stranger stabbed to death outside her family home—by her eighteen-year-old son. Todd is taken into custody, offering no explanation for what he’s done, and Jen and her husband Kelly leave the police station shocked and devastated. Until the next morning when Jen awakes, and it’s yesterday—the day before the murder. Over the course of the next twenty-some days, Jen travels back and back and back in time, first to the immediate past, then further and further back, through her thirties and twenties, through Todd’s adolescence and childhood, throughout the course of her marriage, seeking the trigger for her son’s terrible act of violence—and a way to stop it.In this time loop thriller, readers travel back alongside Jen, learning as she learns, and encountering twist after shocking twist, every puzzle piece shedding new light on Todd’s crime and, with it, the truth about the most intimate parts of Jen’s life.
But, strangely, she doesn’t know how long she’s been gone and won’t say where she’s been—or who she’s protecting.
Dual timelines with dual points of view interweave to take readers through this twisty case. In one timeline, told in close third person, Chelsey works to investigate Ellie’s disappearance and return, at stake her sister Lydia’s memory, Ellie’s present, and the future of the next girl to be taken. In another timeline, told in first person from Ellie’s point of view, the reader goes back two years to the night Ellie was taken and follows her story through her mysterious reappearance.
About the Author
Kit Frick is a MacDowell Fellow and International Thriller Writers Award finalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. The author of The Split, the young adult thrillers Before We Were Sorry (originally published as See All the Stars), All Eyes on Us, I Killed Zoe Spanos, Very Bad People, and The Reunion, as well as the poetry collection A Small Rising Up in the Lungs, Kit loves a good mystery but has only ever killed her characters. Honest. Visit Kit online at KitFrick.com and on Twitter and Instagram @KitFrick.
Jane must either let Esme stand on her own two feet for once or jump to her flighty younger sister’s rescue—and her choice cleaves her life in two.
In one reality, Jane can’t overcome her fear and tells Esme to crash with a friend. Twenty-four hours later, her sister is missing. Tortured by regret, Jane dedicates herself to piecing together Esme’s life before her disappearance, unraveling a web of lies, broken relationships, and, finally, the truth.
In the other reality, Jane swallows her fear and offers her less-than-grateful sister a ride. But while Jane hopes living together in their childhood home will be healing, Esme is aloof and increasingly reckless. The tension between the sisters builds until they are finally forced to reckon with the explosive secret from their past that could destroy their fragile bond—and both their lives.