Discussion – The Pros and Cons of Thrillers

Hello everyone,

It is four months since I wrote a discussion post, which for me is just way too long! I guess that I have just been really busy lately, but I am excited for this one as I feel like I have plenty to say here. Discussion posts can be long, but they are also a lot of fun.

Anyone who reads domestic or psychological thrillers will know that they can be extremely hit and miss. When they are done well, they can be truly exhilarating and bring about heaps of tension and intrigue, but equally there are many that fall a little flat for a number of reasons. There is a very fine line between a great thriller and an average one.

It is not only fundamental elements such as the plot which I am going to talk about in this post, but also a handful of contextual factors that make thrillers what they are, so let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons…

Pros

Unexpected twists

In my opinion, there is nothing better in a thriller than a twist that really turns everything on its head and leaves you just a little bit speechless. This only happens occasionally, but they are amazing moments that simply blow your mind.

Not every twist is quite so dramatic, but it is great to have an overriding sense of unpredictability that keeps you guessing on what might happen next, and there may also be some red herrings to catch you out. There have been some twists that have made me consider a book in a totally different light, or have been the difference between a four-star or a five-star read. Again, when done well, twists are what make a thriller special.

Multiple Narratives and Timelines

I really enjoy reading books containing multiple POVs and/or timelines! They add a great deal of extra perspective to the story and add an extra dimension to the plot, making it fascinating and complex. It also ensures a range of different voices, which adds variety and changes in tone.

Some of my favourite thrillers (and indeed books in other genres) have used this technique, a recent example being The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell. I always enjoy trying to work out how two timelines or storylines are connected.

Unreliable Narrators

An unreliable narrator is not everyone’s cup of tea, but they can be highly intriguing for a whole number of reasons. They make you question absolutely everything, such as which characters to trust, who is telling the truth, or even if the events you are reading about are actually happening as they are described.

These kind of doubts persist all the way up to the end of the book, and they can richly pay off with a good resolution. The entire trope brings an extra layer of mystery and suspense that can make the story more addictive.

Powerful Themes

A vast majority of thrillers explore and confront some extremely powerful issues, sometimes shedding light on things that we might know or understand very little about. These include many aspects of life, such as mental health or social media.

Sometimes these themes can make for an unsettling read, but if they are represented strongly and authentically, they leave a considerable impact and are often one of the first things that come to mind when I think of a particular book.


Cons

Lack of Diversity

This is the thing that disappoints me most about thrillers in general. There is a chronic lack of diversity and that is simply not okay. For books with diverse representation, I almost always need to to turn to other genres, such as Fantasy, Young Adult, Contemporary, and even Historical Fiction.

Currently, the main characters or narrators in thrillers fit a very similar profile. White, middle class, heterosexual. Even in terms of supporting characters, you are often lucky to find many who do not fit within these categories.

The fact I hardly see a BAME and/or LGBTQIA+ character in thrillers has troubled me for a long time. Yes, many thrillers authors are white, middle class and heterosexual too and they may instinctively write about what they know, but really we need to see a major improvement on this front.

Unlikely Coincidences

We all love a twist, but sometimes they can seem much too convenient for the sake of the plot. I am very sceptical when a twist turns out to be the most unlikely coincidence. It does not ruin the book, but it can certainly undermine its credibility and harm my overall thoughts.

One example was a book I recently read, The Guest List by Lucy Foley. There were lots of twists in that one towards the end, some of which were very good, but one or two veered into very far-fetched territory!

Neat Endings

In most thrillers, the characters go through a lot. Some of the things that happen to them and their families are quite traumatic, but a lot of the time the ending feels too ideal, with everything wrapped up far too neatly and all problems resolved.

When this happens, it rarely feels believable in the context of the book. It is almost as if the events that we read about before had not really happened, or the characters had moved on incredibly quickly. This matters, because ultimately the ending can greatly affect your lasting impression of a book.

Lack of Content Warnings

This is a problem that exists across all genres: the fact that content warnings are not included in 99.9999% of published books.

It probably matters more in thrillers than a lot of other genres. Although there are a lot of powerful and hard-hitting themes, they are not ideal for every reader so I think it is essential that they can at least be prepared for the contents of a book beforehand.

That way, you can make the decision yourself if you would like to read it. Content warnings are NOT spoilers. It does not take much effort to include them in a book, and this issue applies greatly to thrillers.


That is everything! Do you agree with my thoughts? Are there any other pros and cons that you can think of? Let me know in the comments!

39 thoughts on “Discussion – The Pros and Cons of Thrillers

  1. There are so many kinds of thrillers. I guess, you’re mostly referring to psychological thrillers here rather than crime/spy/action ones? Personally, I assume there are likely to be possibly challenging themes in a psychological thriller, so lack of trigger warnings doesn’t bother me. What I do hate is a twist too far, such as Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough, which went too far in its last pages. I also dislike it when the central perpetrator of the dastardly deeds is revealed to be someone too peripheral, but like you I do like a good unreliable narrator. 😀

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Annabel! Yes, I am mainly referring to psychological and domestic thrillers. I completely agree with you about Behind Her Eyes – that ending made me exasperated! I do see what you mean about trigger warnings, but I still feel the reader should be prepared for anything they might not have been expecting 🙂
      Also, I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll is an example of a thriller where the perpetrator was a peripheral character.

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  2. As someone who returned to fiction reading through thrillers, I have to say that you’re pretty spot on with this list. I don’t think I’ll be reading them for a long while more—not until I make a dent in the vast library of sci-fi/fantasy titles—but I still enjoyed your take on this. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. This is such a great discussion post! I not much of a thriller reader but from the ones I’ve read these things did stand out.

    I love the atmosphere and intrigue in thrillers but quite a few that I’ve read followed the same skeleton which after a while made them boring and kinda predictable 😅

    Have a great day and happy reading 😊

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  4. Hello Stephen – I need a steady diet of thrillers – with breaks for non-fiction or REALLY good books like anything from Annie Proulx, Donna Tartt or Patrick de Witt. Thrillers – I enjoy police procedure, private investigators, forensic experts – all sorts. BUT , very often I don’t read the last chapter – a long-drawn out explanation of the plot., so boring. And as you mentioned – unlikely coincidences. The reader doesn’t want to feel insulted! To mention a series that I do like – Robert Galbraith’s series with the detective, Corcoran Strike.

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    1. It is interesting that you often don’t read the last chapter, maybe I could learn from that. Unlikely coincidences are definitely frustrating. I’m also a big fan of the Cormoran Strike series.

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  5. I must admit I rarely read thrillers. For some reason, I just can’t quite immerse myself in the book but can easily get invested in a thrilling TV show. I definitely agree that the lack of content warning is a con, especially when they deal with such sensitive topics and you’d think by now they’d make more of an effort to diversify the genre.

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    1. That makes sense and I totally understand. And yes, you really would expect content warnings to be included because there are all manner of sensitive topics explored in thrillers – and indeed other books.

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  6. I’ve only begun to read thrillers recently, maybe last year, and I was immediately hooked. I agree with all your pros about it—I especially love unreliable narrators and multiple POVs. I have also noticed the startling lack of diversity in the genre, though, and I’ve wondered why very little people have pointed it out and why BIPOC/LGBTQ authors rarely dally in thriller territory, and I wonder if it’s also because publishers are also less likely to market books by authors like those as thrillers. One that comes to mind is ‘My Sister, the Serial Killer’, by Nigerian-UK author Oyinkan Braithwaite. I haven’t read it, but I think it was marketed primarily as literary fiction. Great discussion post, Stephen!

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    1. Thank you, Gil! I’m so glad you have made a successful transition to reading thrillers 🙂 It is remarkable how little diversity there is in the genre, and I have wondered those things too. It’s possible that publishers are less likely to market their books as thrillers, but I see no legitimate reason why that should be the case. My Sister, The Serial Killer is on my TBR, and I’m not totally sure either that it’s marketed as a thriller. 🙂

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  7. Great post Stephen! I’ve just started reading Thrillers again thanks to Susan and have to say The Night Swim which I read recently was amazing! It had twists, multiple POV’s including past tense AND really heavy hitting themes… so I think you might like it ☺️

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  8. This is a brilliant discussion post, Stephen! You highlight some troubling problems that I have also noticed – the lack of context warnings and lack of diversity. I feel that this is taken slightly more seriously in crime books but not as much in the psychological thriller/domestic thriller category. I also agree with your points on the pros of thrillers. For me, twists make all the difference between an average thriller and a brilliant one as it only tends to affect this genre and not something I expect to see in contemporary or historical fiction.

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    1. Thank you, Darina!! I’m glad you have noticed some of these things too, and I agree, we probably see slightly more representation in crime novels. And yes, twists can make or break a thriller! 🙂

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  9. I barely read thrillers, so this was super interesting to see your thoughts on something I’m not super familiar with. I love plot twists, and when done well unreliable narrators can be amazing! It’s a shame about the lack of diversity and trigger warnings though–we really need more of these in all books!

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    1. Thank you, Kay! I’m glad you found this post interesting 😊 Absolutely, plot twists and unreliable narrators can make a book really captivating. And yes, we badly need diversity and trigger warnings!

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  10. Excellent post Stephen!

    I agree that the best part of thrillers is a well-paced, well-constructed plot twist. It can change a story in a second and hook us to it.

    I’d love to hear some of your recs for books that hit the cons you mentioned in this post (as much as I love thrillers I admit I’ve been slacking when reading the genre…).

    Maybe food for thought for another post? 🙂

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  11. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a psychological thriller and I think a lot of what you said is exactly why! There are just so many technical elements (pacing, the use of POVs, etc.) that often don’t sit right with me when I read them. They definitely make or break the book and the ability to stay invested in the storyline. There’s also the issue of unlikeable characters and unreliable narrators, which I LOVE when done well. But so many times in thrillers they’re written in a way where I stop caring what happens to them because they’re that unbearable. And you make a great point about the lack of diversity as well – I think this is another reason why I just haven’t been reading them lately.

    But I really would like to get into reading them again! There seems to be a list for everything in Goodreads, so I’m sure that there’s plenty of thrillers out there that just aren’t getting the same attention.

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  12. I enjoyed reading this post, and I agree with all the points you made. Thrillers are known for twists, of course, and I have to read more books with unreliable narrators but I just can’t find any at the moment…one book I read sort of had multiple POVs but I felt that having an unreliable narrator could’ve made it more interesting. Hm, I didn’t know thrillers lacked diversity, hopefully that changes in the near future! I can relate with what you say about unlikely coincidences. Again, wonderful post!

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    1. Thank you, Eleanor! I hope you find more books with unreliable narrators. C.L. Taylor is an author who writes a lot of these, if that helps. Yes, hopefully there can be more diversity in thrillers very soon, because it is definitely lacking. Thank you so much for reading!

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  13. I love this post Stephen and I completely agree with what you’ve said! I used to read thrillers all the time and when they’re done right, they’re incredible. Sometimes I couldn’t stop thinking about them for days after! But also, YES about the diversity and lack of content warnings! Part of the reason I stopped reading was because of that, but in the last few months, I’ve discovered some diverse thrillers I’ve added to my tbr as I really want to start getting back into them!

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    1. Thank you, Amy! 🥰 I know the feeling, some are that good that you keep thinking about them for days, but these books can be hard to find. I’d love to know the diverse thrillers you’ve discovered, and I hope you enjoy them!

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      1. The few that come to mind while I was looking for lgbtq+ thrillers are, “the lady upstairs” by Halley Sutton, “the final child” by Fran Dorricott and “they never learn” by Layne Fargo! They all come out in the next few months!

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