I recently finished reading the Hot Thriller of the moment—the book everyone’s been talking about, this year’s (Insert Title of Last Year’s Hot Thriller). I so loved everything about it—the writing, the premise, the characters, even the decidedly unlovable protagonist.
And then I got to the Big Twist.
You know—the Big Twist that’s been the topic of every review, every book club discussion, every watercooler chat and Facebook post about the book. The Big Twist that, reportedly, no one saw coming…
Except that I did. And so, perhaps, did you, along with a few of my fellow suspense authors and savvy suspense readers who reported feeling similarly deflated when they reached the end of the book.
It might have been different if I hadn’t gone in knowing something unexpected was going to happen. My expectations were so high that when I reached the turning point in the plot, I was positive that couldn’t possibly be it. Not…It. Not the thing that was supposed to leave me reeling.
I had pegged this particular development early on, and so I kept imagining that something truly mind-bending would happen on its heels. I was so busy imagining what It could be and when It would happen that I breathlessly blew through the final chapter or two only to get to the last page and think…Wait! That was all? Where’s the rest?
Don’t get me wrong—it was a terrific read. But the hype that preceded the book led me to believe that I was about to be utterly blindsided—and oh, how I love to be blindsided. I love the moment when the author pulls such a fast one that you read and reread the shocking denouement before madly flipping pages backward to reread what came before wondering how you didn’t see…and yet, you didn’t! You’d
been had! And yet–blissful sigh—it was all there all along! While you were focusing here, the author was busily, expertly setting up the twist there!
I rarely get the pleasure of that experience anymore—and it isn’t because there are no great thrillers out there. Bookstores are loaded with them, including the one I just finished. The problem is primarily an occupational hazard, as I referred to it when I was commiserating with fellow suspense authors online a few days ago.
When you craft blindsides on a daily basis, you’re all too familiar with the behind the scenes mechanics. A suspense novelist reading suspense novels for pleasure is akin to a magician attending magic shows on his day off. He enjoys the experience as a connoisseur of the art and an admirer of the fellow magician, and he thoroughly appreciates his colleague’s performance. But he’s fully aware of every sleight of hand movement, because he himself has wedged many a rabbit into many a hat.
That said, I am, occasionally, caught off guard by a plot twist. I work really hard to ensure that my readers will be as well. It has gotten more challenging with each new book, because I know they’re looking under every rock and peeking around every corner. They’re onto me now. They know I like to hide my villains in plain sight, masked behind familiar faces, lurking where you least expect them.
I always hold my breath when I release a new thriller, hoping I’ve delivered what my readers have come to expect from me: a twist-filled plot that will leave them breathlessly turning pages—and then, having been utterly blindsided, turning them back again. I always fret that I won’t quite manage to pull it off this time; that I’ve somehow lost the magic.
My latest suspense novel, THE BLACK WIDOW (HarperCollins, on sale 2/24) is a throwback to some of my earliest romantic suspense plots, but with a modern twist: it’s set in the world of internet dating, the third in my trilogy of cyber predator thrillers that began with THE GOOD SISTER (October 2013) and continued with THE PERFECT STRANGER (August 2014) and included a prequel novella COLD HEARTED (May 2014). WIDOW features my trademark heroine: an ordinary woman with an ordinary life; a woman just like you and me, who is going about her daily business when she unexpectedly crosses paths with a cunning killer. This time, the “whodunit” isn’t the denouement—that’s revealed fairly early on. But there are plenty of other twists and turns—at least, I’ve been hoping there are. I never really know for sure until the book comes out.
So it was gratifying to read this early review of a few days ago—from none other than the esteemed reviewer John Charles: Staub is at the top of her writing game with The Black Widow. Even veteran suspense readers will find themselves fully engaged by the wonderfully twisted plot as Staub successfully flirts with some of the established tropes of the suspense genre only to later surprise readers by turning these same classic plot devices on their head. The Black Widow is superior, spine-tingling suspense that fans of Mary Higgins Clark’s early novels will eat up with a spoon.
Meanwhile, if I had to pick an all-time favorite surprise ending ever, it would be in the classic THE LOTTERY, by Shirley Jackson.
How about you? What was your favorite literary blindside? (No Spoilers, Please!)
THE BLACK WIDOW can be purchased in mass market paperback or eBook format