No matter how chilling, twisted, or gruesome a story, we are drawn to crime novels because there is something, however big or small, that appeals to us about the character and their situation, a circumstance that threatens their way of life; something that allows us to root for characters to face even the most impossible odds. We find these characters relatable, it’s why we read. And if there’s anything each of us can relate to, it’s self-doubt.
In my latest novel Last Summer, lifestyle journalist Ella Skye wakes up in a hospital with selective memory loss. She remembers her husband, their rapid freefall into love, and their intimate wedding. What she can’t remember is the unborn child she lost. She can’t even remember being pregnant. As she tries to reconnect with her husband and uncover the months leading up to her accident, she suspects he’s hiding something from her. Doubt creeps in. Does she really want to know what happened? She begins to wonder if some truths are best left forgotten.
Self-doubt is a recurring character trait in novels because it gives the character pause and the reader something to latch onto. Can they overcome the necessary obstacles to achieve their goals? Will they triumph? What will they lose if they don’t? The need to answer these questions compels us to keep on reading.
Here are a few of my favorite page-turners that draw momentum from the protagonist’s quest to overcome their own self-doubts.
After Nightfall by A.J. Banner (Psychological Suspense)
Marissa Parlette is newly engaged and hosting a dinner party to celebrate her engagement. She invites her closest friend, a woman seeking Marissa’s forgiveness after betraying her years previous. Hostilities arise, the evening is ruined, and everyone goes to bed – but the next day, her friend’s body is found at the bottom of a rocky cliff. Was it suicide? Murder? An accident? Marissa wants to find out. As she plays sleuth and more clues are uncovered, doubts about her marriage, her friendship, and herself arise, doubts Marissa must overcome if she wants to find out who betrayed her friend. What unfolds after is a classic “who dunnit” mystery, and A.J. Banner executes this brilliantly. I had no idea who was at fault, if anyone, until the last few pages.
The Mistake by K.L. Slater (Psychological Thriller)
Rose’s younger brother Billy goes missing while flying a kite. Two days later, his dead body is found. Flash forward 16 years and Rose is riddled with guilt, a recovering bulimic who keeps her doors and windows closed and locked because she trusted the wrong man. She keeps to herself and intentionally dresses in unflattering attire so as not to attract attention. The last time she did, those close to her were hurt. But when new evidence comes to light that Billy’s murder wasn’t as it seemed, and that her own life is still in danger, Rose is forced to overcome her doubts and find a strength she didn’t know she possessed in order to uncover the real truth behind Billy’s murder. The Mistake is a fast-paced, thrilling, and addictive read filled with unexpected twists.
Chasing the Sun by Natalia Sylvester (Literary Suspense)
Set in Lima, Peru, during a time of political unrest, Andres Jimenez is struggling to do the right thing in the face of his wife’s disappearance. Initially believing his wife Marabela has left him, again, he learns that she has been kidnapped, news that pushes him and his already crumbling marriage to the brink. How much is he willing to sacrifice to save a woman who has abandoned him before? Not only must Andres come up with the ransom money, but he must acknowledge his own mistakes and come to terms with himself and his doubts about his wife, family, and job. Chasing the Sun is the perfect literary balance of suspense, family drama, and romance. There’s intrigue and mystery. It’s as thrilling as it is dramatic, and Sylvester’s lyrical writing style draws the reader into the story and holds them captive until it’s stunning ending.
She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper (Crime Thriller)
What a ride! She Rides Shotgun is about family, sacrifice, and yes, another kidnapping thriller. This time, 11-year-old Polly, who doesn’t talk much and is wise beyond her years, is kidnapped from school by her estranged father Nate, recently released from prison and marked for death by the Aryan Brotherhood. The group has already killed Polly’s mom, and Nate suspects Polly is next. What ensues is a pulse-pounding, run-for-their lives adventure of survival. Nate has doubts, about himself, his daughter, and their chances of survival. But as they grow close and form an unlikely father-daughter bond, Nate accepts that he’ll do anything to ensure Polly’s safety. What appealed to me the most about this book is the raw grittiness of the storytelling. The pacing is spot on and the writing style so visceral that I visualized the story unfolding in the vintage, yellow tones reminiscent of 1970s car chasing movies like Dirty Mary Crazy Larry.
Verity by Colleen Hoover (Romantic Suspense/Psychological Thriller)
Lowen Ashleigh has enough self-doubt for us all. On the brink of financial ruin, she questions whether she can pull off a dream writing assignment. She questions her ability to keep herself financially afloat. And as the story unravels and everything about the job doesn’t appear as it seems, Lowen questions not only what she’s gotten herself into, but whether or not she can get out. Verity is the perfect cocktail of romantic suspense and psychological thriller. With Hoover’s trademark steam and the pulse-pounding thrill of the twists and turns that reflect a good crime novel, Verity is an addictive read. I will mention that the characters are something else in this book. They’re unpredictable, and I loved that! This story is exciting and unexpected, the true definition of a page-turner.
Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter (Thriller)
Let me start by saying this book is intense, especially the mall scene in the beginning. From there, Slaughter takes you on a wild, horrifically compelling ride, following Andrea’s journey as she uncovers her mother’s past, a mother she thought she knew. Andrea has lived a quiet and sheltered life, so her mom sends her away to keep her safe. Of course, her journey is anything but safe and Andrea is consumed with doubts about her own capabilities. Can she accomplish what her mother is asking of her? But she pushes through those doubts, collecting the pieces she needs to put the puzzle of her mother together. This is a very character driven novel. The scenes are visceral and graphic, and the dialogue authentic. I listened to the audiobook, and Kathleen Early portrayed Slaughter’s characters brilliantly. I was hooked from the beginning.