I’ve been reading mysteries since my childhood. Instead of the well know Nancy Drew series, I opted for Trixie Belden, the plucky girl detective from a blue-collar background. Unlike Nancy, Trixie couldn’t dash off in her little blue roadster. Trixie had to work for what she wanted – in her case a horse. I was drawn, in part, to her dramatic declarations: “Oh, Moms…I’ll just die if I don’t have a horse” (The Secret of the Mansion). I was Trixie’s age, and I suffered the same fate – having to pay for an extravagance myself.
In retrospect, I think what I enjoyed most about the series were the mysteries presented in each book. I still love trying to figure out the “who did it” question, and plot twists, those moments when the story takes us somewhere suddenly and unexpectedly, keeps reading fresh and exciting. In recent memory, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was a bestseller because readers felt like they were on a literary rollercoaster.
My new favorite mystery with an exceptional plot twist has to be Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go. As the author’s website states, the book “follows Jenna Gray as she moves to a ramshackle cottage on the remote Welsh coast, trying to escape the memory of the car accident that plays again and again in her mind…” Mackintosh brilliantly deploys deception – she lets readers make erroneous assumptions about Jenna and her past and then drops a bomb that leaves them reeling. When I came across a particular surprise twist, I had to go back ten pages and reread the chapter. When I finished the book I actually read it again from the beginning to see how she masterfully played me.
Exploring why plot twists are appealing led me to several blogs about how to use them. David Lazar gives the following suggestions: use ambiguous endings and/or unreliable narrators, reverse character roles, kill off a main character, and bring the reader into the mix. Clare Mackintosh’s book definitely had an unreliable narrator and a major reversal. She was so successful in also using pathos – I was rooting for the protagonist only to find out that Jenna was not what she seemed.
If you are looking for some refreshing plot-twisting beach-reads for the summer, Bustle has a great list of books with stimulating twists and turns. Goodreads also offers its suggestions for books with a twist. Or, if you want to try your hand at twisting your own plot, there are several tools available, like The Writer’s Plot Twist Generator, that can help. Enjoy!
Do you have a favorite book with a great plot twist? Let us know.