A lot of current and recent thrillers and mystery stories aim to astound readers with a series of extraordinary revelations – sometimes towards the end, sometimes part-way through: developments that make you rethink all your assumptions about the plot. You sit up and think, “Wow! I never saw that coming!”
When this is done well it can be really impressive. It makes you do a double-take. Maybe it provides unexpected new insights into the plot and characters, adding richness and depth to the whole experience. But is this technique in danger of being over-used? Are reviewers right when, in some cases, they complain that books without shocks like this are flawed in some way? I’m not so sure.
Fair enough, it can be a disappointment if the outcome of a story is blindingly obvious from an early stage; but do we read mysteries and thrillers simply to be astounded? I wonder. It’s a bit like expecting all food to be spicy, even if it’s just a fillet steak. Yes, we want books to contain puzzles and mysteries – issues that the leading characters unravel or the plot finally explains. But surely it’s not a weakness if the world of the story isn’t always turned upside down?
Readers who like or even expect this kind of shock often seem to describe the book as a “page-turner”, but here again, I’m not so sure. Admittedly, if you’ve read elsewhere that the book contains a massive shock, you might be in a hurry to find out what it is. But if you’re simply reading the book “sight unseen”, then you don’t actually know about the first shock until you come to it, so it can hardly be beckoning you in page-turning fashion! Even when you do, you don’t know if there will be another one.
My own view? I think books like this can be really fun, but I don’t think high-impact plot development should necessarily be considered essential to a good mystery drama or thriller. Sometimes readers might just want to enjoy the ride.