The best suspense novels have an ending that readers never see coming. The clues are scattered throughout the book and make perfect sense, but they’re so carefully placed that most readers skim right over them. Kara Thomas delivers on this premise in her book The Darkest Corners. Two friends reunite in the hopes of solving a decade-old murder, and uncover more than they were expecting. Here, Thomas shares five books with endings that completely surprised her.
Readers: Never fear, there are no spoilers ahead.
Everyone knows Gillian Flynn as the master behind the mind-boggling twist in Gone Girl; however, my favorite novel of hers will always be her debut, Sharp Objects. Chicago journalist Camille Preaker returns to her Missouri hometown to cover the gruesome murders of two small girls—and learns that the cases might be connected to disturbing events from her past. As psychological as Gone Girl and as terrifying as Dark Places, Sharp Objects had me riveted until the very end. Flynn layers twist upon twist, making the reader fear for her characters and their fragile psyches. Once I thought everything was solved and settled, Flynn flipped everything on its head.
Surprise factor: 7
Divorced alcoholic Rachel Watson passes by the home of a seemingly perfect married couple every day on her commute to work—but when the pretty young wife goes missing, Rachel becomes entangled in the mystery in shocking ways. I knew I had to read The Girl on the Train when I heard it held up to the comparisons of the surprising twist in Gone Girl. About halfway through, I thought I had everything figured out—and even though I correctly guessed whodunit, a major twist shook up everything I thought I knew about the characters. It’s very rare that I’m truly surprised by a book’s twist, so I will definitely be checking out Paula Hawkins’ next novel.
Surprise factor: 8
Big Little Lies is a rare comedic mystery that brings the thrills. The novel opens in the middle of a homicide investigation after a seemingly accidental death at a school function. The catch: The reader doesn’t know which one of the lovable screwball characters Liane Moriarty introduces has fallen off a balcony and died (but was it really murder?). Big Little Lies is the perfect blend of mystery and contemporary fiction, and as an added bonus, it’s soon to be an HBO series starring Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.
Surprise factor: 8
The murder trial of Amanda Knox meets the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in this thrilling young adult read set in Aruba. A spring break trip goes terribly wrong when Anna’s best friend Elise is stabbed to death—and Anna is arrested for the crime and thrown into a foreign jail while she awaits her trial. I can’t say too much about this book without spoiling it, but the last chapter is one of the best I’ve ever read. This book should be on every summer thriller lover’s reading list—especially fans of dark, twisted teen girl friendships.
Surprise factor: 9
Another book I don’t want to say too much about without spoiling it, Pretty Baby left me reeling. I was desperate to find someone else who had read it so I could discuss the thing that happens halfway through the book. Pretty Baby is truly a psychological thriller, centered on a well-meaning Chicago wife and mother who invites a homeless teenager and her baby into her home. The point-of-view shifts between Willow, the troubled young runaway, and Heidi, the bleeding heart who takes her in. Mary Kubica ratchets up the dread and suspense, with the story culminating in a way I truly never saw coming.
Surprise factor: 10
Kara Thomas is the author of The Darkest Corners, coming from Penguin Random House/Delacorte Press in Spring 2016. She also wrote the Prep School Confidential series (St. Martin’s Press) and the pilot The Revengers for the CW under the pen name Kara Taylor. She’s represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or on the couch with her rescue cat, Felix.