Abiding Memories of the Long, Dark Road: Top 10 Domestic Thrillers

Celebrate the release of Guilty by Laura Elliot with her some of her favorite psychological thrillers. Get a peek inside Elliot’s memories as she reminisces about a childhood filled with reading and the terror and thrill of the long, dark road. 

Childhood memories, by their nature, are fragmented. Flashes of excitement, interludes of boredom, frenetic activities, sofa time and television. Whenever I look back to my own childhood, the two unfading memories are my passion for reading and, coming a close second, the terror and the thrill of the long, dark road. Silent, empty, shadowed, apart from a group of small girls on their way home from some nighttime activity, all determined to outdo each other when it came to relating the scariest ghost stories. I remember it all: the imagined footsteps, heavy breathing on the back of our necks (hairs rising on the napes, I suspect), and the dread that a fleshless hand would touch our shoulders and scatter our protective huddle. Such things seemed possible as we hurried over the arch of a bridge or past a copse of rustling trees or hurried past a house where someone had died and returned, we believed, to stare out at us through the darkened windows.

As I was one of the main storytellers, no one was surprised when I decided to become a writer. Even less surprising was my leaning toward the darker side of fiction. I’m drawn to psychological thrillers with a touch of horror, the supernatural, and the traumas of a dystopian future. Genres overlap. I dislike literary restrictions while understanding the need to provide readers with specific references. However, my list of favorites all have one thing in common—the power to transport me back to that silent road where it always seemed possible that our imagination would be overtaken by reality and those lurking, unseen ghosts would manifest themselves in petrifying detail before our eyes. Shivers and thrills, mystery and imagination—some things never change, especially in books where the urge to run as fast as possible toward the very last page is a definite throwback to childhood.

Misery by Stephen King

Stephen King has to be in, but which book to choose? It’s like asking to pick out my favorite M&M. The Shining has to have been the most terrifying one I read but as a writer, I have to proclaim an interest in the fate of Paul Sheldon, the hapless and helpless author who kills off his much-loved female character in his last novel. A bad move as he discovers when he meets the dreaded Annie Wilkes. She always comes to mind when I’m about to issue a life or death sentence on one of my own characters. That warm feeling on the nape of my neck…could it be…?

Room by Emma Donoghue

Knowing the background that must have inspired this book, I found myself reluctant to begin reading it. A woman trapped in a chamber with only her child for company and, occasionally, her jailer and tormenter. Once I started reading, the power of the writing made it possible to endure the oppressive ugliness of her situation. Told through the eyes of innocence and motivated by the love of a son for his mother, Room shows the strength of the female character to protect her child against the most terrifying conditions.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

I read this book shortly after I had been caring for a loved one with short-term memory loss. At first hand, I had seen the physical impact on the sufferer but gauging the emotional impact was more difficult. Before I Go To Sleep has an intriguing plotline and conclusion but, for me, the most interesting aspect of the book was being inside the mind of Christine Lucas, who is suffering from amnesia and as exposed as a leaf in storm to the manipulation of others.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh  

This book does what it says on the tin. There is no letting go until the very last page and, even then, the ending was filled with such a perturbing possibility that I still carry it around with me. I Let You Go is based on a random event that changes the direction of Jenna Gray’s life and forces her to create a new existence in a remote Welsh village. But the circumstances that drove her away still shadow her and remind her that confrontation is only a step away.

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

An ordinary day turned extraordinary—that’s the ignition that sparks so many novels into life and Enduring Love is no exception. Sometimes, change is immediate but, more often, it is a slow unraveling, which Ian McEwan does in this tense, absorbing narrative. Two people in love, enjoying a day out together, see a hot air balloon go out of control and endanger lives. In that terrifying instant, time seems to stand still for Joe Rose and his wife, Clarissa. And when it moves again, the unraveling is beginning but in this multilayered story, there are many avenues of suspense, guilt, and morality to explore before it ends.

Laura Elliot psychological thrillers

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The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold 

The opening line of The Lovely Bones captivated me, as did the second one, and, no pun intended, I was hooked from then on. My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1976.

What makes this book so chilling is that it must have been influenced by the horrendous rape experienced by the author, which she detailed in her memoir, Lucky. It gives an added poignancy to the narrator’s point of view with the distilling of a real-life experience into the mysterious and transformative cauldron of fiction.

Sin by Josephine Hart

Sin is a short, succinct, and powerful novel that allows no room for sentimentality as a means of identifying with the main character. Ruth’s objective throughout the book is to inflict as much damage as possible on her much-envied, adopted sister, Elizabeth. Josephine Hart had a beautifully succinct style of writing and she used it with chilling detachment to create a most dislikable yet oddly compelling narrator. Sin is an exploration of the corrosive nature of envy and how destructive it can become when it remains untrammeled.

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

Reading that first line—My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it—it’s obvious that you’ve opened the page on a thrill seeker read. This book does not disappoint. It’s a roller coaster of a ride that reveals the underbelly of the respectable, middle-class mother and wife, Lydia—all pearls and cashmere on the outside and, on the inside, a raging control freak at war with all who oppose her.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Sadly, the grim backdrop to this terrifying story hasn’t changed since the book was published in 2003. The horror of school shootings still remains a tragic, terrifying, and emotive issue but the main thrust of this powerful book is a mother’s struggle to accept that there is something different and destructive about her son.  Nature versus nurture—which is at fault and how is it possible for parents to have such different perspectives on the behavior of that child?  It’s a challenging read, one that is impossible to forget.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I must declare that I’m not piggybacking on the amazing success of the television series. I read The Handmaid’s Tale when it was first released in the Eighties. I thought it was a radical book at the time. I loved how Atwood was able to fill the void of Offred’s solitude with stimulating prose and how effectively she used the introduction of the ATMs (still a relatively new mainstream bank service at that time) to disempower women by the simple method of closing down their bank accounts by electronic means. The television series has brought this fascinating book to a massive new audience but I still like to curl up with my much-thumbed early edition by one of my favorite authors.

Irish author, Laura Elliot has written seven novels: The Lost SisterStolen ChildFragile LiesThe BetrayalSleep SisterGuilty and The Wife Before Me. Her novels have been widely translated and she has collaborated on a number of high-profile, non-fiction books.

AKA June Considine, she has written twelve books for children and young adults. Her short stories for teenage readers have been published in anthologies and broadcast on radio. She has also worked as a journalist and magazine editor.

She lives with her husband, Sean, in the coastal village of Malahide, Co. Dublin, where she enjoys walking along its beaches and rugged coastline. She is the mother of three adult children and the besotted grandmother of three adorable grandchildren.

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