By Dawn Ius
Mary Kubica didn’t start out writing psychological suspense. In fact, the New York Times bestselling author—often dubbed by her peers as a master of the genre—says when she completed her first novel, The Good Girl, she wasn’t even sure how to categorize it.
“Because I don’t plot my novels in advance and prefer them to unfold on their own, even I’m often surprised by the way the stories turn out,” she says. “But more so, I’m intrigued by those somewhat shrewd attributes of psychological suspense—the unreliable narrators, the sleights of hand, and more. I love surprising myself and my readers.”
Kubica continues to surprise readers with her third novel, DON’T YOU CRY, a pulse-pounding tale of deceit, obsession, and yes, riveting psychological suspense. The story follows Quinn Collins on her quest to find her missing roommate Esther Vaughan, who disappears from their Chicago apartment one day, leaving behind a haunting My Dearest letter found amid her possessions.
Meanwhile in a small town outside of Chicago, dishwasher Alex Gallo’s crush on a beautiful stranger quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he could have ever imagined.
And when these seemingly separate storylines collide in a spellbinding ending that will leave you gasping for Kubica’s next book, you’ll wonder how you didn’t piece together the mystery yourself. The reason, of course, is the result of Kubica’s deft skill in peppering in subtle clues to the mystery, and creating characters that truly leap from the page—even if they’re not entirely trustworthy.
“The unreliable narrator is one of my favorite aspects of a good psychological suspense,” Kubica says. “The role of the narrator is to carry us—the reader—along on this 300-and-some page journey, and knowing that some may be unreliable creates this constant sense of discomfort in the reader in the very best way. As the reader, we’re not sure who we can and cannot trust, and it keeps us on edge during the entire experience, being cautious not to put our faith in someone who may deceive us in the end.”
A trick not all authors can pull off, particularly with the rise of unreliable characters, thanks to recent blockbusters such as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. For Kubica, giving readers an authentic experience comes down to balance, albeit a sometimes precarious one.
“I want readers to be shocked at the end of my novels, and yet the groundwork for a surprise ending has to be meticulously placed so that readers don’t see it coming, but also don’t feel the ending is implausible,” she says. “It takes effort to achieve this, and quite a few revisions.”
It also takes incredible character development. While the players in DON’T YOU CRY are imperfect and perhaps, for some, not entirely likeable, they are also complex, relatable, and, Kubica adds, completely the products of her own imagination.
“That isn’t to say I’m not an avid people watcher and observer of human nature,” she says. “I sometimes include quips I overhear at the grocery store or at the playground in my books. When I begin any novel, each of the characters feels like a stranger to me, and it takes time to figure out who they are and to find their distinct voice.”
Which can often lend itself to some fairly rough first drafts. But Kubica says as she delves deeper into character—learning about hopes, dreams, and fears—the words flow with ease, and the characters begin to take on a life of their own.
Much like the setting.
For fans of Kubica’s work, it comes as no surprise that she loves Chicago—the people, the culture, the food. These elements are infused in her work, with the city itself taking up some of the story’s spotlight—amen!
“There is nothing I love more than bringing the city to life in my books: the landmarks and other stunning sights, the urban smells, the nighttime noise, the feel of being crammed into a packed city bus,” Kubica says. “As a reader, I love books that truly create a character out of the setting, and I attempt to do this with each of my novels.”
Chicago will again take center stage in Kubica’s fourth novel, the yet-untitled story that begins when a young father is killed in a car crash with his four-year-old daughter in the backseat, unharmed. What appears to be an accident starts to look more and more like murder, sending the man’s widow on a dangerous quest to find a killer.
No doubt readers can expect the same level of masterful suspense that have prompted well-deserved praise from critics and fans around the world.
Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of THE GOOD GIRL and PRETTY BABY. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature, and lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children, where she enjoys photography, gardening and caring for the animals at a local shelter. Her first novel THE GOOD GIRL received a Strand Critics Nomination for Best First Novel and was a nominee in the Goodreads Choice Awards in Debut Goodreads Author and in Mystery & Thriller for 2014. DON’T YOU CRY is her third novel.
To learn more about Mary, please visit her website.
Photography credit: Sarah Jastre