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Thrillers in 2017: What’s Hot?

By Dawn Ius

Long after the shock of Gillian Flynn’s mega hit Gone Girl should have worn off, the domestic and psychological thriller genre continued to pop up on bestseller lists throughout 2016, proving that readers are still hungry for stories about unreliable narrators and real-life danger that could “happen to you.”

It’s a trend some industry experts predict will remain high on editor manuscript wishlists as we head into the New Year. Charles Spicer, executive editor at St. Martin’s Press, says the psychological—or domestic—thriller is far from exhausted.

“I think people remain fascinated by the darkness that sometimes lurks under a seemingly normal person’s exterior,” Spicer says. “Nothing is scarier than the familiar or safe suddenly made terrifying.”

The shop keeper you thought you knew well, your husband, best friend, or even your mother—none are safe from the kind of suspicion that evokes not only fear, but often a deep emotional connection to the story.

“You’re absolutely right that these last couple of years have belonged to the psychological thriller—not only Flynn and Hawkins, but Ruth Ware, Fiona Barton, Clare Mackintosh, and a host of others,” says Neil Nyren, editor-in-chief and associate publisher of Putnam Books. “Part of it has been the sheer sensation of the voice of the unreliable narrator, which made readers want more. Another factor, in my view, is the somewhat troubled times socially and economically—such anxiety often tends to find itself reflected in literature.”

Given the current societal climate, it’s safe to assume these kinds of stories—and perhaps the political thriller—will continue to sell. While Spicer says domestic thrillers still have some legs, Nyren admits he’s begun to feel a little resistance out there, a feeling of, “Oh, another one?”

“The new writers who have already achieved success with it will do fine; new entries, though, will have to work a bit harder,” he says.

Which is the case with most of the thriller sub-genres, each of which has seen its ups and downs over the past few years. Take the legal thriller, for instance, in which authors like John Grisham have obviously staked a hefty claim. That said, legal thrillers have experienced a bit of a lull in recent years.

“I think it’d take a sensational new book from a new writer, one that rang some changes to the genre in some way, to make everyone perk up and look at it with fresh eyes,” Nyren says.

Spicer agrees. “The legal thriller is a classic. Though it may be in temporary eclipse, the minute a new author with the talent of Turow or Grisham appears, readers will respond.”

But what about the fate of the serial character? Will tried-and-true main characters be replaced in favor of the increasingly popular standalones? Not a chance.

“Oh, heavens, yes, we’re interested in series,” says Nyren. “There’s nothing like building a constituency around a group of core characters that readers have come to know and love.”

“Series books remain extremely popular because readers enjoy encountering a continuing cast of characters set in a world different from their own,” Spicer adds. “I’m thinking of Linda’s Castillo’s New York Times bestselling Amish series featuring formerly Amish sheriff Kate Burkholder, or Charles Finch’s elegant Victorian series featuring aristocratic sleuth Charles Lenox, or Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series set in exotic locales from Istanbul to Paris to Saint Petersburg.”

Clearly, international thrillers remain top sellers. And while we’re on the topic of locale, Nyren predicts that more thrillers will be set in Russia this year, thanks to current events. “Russia as a super-villain has been popular again for the last several years—but watch for that to become bigger than ever now. It may not be so great for us in real life, but for thriller writers, it’s a gift!”

While neither editor could pinpoint any specific new trend coming out of 2016, both are confident the thriller genre is “big as ever,” despite some monumental shifts in the industry. Spicer is particularly keen for readers to grab hold of Saul Black’s Lovemurder, and amid a host of great new releases on the horizon, Nyren is eager to share Owen Laukkanen’s new book in March, The Forgotten Girls.. “He’s written some wonderful books these last few years, and gotten appropriate awards nominations for them, but the new one is something special, and as suspenseful as they come.”

And if you happen to have a brilliant ghost thriller that isn’t paranormal, Spicer would love to take a look—especially if it has the smart, cerebral creepiness of Thomas Tyron’s The Other or Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.

Interested in learning more about what’s trending in romantic suspense? Check out Dawn Ius’ report in the next issue of The Big Thrill.

Dawn Ius
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