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Thriller of the year is as good as it gets

GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn, Orion 2013 (€8.99 )*****

This is as good as everyone says it is. I can get rather sniffy about books that everyone tells me I have to read, and willingly admit that I put this off just to be contrary. Then I picked it up, and did not put it down until I was done with it – or, perhaps, until it was done with me.

On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Nick Dunne is notified by a neighbour that the front door to his house is wide open. Rushing home from the neighbourhood bar he runs with his twin sister, he finds no trace of his wife Amy – only the evidence of a struggle in the living room, and myriad unanswered questions.

The cops show up, the community sets up search headquarters, and all the while, we can't quite get it out of our heads that the marriage was a mess and neither of Nick nor Amy had been happy.

We know this because they tell us. In alternating first-person narrative, both Nick and Amy tell us their story, Nick as the present unfolds, and Amy through the past, via her diary. Everything about this should not work. Anyone who reads regularly knows all about unreliable narration– and I speak not only as a lifelong reader, but as an author myself.

And yet the strength of Flynn's prose convinces you that Nick is a pig and that Amy was trying so, so hard to make it all work – and then the author flips the narrative in such a way that I stayed up 'til the wee hours, to see where it would all end. This story is not simply about the mystery at its core: it is about relationships, the lies people tell each other and themselves. It's about what makes a perfect relationship – and in this case, frighteningly, it's about how crazy relationships can be perfect, if the two people involved have equal and utterly compatible degrees of lunacy.

I envy you the fresh reading of this ...

In the same way that all terriers are dogs, but not all dogs are terriers, most thrillers involve mysteries, but not all mysteries are thrilling ...

A QUESTION OF IDENTITY by Susan Hill Chatto & Windus 2012 (€18.60) **

I will confess to having mistakenly bought her first book because I thought it was a new one by Reginald Hill. This Hill has created winning characters, and you can't help but keep reading. The seventh in her series featuring Simon Serrailler, Hill continues to trod well worn ground, as far as location (pastoral England) and investigation (yet another serial killer) are concerned. She's an excellent writer, but the mystery is flat. The other Hill did that bit better.

THE LOST by Claire McGowan Headline 2013 (€20) **

Paula Maguire is a forensic psychologist who fled her Northern Irish border town for personal reasons. We are meant to see her as a rebel who is that bit smarter than all the cops, everywhere. She's called back from her London home for her expertise in finding lost girls in particular, to a unfolding tragedy. Her use of Facebook to figure out the girl's mindsets is greeted with awe by her colleagues. Uh, really? That's just one example of the author trying too hard to make her character into something she isn't.

SIX YEARS by Harlan Coben Orion 2013 (€15.99) ****

It is to Coben's credit that his ability to plot can transcend some seriously weird characters, in this, his latest sure-to-be bestseller. Jake Fisher is a professor of political science at an idyllic New England university, who fell in love six years ago, was cruelly dumped, and has never gotten over it. When an obituary signals that his lady love may be free once more, his interest reignites. Not is a stalkerish way. No, no, in a 'we are meant to be' way. Hmmm. Just when I was going to give up on Professor Crazypants, though, Coben's skill with pacing and exposition roped me in. It's not watertight, but it is immersive.


ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan, Vintage 2002 (€12.85) ****

Mysteries don't always involve bodies, crimes are not always of the body, and solutions are not always neat and tidy, and thrills can be of the existential sort. Set between World Wars, the posh environs are a blind for the passions and treacheries that unfold in McEwan's tale of misperception and guilt. Graphic scenes of war may be hard going for some, but ultimately the reward is that of the paradox of sentimentality meeting remorse.