I'm starting a new type of post today that will provide quick insights into books that have been published and see what lessons I've learned from those books. The first section (spoiler-free) will provide basic information about the book and then will get into the remaining two sections that will contain spoilers. These case studies are meant to help new writers learn from established novelist. Since I prefer to write in the Thriller, Horror, and Mystery genres, many of these case studies will focus on books that fit in to those genre categories. However, I believe writers should read many different types of books so I will be studying books outside of my preferred genre as well.
Title: Hide Your Fear
Author: Kevin O'Brien
Genre: Thriller (with Horror elements)
Publisher: Pinnacle Books, 2017
Page Count: 550
Hide Your Fear is one of the most engrossing novels I've read in a long time. The plot follows the newly divorced mother of 2, Caitlin as she is hunted by a mysterious person who is stalking her and anyone else who has lived in the home she just moved into. To make matters worse for the scenic community that surrounds the greater Seattle area, champion swimmers from local high schools have been going missing with a few of them turning up dead. Caitlin's daughter, Lindsay is on the swim team and Caitlin fears that her daughter may be the next swimmer to go missing.
For a book that is over 500 pages long, it keeps the pace moving and the reader dying to know what is going to happen next. New writers can learn a lot from this book in terms of pace, suspense, and the way information is revealed. Some authors tend to waste the reader's time with page after page of pointless description. Kevin O'Brien is not one of those authors. To find out more about what I've learned from this novel, read the next section.
What You Can Learn From The Book
When I sat down with this book, I gave myself a task to do. At the end of each chapter, I'd write what questions came to mind about the plot. In the opening chapter, Sara, the woman who lived in the house before Caitlin is tormented by a person calling themselves "Bobby" before this Bobby person forces Sara to kill herself. At the end of this chapter, I was left wondering, "Who is Bobby?" "Why does Bobby kill Sara?" and "Is Bobby operating alone or with a partner?" This helped me understand, once the book was finished, how the author withheld information to keep the suspense heightened. As I mentioned in my post on suspense, I believe suspense comes about when the author delays answering questions the reader has. And if an author must answer one of these original questions before the novel is finished, he or she should instantly give another question to the reader. In Hide Your Fear, Caitlin is awkwardly flirted with by a man named Ken who the reader can be tricked into asking themselves, "Is Ken Bobby?" When we find out Ken is dead, we are left with asking, "If Ken is not Bobby, who is?" This is one of the ways O'Brien keeps the story moving forward but giving the reader just the right amount of information to keep them ask new questions and wanting to know more.
I'd recommend that you get Hide Your Fear or another Thriller/Mystery/Horror novel and repeat the same exercise. Write down every question you have at the end of each chapter and you can see how the author is luring the reader forward with suspense. And great suspense writing is a tool any writer can benefit from.
Positives and Negatives
As mentioned earlier, Hide Your Fear is well paced and does a great job building suspense. Also, the characters were well planned with unique personalities. There was no typical damsel in distress or macho bad guy lurking in the shadows as these tired stereotypes tend to haunt thriller and mystery fiction. Also, the villains of the story were different from what I'd seen in other Thriller novels I've read. The serial killer who coaches his victims to be perfect swimmers before killing them was a new spin on the serial killer archetype. Also, the villain of Bobby is revealed to be a woman which was bit unexpected.
As for the negatives, there are very few. Yet, the reason this novel got an A- instead of a solid A was because of how Bobby (aka Jill) spoke in first person. When we get first person narration from the POV of Bobby, the reader is still not aware that Bobby is a woman. Yet, she says things that seem overly masculine and creepy in a way that a woman would not speak. For example after tricking Caitlin's daughter into flashing her web cam for blackmail purposes, she refers to Lindsey's breasts as "pert titties." I don't think a woman would think or speak like that especially when no one else is around. When she murders a teenager in her past, she makes a comment on how nice the girl's figure is and thinks the girl is wiggling as she walks for Bobby/Jill's benefit. To me, that also seemed too masculine and not true to how a real woman, even an evil woman, would think or speak.
Yet, in spite of the small issues I had with the novel, it remains one of the best books I've ever read so I highly recommend you pick it up at the store, online, or at the library.