Thrillers used to be a man’s world, and if women were characters in them, they were usually femme fatales or damsels in distress, people who were peripheral to the action. Not anymore! These days the hottest thrillers tend to involve women as the main characters. Think of Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train*, or The Woman in the Window, which have dominated bestseller lists. Three new thrillers here at The Field Library feature women as main characters in different capacities, in very different situations.
An Anonymous Girl, by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, doesn’t start out in your classic thriller fashion. Our protagonist, Jessica Farris, signs on for a psychology experiment involving questions of ethics and morality, run by the mysterious Dr. Shields. The ad says the people participating must be women between the ages of 18 and 32, anonymity is guaranteed and the compensation will be generous. Why shouldn’t Jessica sign on? Answer a few questions, take her money and leave: what could be problematic about that? But then she starts answering the questions and they’re not what she expected, questions like “Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?” and “Have you ever deeply hurt someone you care about?” As the questions become more penetrating, more invasive and more disturbing, Jessica starts wondering about the man running the program. Does he know her? Is he trying to manipulate her? The study takes her out of the lab and into the world, requiring her to do certain things, dress certain ways, and Jessica becomes (understandably) paranoid. Where is this leading? What exactly is being studied and why is she involved in this? An Anonymous Girl is a subtle, psychological thriller that makes you wonder about exactly where you should draw the line in trusting people.
Elle Stowell, the protagonist of The Burglar, by Thomas Perry, is very different from Jessica. By profession, she’s a high class burglar who uses her looks, intelligence and unconventional skills to get inside the ritziest homes in Bel Air, and steal the most valuable items without getting caught. It’s an easy, if unconventional life, until one night she breaks into the wrong house, discovering the results of a triple homicide. Suddenly she’s a target instead of a mover and shaker, and in order to keep from becoming the next victim, she has to use her breaking and entering skills, and her smarts, to figure out who the murder victims were and why they were killed, all the while trying to stay out of the cross hairs of the murderers herself.
There are two women at the heart of Freefall, by Jessica Barry: a mother estranged from her daughter, and her daughter who’s running for her life. The daughter, Allison Carpenter, is on a private jet that crashes in the Colorado Rockies, and manages to survive the crash. Unfortunately for her, walking away from the crash is the easiest thing she has to do, even though she’s isolated in the mountainous wilderness. She’s got a secret that powerful people would kill to preserve, and if those people knew she was still alive, they’d make sure she never got out of the wilds. Meanwhile, in a small town in Maine, on the other end of the country, Maggie Carpenter, Allison’s mother, learns her daughter is presumed dead in the plane crash. A family tragedy drove Allison away, and Maggie doesn’t know much about her daughter’s present life, even that she was engaged to be married, or why she was flying on a private plane. But she believes Allison’s not dead, and she dedicates herself to finding out more about her lost daughter, including the secrets Allison’s keeping that could mean her death. The book cuts between Allison’s efforts to make her way out of the forbidding terrain and Maggie’s efforts to discover why Allison is in such trouble to begin with, and possibly find a way to get her out of it.
Three different thrillers, four different women at the heart of them: come in and check them out.
*Someday I will talk at greater length about how annoying it is that all these modern books refer to adult women as “girls.” I realize it’s a marketing thing, new books attempting to capitalize on the popularity of bestsellers like Gone Girl, but as far as I’m concerned, if the character in question is over 18 years of age, she’s a woman, not a girl.