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6 Whydunit Thrillers Where Motive Is the Mystery

by  | September 3
Unraveling Oliver book with hand against window

Some of the best stories to ever capture the imaginations of readers are less concerned with the who, and more interested in exploring the why. The motives of the killer, the stalker, the villain of the book, are where the real meat of the narrative lies, and we can’t bear to look away, no matter how gruesome. Understanding the festering, dark underbelly of humanity can be just as entertaining, and illuminating, as trying to piece together the identity of the perpetrator. Dive into the twisted minds of some of the most deranged characters that fiction has to offer in these compelling, creepy, and creative whydunits.

The Majesties

The Majesties

by Tiffany Tsao

Gwendolyn and Estella have always been close, which is probably why Gwendolyn has such a hard time wrapping her head around why her sister would poison their entire family. Stuck in a coma as a result of Estella’s attack, Gwendolyn tries to piece together the reasoning behind her sister’s seemingly sudden betrayal. In this wealthy family’s tale, full of backstabbing, infighting, abuse, and shifting alliances, dark secrets are brought to light as Gwendolyn struggles to regain consciousness. Author Tiffany Tsao’s characters are almost all unlikable, but so compelling that it’s hard not to want to learn more about them, even if they’re dead before the novel really starts. The end is neither clear-cut nor what you might expect, but The Majesties will have you hooked from start to end as an entire family unravels before your eyes, leaving behind only regrets and questions.

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End of Watch

End of Watch

by Stephen King

King has crafted some of the most fascinating, notorious antagonists in literary history. Annie Wilkes from Misery, Jack Torrance from The Shining, Randall Flagg from The Stand, just to name a few. Brady Hartsfield, a.k.a. Mr. Mercedes, has the chops to join the ranks of these dark, deranged people. As the villain at the center of King’s Bill Hodges trilogy, his first attack is to use his car to mow down innocent bystanders waiting to get into a job fair. Detective Bill Hodges manages to subdue him before he can commit a final atrocity, ending with Brady in a coma. And that should be that, right? Wrong. In End of Watch, not only do we get to see the story from Brady’s perspective, but we also learn that he has developed psychic abilities. And what does he use them for? To create a hypnotic video game that will drive those who play it to suicide, of course, targeting the very people he aimed to kill before going into a coma. Brady is the kind of sick, twisted mind whose schemes are only made more gruesome by knowing the hate behind his destructive, persevering actions.

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Unraveling Oliver

Unraveling Oliver

by Liz Nugent

Sometimes, people can surprise us when something in them snaps and they act totally contrary to what we know of them. Oliver Ryan seemed to be a classy guy, and a loving husband to his wife, Alice. That is, until he assaults her, leaving her for dead one evening after dinner without any reason whatsoever. But was this random, or has Oliver always been this person? The book peels away the character layer by layer through the lens of people from his past, showing that the seemingly thoughtful, caring man is little more than a façade meant to get him exactly what he wants. Liz Nugent has crafted a cerebral thriller that will have readers questioning how well they really know anyone in their lives. Unraveling Oliver is exactly as the title says it is: an unraveling of the many twisted threads that create a truly cruel and heinous individual.

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You (Media Tie-In Edition)

You (Media Tie-In Edition)

by Caroline Kepnes

Have you ever wondered what’s going on in a stranger’s head? Well, it can be pretty creepy stuff, especially when that person is a stalker hunting down his next prey. Or, as Joe from Caroline Kepnes’s hit novel You, thinks of it, finding true love. Guinevere Beck is everything Joe wants in a girlfriend, and luckily she’s not in the practice of using her privacy settings on social media. Slowly but surely, we see Joe’s insane orchestrations of her life, killing interlopers so that he can make Beck his in the end. Gripping and, at times, absolutely terrifying, this book gives us a clear insider’s look at Joe’s warped psyche, and at the mental gymnastics it takes to murder anyone who stands between him and Beck. For Joe, the question isn’t “What would you do for love?” but rather “Why shouldn’t you make love bend to your will?”

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The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls

by Lauren Beukes

There’s nothing quite as disturbing, or as enthralling, as the mind of a serial killer. There are plenty of podcasts dedicated to parsing out the inner workings of their minds. But what insights would you have if you spent your whole life hunting one? That’s the case of Kirby Mazrachi, who is pursuing the time-hopping serial killer Harper Curtis, who tried to make her one of his victims. Author Lauren Beukes only adds to the unsettling nature of the story by giving us a look at Harper’s perspective as well. Why he’s tracking these women down, and why he feels compelled to cut their lives short, is so insane (literally) that it would do prospective readers a disservice if I were to divulge more. Imaginative, gruesome, and downright depraved, The Shining Girls is a great read if you’re looking for a story that will shock you with the motives behind the madness.

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The Silent Patient

The Silent Patient

by Alex Michaelides

Alicia Berenson is the talented artist who isn’t known for her art, but rather for the massacre of her husband, Gabriel. Ever since that fateful night, she hasn’t said a word, no matter how many people want her to explain what happened. Dr. Theo Faber, the newest psychotherapist at her psychiatric facility, is obsessed with getting her to talk. He tries just about everything, hyper-focusing on Alicia as his own marriage is falling apart. However, his motives are not as pure as they might first appear. A twisting, dark story of obsession, paranoia, and the terrible things we do for love, The Silent Patient will make you squirm, when you’re not hanging on to every word as you hear the story unfurl from both of their perspectives.

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A reporter by trade, Sara Roncero-Menendez is a lover of horror, sci-fi, and all things pop culture. From indies to classics to even the strangest genre pieces, all movies, TV shows, and books are fair game for a binge-fest. Follow her on Twitter @sararomenen or at her website, www.sara-roncero-menendez.com