There are certain phrases that have become ubiquitous in the independent bookstore. And right besides “crossover YA” and “problematic argument,” “the next Gone Girl” is possibly my least favorite phrase that I hear ad nauseam. Every rep wants their new mystery to be “the next Gone Girl.” Every reader wants to jump into “the next Gone Girl.” Every author is looking for their book to be tagged “the next Gone Girl.”
Well, if every book they’d called “the next Gone Girl” had really lived up to the hype, chances are you’d have a reading list long enough to keep you busy for decades. Instead, barely a week goes by that I don’t encounter a handful of readers looking for… well, you know.
Now, this isn’t a reader problem. If push came to shove, I’d be forced to say it’s a book marketing problem, a publishing house problem. Using profits to make profits on books that deserve to stand on their own two feet and, rather than being transformed into a simulacrum of Gillian Flynn’s highly readable blockbuster, be judged on their own merit.
In fact, when a publisher tells me something is “the next Gone Girl,” I’m likely to roll my eyes and push it to the bottom of my reading list. But when a reader tells me they’re looking for “the next Gone Girl,” that’s when we really get to work.
These readers want something that isn’t just going to encourage them to keep turning the pages. They want a book that’s going to forcefully strap them in a chair and make them call in sick until they’ve read Every. Last. Word.
So, let’s get right down to it. What do we, the booksellers, recommend as… well, I won’t say it again. I chatted with a few of my fabulous fellow booksellers at RoscoeBooks and here are the titles they insisted were vibrant, entrancing Gone Girl-esque mysteries.
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
If you haven’t heard about the Girl on the Train by this point, chances are you’ve been Jane Goodall-ing your way towards living with the animals. Paula Hawkins’ disturbing, fast-paced novel is probably the closest thing you’re going to get to Gone Girl. An unreliable narrator, a dark secret, and a whole lot of alcohol make this book a rocket-read from start to finish. In book circles, this book is making tons of waves because it’s on track to literally outsell Gone Girl. If you’re going to read it, read it now before it becomes as ubiquitous as it’s older sister.
- The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
RoscoeBooks’ resident speedreader Greg recommends this exceptional addition to the Gone Girl canon for readers looking for their next glue-you-to-your-seat thriller. Like Flynn, this isn’t Swanson’s first novel, but it’s certainly the best one to date. The action centers on two strangers, Ted and Lily, who meet on an international flight. I guess terror is provoked when using public transportation. Over a few shared cocktails, the pair starts to discuss what they might do to rid Ted of his unfaithful wife back at home. But when the plane touch down is when the plot really starts getting good. Ted’s wife, of course, isn’t all Ted believes her to be. Unsurprisingly, this book has already been likened to Hawkins’ Girl on the Train. Unlike Girl on the Train which has been chastised for a semi-predictable conclusion, this one will keep you guessing until the very last secret is revealed.
- Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
As a way to get myself out of a reading slump, I decided to pick up one of Flynn’s earlier mysteries to “cleanse my palate,” let’s say. Not only did this recharge my reading batteries, but I literally couldn’t put it down. This is the type of book where you tell yourself, “just one more chapter” until suddenly the sun is rising out your window. Libby Day is the only survivor of the Satanic Slayings in the 80s that took the lives of her entire family save one: her brother, Ben Day, who Libby accused of committing the violence. The story joins Libby in her mid-30s, broke, and looking to earn some fast cash. I liked Libby far more than I liked any of the characters in Gone Girl, and the plot has enough twists, turns and total shocks to keep even my drained attention span. The creepy, Manson Family vibe definitely worked on me I realized one night, as I checked the locks on my doors for the sixth time.
- The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor
This is one that might get overlooked because of its thematic proximity to Girl on the Train, but RoscoeBooks owner, Erika, insists that it’s worth a second look. This is Pitlor’s second novel, and she’s not pulling any punches. Part emotional autopsy of a marriage, part excruciating mystery when the wife disappears into the blue, the Daylight Marriage will do what Gone Girl never really did… continue to haunt you long past the final page.
- The Whites by Richard Price (oh wait, I mean Harry Brandt…)
Harry Brandt (a.k.a. Richard Price, one of the men behind showstopping crime drama, The Wire) has put out what Stephen King called, “THE crime novel of the year.” More procedural than psychological (although both inevitably overlap), The Whites focuses on dishonored cop, Billy Graves, whose past offenses have kept him working a string of dead end assignments. Graves is suddenly pushed back into the spotlight with the murder of a man in Penn Station. When it turns out that the murder victim may have been a murderer himself, things get a little…dodgy. Jeff, an honorary bookseller here at RoscoeBooks (otherwise known as Erika’s husband), has described how this book literally made him miss his L stop. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is.
- Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
This book came out a few years ago, but trust us when we say it definitely deserves nomination in “the next Gone Girl” Pageant. The plot centers on harried mother, Kate, who receives a phone call from the private school in Brooklyn where her daughter, the titular Amelia, attends. Turns out Amelia has been caught cheating. Kate decides to drop by the school to confirm the rumors. By the time she arrives, Amelia is dead of a supposed suicide. An anonymous message leads Kate to suspect that Amelia was involved with something far more dangerous than cheating on a test, and her death may not have been a suicide after all. This was the first title that Katie, our resident YA reader, recommended. It takes a lot to get her to read an adult title, so if she’s recommending it, it’s got to be great.
- Dare Me by Meg Abbott
Abbott is a writer to watch, particularly if you like taut thrillers that center on the murky moral territory of adolescence (I mean, who doesn’t?). Dare Me has been described as Fight Club meets Heathers. Abbott’s story focuses on a group of Cheerleaders and the complicated power politics that follow a school suicide. If Gone Girl is a bar of dark chocolate, Dare me is like spooning the frosting off a cupcake and throwing the cake away: pure decadence, with a sugar rush that will keep you up late trying to unravel the inner lives of cheerleaders. Add the fact that Gillian Flynn literally has a blurb on the front page and this could be “the next Gone Girl” you’ve been looking for.
Now, just because a title is not on this list doesn’t mean we don’t recommend it. We may not have read it yet! So now I pose the same question to you: What would you say is really “the next Gone Girl”?