C L TAYLOR on The Evolution of the Psychological Thriller

Written by C L Taylor


Apparently there’s ‘no such thing as a new idea’ but as the author of nine psychological thrillers, and having read many more, I’ve seen a lot of very similar books flood the market. What I want to know is - what’s next?


It’s been fascinating, watching the evolution of the new wave of psychological thrillers since SJ Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep was published in 2011 and became an international bestseller. In the same year Elizabeth Haynes’ Into the Darkest Corner won Haynes’ an Amazon Rising Star Award and sold hundreds of thousands copies, enchanting and unnerving readers in equal measure.


The success of both books launched a raft of imitators – if main characters weren’t suffering from amnesia then they were being gaslit or domestically abused. No shade here. I wrote a coercive relationship book of my own. I was working on the first draft when Watson and Haynes’ books hit the bestseller lists. Their success made me write faster. I could sense that this was the start of something big and, having been dropped by my previous publisher, I wanted to get in there quickly before the market turned. My book, The Acccident, was published in 2013. Nine years on and the psychological thriller market is still going strong.


Watson’s character Christine, suffers from a rare type of amnesia that makes her short term memory vanish each time she goes to sleep. It’s what makes her an unreliable narrator. Countless books about amnesia, and other psychological disorders, followed: anxiety, agoraphobia, post-natal psychosis, OCD, panic attacks, schizophrenia and dissociative fugues. Again, I’ve written a few. If a character is struggling with her mental health how much harder is it to discover who is gas-lighting, stalking or blackmailing her? It’s not just external obstacles that stop her from discovering the truth, her internal obstacles are huge.


Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train (2015), introduced a new kind of internal obstacle – alcoholism. How can you solve a crime if you drink so much that you frequently blackout? Maybe you committed the crime yourself? AJ Finn’s The Woman in the Window (2018) gave Hitchcock’s Rear Window an agoraphobic and alcoholic twist.


But I’m getting ahead of myself. If we rewind a couple of years the book that firmly cemented psychological thrillers in a domestic environment was Gillian Flynn’s smash hit Gone Girl (2012). Flynn turned everything we thought the novel would be about on its head with her jaw-dropping mid-point twist. Clare Mackintosh’s international bestselling debut I Let You Go (2015) also introduced a mid-point twist that blew readers away. Spoiler alert: as with Gone Girl it isn’t until the halfway through the book that readers realise quite how unreliable the main character is.

My second book The Lie (2014) felt like a risk. It was a psychological thriller but there was nothing domestic about it. It was about a woman called Jane who’s working at an animal sanctuary when she receives a note saying, ‘I know your name’s not really Jane Hughes.’ The book then splits into two timelines: present day and five years earlier when Jane travels to Nepal with her friends. The girls visit what they think is a retreat in the Annapurna mountain range and instead find themselves caught up in a cult. They have to stick together in order to survive but there are flaws and hidden resentments in their friendship and not all of them do. The Lie sold nearly half a million copies in the UK (buoyed by a healthy ebook market) but it didn’t do anywhere near as well as Ruth Ware’s exploration of toxic friendship in her debut In a Dark, Dark Wood (2015) which sold to twenty-nine territories across the globe and was a New York Times bestseller. Ruth Ware has been described as ‘a modern Agatha Christie’ and, to me, her books keep one foot in psychological thriller territory, and the other in classic mystery.

Lucy Foley is another author whose books have an Agatha Christie vibe, with the first two The Hunting Party (2019) and The Guest List (2020) also ticking the toxic friendships box. It’s a hugely successful combination – she’s a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller – and sold over a million copies of The Guest List in the United States. Compelling mysteries have also fuelled the careers of Shari Lapena and Lisa Jewell who both regularly feature on the bestseller lists on both sides of the pond.

I wrote an Agatha Christie inspired mystery myself – Sleep (2019) – that gives a very firm nod to And Then There Were None. Sleep did very well for me (winning a Capital Crime award and landed me my first ever Richard and Judy pick) but I wrote something very different for my next book (Strangers) and the book after that (Her Last Holiday) and now I’ve written something different again. In The Guilty Couple my character isn’t being gaslit or stalked; the worst has already happened, she’s spent five years in prison for a crime that she didn’t commit. Now she’s out she wants to clear her name, get her daughter back and get revenge on the man who framed her. She needs to get hold of the evidence that proves her innocence, and that’s going to involve a heist. Are people lying to her and hiding secrets? Of course they are. It wouldn’t be a psychological thriller if they weren’t.  

For all the analysis I’ve done I don’t know what the next big psychological thriller will be or how the genre will evolve. All I can do is write the stories that I want to tell and, for me, that means heart-stopping action, breakneck pace and female characters taking charge of their own destiny, and taking back control.


Published June 23, 2022 by Avon Books. Trade Pbk £12.99

The Guilty Couple by CL Taylor Reviewed by Heather Fitt


I have read virtually all of CL Taylor’s books, (I think there is one I need to catch up on,) so when given the opportunity to read and review an early copy of The Guilty Couple I jumped at the chance.


Olivia was falsely accused and convicted of plotting to murder her husband. Except, she’s innocent and now she’s out of prison, she is determined to clear her name and get to know her daughter again.


The Guilty Couple is one of those books that takes you along on a journey you barely realise you’re travelling. Told from three different perspectives, Taylor only gives you the information you need to know at the moment you need to know it. As a reader that means you are constantly turning pages trying to figure out what happens next, desperate for more information.


It's a twisty, turny book and just when you think you know where it’s going, there’s a sharp turn and it takes a direction you could not have even imagined.


CL Taylor has done it again – this is a book you are not going to want to put down!

C L Taylor

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