Seven Thrillers Featuring Social Media
I like to write novels that explore contemporary phenomena, and I like to read them, too. Love it or hate it, social media is a nearly inescapable part of how we live today, so it makes,sense that it’s taking on increasingly prominent roles in novels, particularly thrillers.
Here’s a roundup of thrillers in which social media and the Internet play a significant part:
1) The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson
This one’s been getting a lot of well-deserved buzz. It’s the twisty and unsettling tale of a twenty-three-year-old newbie teacher and the privileged high schoolers in whose lives she’d like to make a difference but fails to understand as they tear one another apart in the cyberworld, with consequences in real life. Is the most dangerous place on earth high school, where adolescents’ brains have overdeveloped accelerators and underdeveloped brakes; is it the Internet, where people’s ids are running wild; or is it the interior lives of youth made manifest through social media, a repository for the worst in us? Read and discuss.
2) The Circle by Dave Eggers
This one feels like a dystopian techno-thriller to me. Set in the not-too-distant future, it follows twenty-something Mae Holland as she begins work at a corporation called The Circle (a behemoth that’s a cross between Google and Facebook). It advocates transparency for everyone, in all things, with the slogans “Privacy is theft” and “Secrets are lies.” At a rapid rate, The Circle takes over Mae’s life and the lives of all its employees, and it’s set to take over the world. That’s unless someone can stop it, which is where the thriller element comes in.
3) Ripper by Isabel Allende
The prolific and fantastically talented Isabel Allende is trying her hand at her first thriller. As the title suggests, it’s a serial-killer tale, with a large cast of characters (i.e., suspects). The investigators are a group of misfit teenagers around the world who meet through an Internet crime game. But it’s definitely not a YA novel, and there’s plenty of attention paid to the adults as well, especially their sex lives. The body count is high but the gore factor is low. This one’s a fun romp and a combination send-up/homage to mysteries (particularly the old-school ones like those by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie).
4) The Venus Fix by M.J. Rose
This is Book 3 of Rose’s series on the Butterfield Institute but it easily stands alone. Dr. Morgan Snow is one of New York’s top sex therapists, working with both adult and teen patients who are addicted to Internet webcam pornography. Then the webcam girls start dying. But that’s just the beginning of this highly plotted novel. M.J. Rose is able to keep the action moving while addressing some disturbing trends in terms of how teenage girls are demeaned and teenage boys are desensitized through the increasingly accessible world of porn.
5) Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach
This is the story of Leila, a socially awkward and sheltered young woman whose best friend has recently died from MS. Leila spends her time playing World of Warcraft and then learns about “Red Pill,” an Internet community for philosophical and ethical debate. She’s flattered to be recruited by Aiden, the community’s founder, to be part of Project Tess. That involves “assisting” a young woman named Tess in suicide, but not in the way one would ordinarily think. It gets more bizarre and complicated from there in this chilling exploration of identity and belonging.
6) YOU by Caroline Kepnes
It’s dark, it’s profane, it’s too clever at times, but it’s compulsively readable and often funny in an I-can’t-believe-I-just-read-that-line sort of way (or maybe even an I-wish-I’d-written-that-line way). Joe Goldberg is a bookstore manager who feeds his obsession with a young woman named Beck by stalking her multiple ways: peeking in her windows, stealing her clothes, Googling her, and following every one of her social media feeds. Fortunately for him, she’s prolific on Twitter and Facebook. He’s able to operationalize what he learns about her in truly disturbing and surprising ways.
7) The Blackbird Season by Katie Moretti
So glad I could get my hands on this one well in advance of its September publication! Once I did, I didn’t want to put it down. After a thousand dead starlings fall on a high school baseball field, a strange series of events is set in motion. Nate Winters is a well-respected baseball coach and high school teacher. He and his wife, Alecia, are under stress as they raise a five-year-old with special needs. But when Nate’s caught embracing Lucia Hamm, a beautiful Goth student, by one of the reporters investigating the birds, Lucia claims they were having an affair and thereafter suddenly disappears. leaving behind a journal. As it turns out, Nate has been anonymously following multiple students’ social media, including Lucia’s…it’s no wonder that Nate’s the main suspect. But what’s he really guilty of? Fans of psychological suspense went crazy for Katie Moretti’s last novel, The Vanishing Year, and The Blackbird Season is likely to be another hit.
Holly Brown is the author of psychological suspense novels that are truly psychological. Her latest, THIS IS NOT OVER, was hailed as “one of those wonderful genre-bending novels that is not what you might expect but that ultimately exceeds your expectations” by BookReporter.com. She lives with her husband and daughter in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she’s a practicing marriage and family therapist.