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The Joys of Evaluating Books on Whether Their Plot Twists Are Surprising, Shocking, or Just Plain Bonkers

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In crime and mystery novels, predictability is one of the most complicated elements of the narrative—but balancing it correctly is often essential for the page-turning, satisfying read that I’m always craving. Predictability is a tightrope walk; if I guess the twists too soon, that can make the lead up feel hollow or the climax feel low-stakes, but if the set-up doesn’t accurately reflect the reveal, the twists or ending seem totally bonkers.

My favorite twists are ones I didn’t see coming, but seem obvious (or, at least, reasonable) when I look back on what I’ve read. I don’t mind guessing a twist if the characters are engaging and the scenes are still full of delicious tension. Out-of-nowhere endings frustrate me the most, because it feels like the writer didn’t do the work to properly shape the story.

In no particular order, here are some of my favorite crime/mystery books as well as some recent reads, assessed based on the predictability, whether the twist was set up well, and my own satisfaction as a reader. I didn’t include any plot specifics, but for the particularly spoiler-adverse knowing that a book is predictable or not could be a spoiler in and of itself. Proceed at your own risk.


In A Lonely Place, Dorothy B. Hughes

Predictable? Totally

But was the twist set up well? All the clues were there from early on in the book.

Satisfaction Rating: 9/10. This novel was groundbreaking when it came out in 1947, which means its tricks have been co-opted many times over, which makes the book particularly predictable. Because the characters, setting, and prose feel vibrant and modern, the book is nevertheless very satisfying.


Lakewood, Megan Giddings

Predictable? I guessed the twist maybe two pages before it was revealed, which I would call perfect timing.

But was the twist set up well? Yes—the contours of the twist crept up on you the way the novel creeps up on you.

Satisfaction Rating: 9/10. I love body horror and hate torture porn, and this unsettling novel tows that line perfectly, while balancing set-up and predictability.


Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Sara Gran

Predictable? No!

But was the twist set up well? Yes!

Satisfaction Rating: 10/10. This book sets the standard for a twist you don’t see coming, but once you know the truth, all the clues seem to have been pointing right to it.


Who is Very Kelly?, Rosalie Knecht

Predictable? The twists felt inevitable…

But was the twist set up well? …but welcome all the same.

Satisfaction Rating: 10/10 for the book, 8/10 for the twists. This book isn’t really about twists, so it didn’t bother me that the small ones felt inevitable rather than a big revelation.


The Whispering House, Elizabeth Brooks

Predictable? Definitely.

But was the twist set up well? All the clues point so directly at the various twists that it’s hard not to see the answers before they appear on page.

Satisfaction Rating: 7/10. I love the gothic vibes of Brooks’s new novel, but I guessed almost every twist well before it was revealed, which made me feel out of sync with the narrator.


The Likeness, Tana French

Predictable? Mostly no.

But was the twist set up well? French is a master.

Satisfaction Rating: 9/10. All of French’s books that I’ve read are  incredible at balancing set-up and predictability.


Ill Will, Dan Chaon

Predictable? I didn’t guess it.

But was the twist set up well? The killer was right there, all along.

Satisfaction Rating: 10/10. This is a heartbreaking, brutal novel about the relationships between father and son. Though a mystery is threaded through the core of this novel, one of the biggest questions in the book is whether the mystery is real or not (and then of course, if it is real, whodunit?). Each possible scenario presented by the novel seemed as reasonable as the last, so throughout the read I was constantly changing my mind about what I thought the ending would reveal, and it still managed to surprise me in the end, while setting up the clues perfectly.


These Women, Ivy Pochoda

Predictable? It doesn’t matter so much in this book, but no.

But was the twist set up well? Yup

Satisfaction Rating: 10/10. Pochoda’s books twist the mystery and crime drama, turning our attention away from plot elements and twist endings, and refocusing us on the characters who have to suffer through brutality in order for the stories to exist. Pochoda’s books somehow exist outside of the set-up/predictability matrix. I didn’t care who the killer was, I wanted to hear more about the women.


The Sluts, Dennis Cooper

Predictable? Sort of, but this a book without a single question that needs a single answer.

But was the twist set up well? Yes, all the necessary elements were in place.

Satisfaction Rating: 9/10. This book is brutal and I can’t recommend it widely (especially if torture porn turns your stomach) but the violence here isn’t gratuitous, it’s purposeful, and the book couldn’t exist without it. I didn’t guess any of the reveals before they came, but I wasn’t trying to. I wanted Cooper to take me through this one, not my own mind.



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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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