Revenge is a topic that has been written about since Grendel’s mother took her retribution in Beowulf. There have been a number of revenge thrillers of late that have gained huge popularity, such as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. While they are much loved, and deserve a mention here, they are not among the books that shaped me and left their mark.
I rarely stopped to analyse the books I read as an impressionable teen but I can see now that revenge was a thread that ran through many of the classics that I devoured. Perhaps it was inevitable that my first thriller, Sticks and Stones, would touch on revenge. Here are five of my favourites:
1. Carrie by Stephen King
The moral of this story is don’t mess with a sixteen-year-old girl with telekinetic powers. Bullied by her classmates and mother, and even laughed at by some of the teachers, Carrie White goes on a rampage that kills her tormentors. Teenage cruelty at its worst and revenge to match. I remember reading this when I was about twelve and then practising telekinesis every night with my hairbrush. In case you were wondering, it didn’t work.
2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
This is one of those classics that I must have been forced to read at school because I remember expecting to find it crushingly boring and then being surprised at how creepy and atmospheric it was, reading well past my bedtime. After being bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother, Heathcliff runs away and comes back as a wealthy man ready to exact his revenge. So good, songs have been written about it.
3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
If we’re being honest, the cartoon Dogtanion and the Three Muskehounds led me to Dumas. But, once there, I never looked back. The Three Musketeers guided me to The Count, where wrongful imprisonment leads to adventure and revenge. Edmond Dantès escapes after fourteen years of imprisonment to pose as the Count of Monte Cristo, and take revenge on those responsible over a ten-year period. A case of revenge being a dish best served cold.
4. Murder On the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
I only read this book recently because everyone was talking about the film. When a murdered man isn’t who he said he was, Hercule Poirot uncovers his connection to the kidnapping of a three-year-old girl and the people who have vowed to avenge the crime. It is cleverly plotted and kept me guessing until the end. A classic locked-room thriller with a seemingly impossible murder. I finally saw why people love Christie’s books so much and wondered why I waited so long to embrace them myself.
5. The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith
While not a thriller, this is revenge at its funniest and I had to squeeze it in. This is one of those rare occasions where the film is better than the book thanks to its stellar cast. Three wronged wives plot revenge on their husbands. As Ivana Trump says in the film, ‘Don’t get even, get everything.’ A lot of revenge thrillers have unreliable or unlikeable narrators but with these relatable women, their victories are your victories and when they succeed it is all the more satisfying.
What are your favourite revenge thrillers? Let us know in the comments below!
Jo Jakeman’s debut thriller, Sticks and Stones, a delicious story of revenge and unlikely alliances, is out now in ebook. Read an extract here.