Predictability in Mysteries

The more books you read, the more you tend to notice and observe patterns in the types of plots, characters, and settings that are written about. This can be especially difficult when it comes to mysteries and thrillers, where plot twists are often reused multiple times.

Once you’ve seen a plot twist used once, you essentially add it to a mental library of plot twists you’ve read before in other mysteries. Every time you read a new mystery, you try to compare all the plot twists you’ve read before to the mystery you’re currently reading, trying to figure out if one of those previous plot twists you’ve read can maybe be used to crack the case you’re currently reading about.

Mysteries are all about the shock; that “ah ha!” moment where everything is revealed. If you’re able to discern that plot twist before the “Ultimate Reveal” happens, it takes away a large component of what makes mysteries so enjoyable to read.

What do you think? Have you ever felt disappointed with a mystery because you’ve read the same plot twist before?


Here are three mysteries that are sure to shock and amaze you with their shocking plot twists.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

Damage Done by Amanda Panitch

41 thoughts on “Predictability in Mysteries

  1. I know just what you mean, but for me it’s the apocalypse & dystopian books that have stopped being exciting. There are only so many ways to save the world and the dystopian worlds have begun to blur into one. Great topic.

    1. I agree about dystopian and apocalyptic books being rather boring as well. πŸ™ It seems the formula has simply been used too many times for it to be surprising or enjoyable.

  2. oooooh LOVE this discussion! My writing partner LOVES mysteries… that is her jam… and while she does have instincts due to her experience about who did it and why and can guess that, she’s really reading for the puzzle! So even if its the same twist… i.e. something in the past happened that caused what is happening in the present… it can still be enjoyable because its about who of the cast of characters did the deed. <3 As someone who isn't into mainstream mysteries but simply likes a little mixed into the books I read… I agree that twists are where its at and can't be developed the same way if you want readers to be shocked and amazed.

    1. That’s a really good point. If the characters are well-developed it can definitely be easier to overlook a predictable plot. Thank you so much for your lovely comment! <3

  3. I love this post! I definitely agree, and can’t remember how many times I have been let down by a plot twist just because I’ve either seen it used before or just wasn’t that shocked by it. I also so badly agree with you on We Were Liars having a really good plot twist – I did not see it coming at all, and still think that it is one of the best I have read. As someone who loves a good plot twist, I also may have to check out the other two pretty soon πŸ™‚

  4. Oddly enough, I was just contemplating predictability in reading and how it’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, when it comes to mysteries or thriller-suspense books, I hope that the story is NOT predictable. The genres are all about surprise, so I expect to be surprised. There are times when I guessed part of the mystery or thought “of course”, but the books were so good, I was able to forgive the author. We Were Liars and Dangerous Girls were fabulous! I loved them both. I thought Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig did a good job with the twists too.

    1. Exactly! There are genres where I can overlook predictability (i.e. contemporary, romance, etc) if the rest of the book is well-written, but in mysteries predictability is such a large factor regarding my overall enjoyment of the book that a predictable mystery is unlikely to be named a favorite. Oooh…I’ve been meaning to read Last Seen Leaving for a while now, so thanks for the recommendation!

  5. Oh, totally! I don’t read a ton of mystery novels, but when I do, I want to be on the edge of my seat until the shocking truth is revealed!
    I’ll certainly check out the three mysteries you recommended πŸ˜€

  6. *raises hand* Yes absolutely I struggle with this! After reading Dangerous Girls, that particularly plot twist is not the first one I suspect. So I’ve read a fair few other books do it and never been surprised again?! Sometimes I think mysteries are better in small doses because they seem the hardest to keep fresh!

  7. Hi Zoe! I haven’t visited your site in a while, and my gosh, it looks beautiful. You have an interesting discussion starter here. I tend to be kind of smug about figuring out the plot twist. Sometimes, the twist is very fitting for the plot and the setting. In that case, it doesn’t really bother me. I tend to think of repeated plot points as a commentary on the human condition. Some things are just common point of anxiety and fear for us humans. As long as it is not forced, I am usually quite okay with plot twists I predicted or have seen in other works.

  8. I relate to this post SO much. I was actually just thinking about this myself. I can count on one hand the number of mysteries that have actually “shocked” me. I think I’m partly to blame though because as you mentioned I read so many I just pick up on things casual readers probably don’t. I’m also fascinated with true crime so I can’t switch my brain off when it comes to picking up clues. I wish it wasn’t the case though because I WANT to be shocked. I want that “oh my god” moment other readers talk about.

    I loved We Were Liars and Dangerous Girls!!! Even though I guessed the plot twists they still both hit super hard and that’s what I want out of thrillers. Even if I’m gonna guess it at least let it have some emotional impact. I haven’t read Damage Done, but seeing here it listed with those others makes me really want to!!

    Great post, Zoe!

  9. Oh I so see where you are coming from with this. With every single book I read, I know I tend to understand and see where the story is going, way and way better and clearer. I’m not a huge mystery and thriller reader, though, so I guess I am able to be surprised by books a bit more than huge readers of this genre. We Were Liars is one book I would never have guessed the twist of, ahah, it was SO good πŸ™‚
    Great post! πŸ™‚

  10. Yeah, I just read the WWL twist in a book recently. You are SO right – it is a problem – there are only so many kinds of twists out there and the more you read, the more you know all of them and are running through them in your head when you are reading.

  11. I totally get what you’re saying, even if I don’t read that many mysteries (I should though). But with other books as well, if you read a lot, you do tend to get better and better at predicting certain plot twists. I had that with Stalking Jack the Ripper – I still enjoyed the book but wish I hadn’t figured out the identity of the culprit so soon. Oh well, guess there must be some downsides to reading a lot πŸ˜‰

  12. This is so true! It’s always such a letdown when you’re excited for a good mystery and then you just completely see right through the entire book. And ooh, I’ve been wanting to read We Were Liars for literal years- hopefully I can get that soon. πŸ˜‰ Great post!

  13. I know what you mean. I notice it in mysteries and I also notice it in fantasy reads as well. Sometimes it feels like I’m just reading the same books over and over again with different characters plugged in. I’m glad to see We Were Liars on your list since it has been on my TBR for ages. Need to get to that one soon.

  14. I LOVE mysteries, but I totally agree that some plots can become overused and predictable. I read and loved both We Were Liars and Dangerous Girls, but I haven’t read Damage done so I must add it to my tbr and get to it asap!!

  15. As someone who doesn’t read mysteries that often, it baffles me how many of them I can actually figure out – which only brings me to the conclusion that the stories are simply *bad* hahaha And incredibly recycled, for sure.
    Sometimes, I’m able to enjoy the story regardless of shock value, but it’s still disappointing and it will definitely affect my overall experience.
    Great post, Zoe! πŸ™‚

  16. It’s why I bounce from genre to genre. I’ve learned that mixing up what I’m reading about helps with expected and unexpected plot twists. Yes, I may have seen it before, but if my mind has been reading romance novels, I might not be expecting a twist in a YA book that I’ve seen previously. If I strictly read YA after YA book, the similarities might bother me more.

    Do You Dog-ear?

  17. Very often, I see it coming around the corner before I even see the corner! And when I do, I’m absolutely disappointed. I love being surprised, I love to have a twist I didn’t foresee – it makes me squeal and scream. Great suggestions for some mysteries! I also highly suggest Murder on the Orient Express since the movie is coming out (although, we probably all already know the twist to that one!)

  18. Yessss I think Dangerous Girls spoiled me for every other YA thriller out there! I’ve recently binged on YA thrillers lately, including Little Monsters, Darkest Corners and This is Our Story (and they were all decent) but none of them wowed me because I keep on expecting the same plot line. Lovely discussion Zoe!

  19. I think it applies to all genre for me, once it gets predictable, I would feel disappointed. I guess that’s why I barely read any dystopian books lately πŸ˜€ I haven’t read many mysteries, but the suspense is definitely the most fun part of reading the genre, so if it’s becoming predictable I generally feel more let down than with other genre. Great post Zoe!

  20. I’m really disappointed these days with how quickly books trumpet they have a twist, ‘come see the awesome twist, like you’ve never seen before’… and it’s just really anything but. Then the books which actually have an ending or twist that make you go WOAH don’t have any hint of the fact that they have a twist. And the ones that insist they have a twist (Usually just like Gone Girl) are the ones that are boring, I think.

  21. This is definitely something I struggle with when I read mysteries! I find this makes me want to read them less which is so frustrating. Few things beat good mystery novels! I did really like the twist in We Were Liars — I’d love more books like that. After watching The Orient Express, I want to get back into reading Agatha Christie’s books!

    Great post, Zoe!

  22. I almost never read mysteries! Which is why I am ever so gullible when I do πŸ˜€ but I also only ever try to read the good ones, the ones that I am recommended – particularly because I don’t read mysteries a lot, so if I’m going to, I’ll go out of my way to read a good one. I do agree that you will probably get better at solving them in time πŸ™‚

  23. Great topic of discussion Zoe! I definitely agree that over the years that you read, most plots and stories do often become cliche or super predictable. I haven’t read a mystery lately (although will be starting The 7 Lives of Evelyn Hardcastle soon!), but it was the same for me when I watched The Sinner on Netflix. While the show was good, it just didn’t WOW me like it did for others. I can often predict what’s coming when it comes to mysterious plot points – which is part of the fun of mystery novels – but it gets pretty lame when the same plot devices are used over and over. Mysteries was super hard to write though, so major kudos to all the authors that are able to pull off a super unique story that makes me really think deeply! πŸ˜€

  24. I feel you on this for sure. Although lately I haven’t minded as much. There is a certain amount of satisfaction in figuring out a twist before it happens. Definitely a different impact and different kind of excitement, but enjoyable in its own way. I also feel like I have been ruined by Game of Thrones, because now I can never trust anyone or anything. I find myself adding twists that aren’t going to be there as I’m reading because I just assume everyone is evil hahaha

  25. I definitely agree with you! There are a lot of books that I absolutely loved when I first read them that I know I would not find as impressive now. Likewise, there are books I’ll read now that I don’t find impressive that I know if I had read them a few years ago I would’ve loved.

  26. I don’t read a lot of mysteries and I think it’s for this very reason, but I’ve been wanting to read We Were Liars and Dangerous Girls for a while because I’ve heard really good things about them. I experience a similar thing with fantasy novels. There are so many books I have read where I would have loved them – if I hadn’t read something so similar before. I find myself predicting a lot of the plot twists or just not particularly caring for the ‘big reveals’. Great post!

  27. I love it when a mystery or a psychological thriller can still surprise me, or when the plot twist blindsides me. πŸ™‚ And I loved the twist in Dangerous Girls!

  28. I don’t read as many mysteries, but I have definitely noticed just in general plot twists in books become less surprising as I see them repeated in other books I’ve read? It’s sad ahah because things that might’ve been interesting in the past aren’t anymore? I definitely want to read We Were Liars, Dangerous Girls and Damage Done though! They all sound so good and I’m totally down for twists done well. Lovely post!

  29. I loved that you picked We Were Liars and Dangerous Girls because those each have a twist that I have seen in multiple books. In fact, I just spotted the WWL twist in an adult book I read and was sure I was right about it. Yep, I was. I think people who read fewer books are caught by surprise more. It’s a trade-off of being a very avid reader, I guess….

  30. I definitely agree that mystery novels can quickly become boring once you’ve read enough of them. I hit a sort of burnout last year after reading so many thrillers, there is definitely a set of overused tropes that authors in the genre seem to use regularly. Great list, and I’ll definitely add the books you recommended to my TBR. πŸ™‚

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