Psychological suspense is a favorite escape genre for me. I've just finished rereading Elizabeth George's A Place for Hiding. It's very long, the plot so intricate it reminds me of crochet—impossible to follow all the threads closely enough to see the pattern if you look too closely. All the major characters in this story come from childhood trauma, as do the secondary characters.
Other writers who follow similar themes like Ruth Rendell, for instance, surprise me by their ability to dream up such horrors without giving the sense of "horror" I think of when I watch movie trailers. The grimmest parts of the suffering of these authors' characters are emotional; the scars borne by their creations are psychic. The stories are therefore fascinating, in part because it's possible to sympathize even with the villains at least some of the time.
But I have to ask myself where those ideas come from. Is there a darker corner of these authors' souls than most of us recognize in ourselves? I confess to much more interest in these artfully layered personalities than I can find in pure thrillers where the protagonist is usually called on for physical bravery, special technical know-how, and cunning, and not much more.
I find it incredible that the most profitable movies and many of the most-watched TV shows involve enormous amounts of shock and melodrama in the form of blood, thunderous explosions, impossible chases, and the tiniest threads of coincidence to hold the stories together until the (usually foolishly upbeat) endings. I haven't the stomach for them and find them specious. I can't resist the intricate character studies of modern mystery masters (and mistresses) that make some of the old standbys like Agatha Christie or Rex Stout, with their two-dimensional heroes, seem not really worth my time. Those mystery writers of the thirties don't seem just tame, they're unconvincing. I'm addicted to some of our newer practioners of what are really novels that happen to be mysteries like Ms. George, P. D. James, the best of Tony Hillerman—especially when I want to get away from a world that seems too much with us.