It started a few years ago with Gone Girl.Then really took off with The Girl On the Train. They call these books domestic suspense or domestic thrillers because books in this sub-genre typically focus on characters who share the same household, or have some other intimate connection.
Although this type of story seems new, authors like Mary Higgins Clark were writing similarly complex suspense novels focused on women characters nearly 40 years ago. Back then, they were known as “women in jeopardy” stories. The modern twist is that the most dangerous or threatening character in these books may well be a woman. Today, female characters in books aren’t always victims, but can fit in on the whole range of the good/evil spectrum.
Another aspect of these books that makes them feel new is the technique of using an unreliable narrator. This means the character telling the story may actually be deceiving the reader by withholding crucial bits of information. If you can’t trust the narrator, who can you trust? In this case, you have to read the book to find out. A good example of the unreliable narrator technique is used in Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry. In this book Nora goes to visit her sister’s home in the English countryside and arrives to find her sister has been murdered As Nora struggles to figure out who the murderer is, she becomes more and more obsessed and seemingly unhinged, until even the reader begins to wonder if Nora’s viewpoint is the true one, or if she’s been lying to the reader about events all along.
Unlike more typical suspense novels, the tension in domestic thrillers is often subtle and psychological. Instead of holding our breath to see if the protagonist will elude the bad guy and survive, the reader faces a more complex challenge—figuring out who is the bad guy and who is the good character, the one we want to root for.
One of the most common premises of domestic fiction is that the people you know the best turn out to be completely different than you thought. In Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leech, a woman goes home to deal with the death of her twin, and soon begins to suspect her twin isn’t really dead after all.
In Mary Kubica’s Every Last Lie, a woman’s husband is killed in a car crash, with their four-year-old daughter in the car at the time. When the little girl starts having nightmares, the widow begins to question whether the accident was really an accident.
I Found You, by Lisa Jewell, is the story of two women. One discovers a man on the beach who has no memory of who he is. Miles away, the other woman’s husband vanishes, and as she searches for him, she discovers he never existed, at least not as the man she knew.
In Undertow by Elizabeth Heathcote, Carmen is happily married, even though she knows she’ll always live in the shadow of Zena, her husband’s mistress who drowned in the sea. Then Carmen discovers her husband is not telling her the whole truth about Zena’s death and has to decide if the truth is worth knowing, when it could destroy her and the lives of the people she loves most.
In Sara Pinborough’s Behind her Eyes, a quick fling at a party enmeshes a woman in a love triangle. And not just any love triangle, but one where nothing is as it seems.
Plots twists that make characters question who they really are and what they’re willing to do to protect themselves and others are typical to this genre. In The Child by Fiona Barton, a journalist investigating the mystery of skeletal remains of a child found in an old house, soon finds herself the keeper of unexpected secrets in the lives of three women—and is torn between what she can and cannot tell.
When a violent murder draws a family of a gymnastic prodigy into its sphere in Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me , the girl’s mother must decide how far she will go to see her daughter reach her dream.
The family in Shari Lapeña’s The Couple Next Door seem perfect, until a terrible crime is committed and everything unravels in deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness.
There are literally dozens of domestic thrillers out there, with more being published every month. Some up-and-coming domestic thriller authors, besides those mentioned above, include Megan Abbott, Sophie Hannah, Megan Miranda, Jenny Milchman, Rosamund Lupton and B.A. Paris. For help in finding these books or learning more about fiction of any genre, visit the 1st Floor Ask Here Desk.