Please welcome author Mark Edwards who has a few thoughts about “domestic suspense”…
As Safe as Houses…The Rise in Domestic Suspense
In the summer of 2012 I attended a party in central London with a large group of British crime and thriller writers and readers. Everyone was talking about one book, by a writer who wasn’t at the party or even in the same country. This novel wasn’t a bestseller yet – certainly not in the UK – and the author, though reasonably well-known after a couple of mid-size hits, was far from a household name. But there was a buzz about this book; the kind of excitement that was genuine and rare. I was reading it at the time and was blown away by the style and the subject matter.
This, I thought, is going to be big.
The book was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Its publication heralded the current wave of what has been called domestic noir, or domestic suspense, a sub-genre of the psychological thriller with several features that make it easy to spot (and not just because half of them have ‘girl’ in the title). It’s usually set in or around the home, with marriage, family and neighbors as a strong theme. The protagonist is usually female – as is the author. There is almost always a big twist at the end. The narrator is likely to be, at best, unreliable and, worst, downright devious. She will be flawed – she might be an alcoholic, a cheat, a liar with a dark secret. And, of course, this being a thriller, there is usually a murder, a missing child or some other terrible crime.
Last year, The Girl on the Train – another example of domestic noir – became the fastest- and biggest-selling adult hardback novel ever. I know Paula Hawkins and after reading TGOTT a few months before its publication, I messaged her to to tell her I thought she had a bestseller on her hands.
Understatement of the century.
Other huge hits of last year included Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, which starts with a child dying in a hit and run, and Ruth Ware’s In a Dark Dark Wood, about a bachelorette weekend that goes murderously wrong. My own domestic noir novel, The Magpies, about neighbors from hell, has sold over 400,000 copies and is always hanging around the bestseller lists. The appetite for these novels has clearly not
But why are they so hugely popular? Is it just another publishing fad? Or is domestic noir here to stay?
From the feedback I get from readers, there is a simple answer to the question of why they are so popular. It’s because people like reading about things that could happen to them; situations we could all find ourselves in. Jack Reacher is still enormously popular, and books like Lee Child’s provide great escapism, but there is an appetite for worlds we all recognise – and readers love to think about what they would do if their world shifted slightly and they found themselves in danger.
Gone Girl was a huge hit because it depicted marriage in a new, frightening way. It was a fascinating depiction of a toxic relationship that struck a chord worldwide. The Girl on the Train was a massive seller because everyone who’s ever commuted has wondered what’s going on behind the windows they pass every day. Perhaps that’s the secret: these books bring out the voyeur in all of us. While the media becomes more and more celebrity-obsessed, we readers want to gaze at real people, at people like us.
Publishers have reacted by snapping up dozens, if not hundreds, of these titles. Right now, it feels like every hot new book is a psychological thriller. It’s already lasted longer than the erotica boom from a few years ago, or the Stieg Larsson-inspired interest in Scandinavian crime. As long as we writers can keep coming up with new angles and fresh twists, I think domestic noir is here to stay.
Although there are, of course, spin-offs happening already. I’ve read two psychological thrillers recently set on a cruise ship, for example. And my new book, The Devil’s Work, is set in a workplace, an office from hell staffed by toxic co-workers.
I’m hoping office noir will be the next big thing.
Mark Edwards ©2016
About The Devil's Work by Mark Edwards
It was the job she had dreamed of since childhood. But on her very first day, when an unnerving encounter drags up memories Sophie Greenwood would rather forget, she wonders if she has made a mistake. A fatal mistake.
What is her ambitious young assistant really up to? And what exactly happened to Sophie’s predecessor? When her husband and daughter are pulled into the nightmare, Sophie is forced to confront the darkest secrets she has carried for years.
As her life begins to fall apart at work and at home, Sophie must race to uncover the truth about her new job…before it kills her.
About Mark Edwards
Mark Edwards writes psychological thrillers in which scary things happen to ordinary people and is inspired by writers such as Stephen King, Ira Levin, Ruth Rendell and Linwood Barclay.
He is the author of three #1 bestsellers: Follow You Home (a finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2015), The Magpies and Because She Loves Me, along with What You Wish For and six novels co-written with Louise Voss. All of his books are inspired by real-life experiences.
Originally from the south coast of England, Mark now lives in the West Midlands with his wife, their three children and a ginger cat.