Domestic Thrillers

Domestic Thrillers Gone Girl

Ever since Gillian Flynn’s runaway success with Gone Girl, domestic thrillers have been gaining popularity. I’ve heard them described as ‘Chick Noir’ — a kind of alternative ‘Chick Lit’ for readers who like a bit of psychological drama or crime — although from what I can see, a search for Chick Noir on Amazon throws up more 50 shades type fiction than it does psychological drama.

Domestic Thrillers — Key Characteristics

What the domestic thrillers that I have read so far have in common is that the drama takes place within the family group of the main character. Sometimes, as in Gone Girl it centres on the relationship between husband and wife. Sometimes, as in Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson, it may involve others. Typically, where others are involved, they have somehow managed to  get access to the protagonist’s private world. Often, as in The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, domestic thrillers have:

  • a strong plot
  • fast pace
  • short chapters
  • cliffhangers
  • twists

An Irish Domestic Thriller

One of the best domestic thrillers I’ve come across recently is by the Irish writer Liz Nugent. Unravelling Oliver is about a children’s writer married to an illustrator and apparently successful. From the very first sentence it is clear that Oliver has problems. And, over the course of the next 200 or so pages, Nugent cleverly peels back the layers  to unravel Oliver’s troubled past and perhaps explain his reasons for acting as he does.

Domestic Thriller meets Ghost Story

Before I conclude this short article on domestic thrillers, I have to mention The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by PD Viner — part ghost story, part crime novel, part exploration of what happens to those who are left behind when someone in a family is murdered. Viner has a couple of other short titles in the Dani Lancing series that I must check out soon.

What got me started on domestic thrillers today was some work I did sorting out the categories on over the last couple of days. I hope you find the new genre listing useful. You’ll find plenty of ideas in the Thrillers Category and you might like the Crime Fiction and Swedish Fiction categories too.

Documentary-style Thriller Debut by TR Richmond

Cover Image | What She Left by T R RichmondWhat She Left by TR Richmond joins the trend for psychological thrillers that seems to be everywhere this year.

When journalist Alice Salmon is found dead, Professor Jeremy Cook attempts to reconstruct her life by piecing together information from the Internet, diaries, correspondence and interviews with Alice’s friends, former boyfriends and family. The question troubling the various characters that Clarke encounters is how did Alice die? Suicide? Murder? Or simply through a drunken accident?

Like Cook, the reader must work out which characters can be trusted and which are unreliable. And what of Clarke himself? Why is this elderly academic so fixated on reconstructing Alice’s life and do his connections with Alice and her family give him a motive for murder?

TR Richmond’s debut novel is an interesting documentary-style thriller with an unusual structure where the story evolves slowly through fragments such as blog posts, online forum comments, Twitter conversations, even Spotify lists, that shed light — reliable and unreliable — on Alice’s professional activity, relationships and state of mind. This fragmentary approach presents challenges in character development and in maintaining pace but the writing is strong and there are some good twists along the way.

For me, the most interesting aspect of What She Left is the questions it raises about the online footprints we all leave. I can see this making for some lively book club discussions.

[Disclosure: An ARC of What She Left by TR Richmond was made available by the publisher via]

Mystery and Romance in The Liar by Nora Roberts

Cover Image of The Liar by Nora RobertsAlthough Nora Roberts (who also writes under the pseudonym JD Robb) is a best-selling author of more than 200 novels, I hadn’t read any of her work before The Liar. And, while mystery romances are not my usual genre, I have to say that I enjoyed this easy, pacy read.

The story begins about 2 months after gutsy heroine Shelby’s husband has disappeared leaving her high and dry with a mountain of debt and the stark realisation that her erstwhile husband was a liar whose nefarious activities could jeopardise Shelby and her daughter’s future.

Shelby sets out to repay the debt and as she uncovers more details of her former husband’s life she realises that she’s in considerable danger. Luckily, she has a strong and supportive family and having returned to her childhood home, it’s not long before love comes knocking at her door. But despite the goodwill of the handsome Griff and her family connections, Shelby is to right things under her own steam. She’s a likeable and capable heroine and The Liar is a fast and satisfying read that should appeal to anyone who likes a strong story line with a bit of romance along the way.

Unravelling Oliver | A Compelling Debut

Unravelling Oliver Liz NugentLiz Nugent has produced an intriguing individual in Oliver Ryan, the central character in her 2014 IBA Crime Novel award-winning novel, Unravelling Oliver.

Married to Alice, Oliver is a successful children’s author, with a fan base and charm. His books are illustrated by his talented wife but she plays down her part in their creation to allow her husband shine.

We first encounter Oliver in the opening sentence of the novel and it’s a shocking start.

“I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her. She just lay on the floor holding her jaw. Staring at me. Silent. She didn’t even seem to be surprised.”

Oliver has knocked his wife unconscious. The question is why?

Right from the word ‘go’ we begin to slowly build up a picture of who Oliver Ryan is and the circumstances that led to this violent outburst.

Liz Nugent slowly sets about unravelling Oliver to explain why he does what he does

What’s clever about the ‘unravelling’ of Oliver Ryan is that his character is revealed gradually through the voices of different characters as well as by himself. Various individuals  describe their interactions with him and almost all are betrayed by him one way or another. Perhaps the most powerful, and certainly the most poignant of these is Alice’s intellectually disabled brother, Eugene.
Slowly, as the stories emerge we see a pattern. Oliver’s motivations are manipulative, often malicious, sometimes even criminal. But he is adept at self-justification and what we learn of his early years helps us understand what made him the man he is even if we can’t condone his actions.
At just 231 pages, Unravelling Oliver is a short, satisfying read. Just be warned, you won’t want to put it down once you’ve started it.
[Disclosure: A free copy was provided by the publisher, Penguin, for the purpose of this review.]
If you like the sound of Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent, you’ll find more psychological thrillers here.