It is amazing how fashion comes around – and I am not only taking about clothes, but books as well. A few years back ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ started the whole Scandinavian phenomenon which took the world by storm. Now we have the latest ‘fashion’ well under way: Domestic Suspense.
Avid crime fiction readers had turned their backs on the psychological thriller some time ago. They wanted police procedurals based in the snowy surrounds of Sweden or Denmark or Norway. The detectives were normally socially inept and brooding (if not downright depressed/depressing). I enjoyed a number of Henning Mankell novels which I read years before the Scandinavian tsunami began. I enjoyed them but did not imagine how the market would be flooded with names that we Brits would shamelessly mispronounce!
But this new fashion for reading about marriages disintegrating, wives self-harming and husbands who prefer to psychologically damage their spouse rather than use physical abuse has been smouldering away for some time, rather than jettisoned out of a cannon like the Scandinavians were.
In recent months I have noticed a trend with many publishers. I think I may scream if I open another envelope to find another book which promises to be ‘as good as Gone Girl and Before I Go To Sleep’.
I shouldn’t really be surprised as both of these books were bestsellers when first published in 2012 and 2011 respectively. And it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes’ to feel that some may be jumping on the bandwagon as both books have recently been released in the cinemas with a huge star cast. Gone Girl has also been nominated for big awards during this current award season.
But are these new books as promising as Watson’s and Flynn’s novels that seemed to have spawned this new interest in Domestic Suspense?
As always, some are and some aren’t. I recall during the height of the Scandinavian wave that many covers were shamelessly similar to those of the Stieg Larsson trilogy. I imagine the industry hoped to hypnotise the reader in to believing it was as good as Larsson’s offerings by slapping a side-on profile of a woman’s face. I credit book readers with a little more intelligence myself.
So, is this a new sub-genre? No. Domestic Suspense has been around decades. In fact, great writers like Margaret Millar and Patricia Highsmith started writing suspenseful fiction within the household in the late forties and early fifties. It was their answer to the pulp fiction writers (all men) who for far too long had the vice-like grip around the throat of crime fiction. So the ladies decided to step up to the plate.
While we had Christie and Sayers with their murders in stately homes, the American female crime writers were drawing battleground lines within the homestead. As with all fashions – this scenario eventually fell out of fashion to be replaced with the gumshoe detective during the seventies.
Another revival of Domestic Suspense came back in the late eighties and nineties with Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine (with the sublime A Dark-Adapted Eye) and new arrivals like the majestic Minette Walters.
So, this is more a revival rather than a new sub-genre. It appears that during the years Domestic Suspense fell out of fashion many have been sharpening their tools and now there seems a hundred more vile ways to control and/or inflict grief and despair on someone without lifting a finger. One such book I read recently was ‘The Liar’s Chair’ which is one of the most chilling novels I have read for a long time. Others who are perfecting their craft for this particular sub-genre are Elizabeth Haynes, Ruth Dugdall and many others. It will be interesting to see how these authors create new and devious dynamics within, what is to the outside world, a blissful marriage. There is never a truer word spoken when people comment about what goes on in someone’s home behind closed doors and drawn curtains. And it seems with these new writers the limits of this sub-genre are being pushed even further.
However, I would like to make one comment. Yet again we seem to have a woman’s face in profile on the covers of these new publications which are similar to the Scandinavian covers. I simply plead with the publishers to go back to the drawing board and give your readers something new and exciting on their covers!