Brum Radio is an internet radio station set up in Birmingham that hosts its Books Show every Friday at 1pm. Once in a while they focus on crime novels, and Crime Fiction Lover has contributed a couple of segments looking at specific phenomena in the world of mystery books. In our most recent outing, the week before last, I talked about domestic noir.
The main feature is an interview with British crime author Mark Billingham, which is worth a listen, or you can skip forward to the CFL segment starts at 16:25. Or, read the story below which covers the same ground and includes plenty of reading recommendations…
It sounds like a rare breed of cat, favoured by people involved in the occult.
Actually, I think it’s going to be the most common form of crime fiction read this summer.
The trend started with Gone Girl by the American author Gillian Flynn, which came out in 2012. It told the story of Nick and Amy Dunne, who seem to have the perfect marriage until Amy disappears. All the clues point towards Nick having somehow done away with her… but there’s more to it than that.
Another big book in this sub genre is The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins, published in 2015.
In it, London-based commuter Rachel looks into the life of a seemingly perfect family each day on her train journey. As the book progresses her own failed domestic life seems to unravel and intertwine with the world she looks in on.
Like Gone Girl, it has the word Girl in the title, and like Gone Girl it has been made into a film. You’ll be able to watch it when it comes out in October.
Gone Girl, the movie, is well worth watching too. It was directed by David Fincher – who also adapted The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for American audiences – and it stars Ben Afleck and Rosamund Pike in the main roles.
What is domestic noir?
Domestic noir novels usually fall into the broader category of psychological crime fiction.
They take us inside the home and the main themes often include trust, close relationships and secrets, as well as control, pent up anger, and domestic violence. Such novels usually pose the question: How well do you know your partner? Or your child? Or your parents?
This type of book is nothing new. Victorian novels like Jane Ayre could be classed as domestic noir. In the 1930s, Daphne Dumaurier wrote books like Rebecca and Jamaica Inn, which might also fit the description.
Another good book to try is The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin, a 1950s classic about a sleep-deprived mother who perceives the lodger her family has taken in as a threat.
In the 1990s, Harlan Coben began writing some excellent domestic noir novels, before the phrase had been coined. Try Tell No One and Just One Look, which are both intense reads and play on the idea that we might not know our nearest and dearest as well as we think.
In the Fire Child, a woman moves to Cornwall with her new husband and his beautiful son, but gradually starts to discover that his first wife met an untimely end and that she could be next.
Another new marriage gradually goes wrong in violent fashion in Undertow, by new author Elizabeth Heathcote. Publisher Quercus is hyping this book and likening it to both Gone Girl, and the work of Patricia Highsmith, so you can expect plenty of suspense.
Those are two to watch for, but there will be plenty more. If you want a recommendation, then try In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings, which came out earlier this year.
It’s about a woman who, after her father’s suicide, discovers that she isn’t who she thinks she is. She ends up in Cornwall, investigating her own childhood disappearance. It’s a five-star read, so try it. Tell us about your favourite domestic noir read in the comments below.