There are dark stirrings within the stable of crime fiction. Given recent successes such as Paula Hawkins’ ‘The Girl on The Train’ and Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’, it’s safe to say that within crime fiction, ‘Domestic noir’ is an increasingly popular genre.
Anecdotally at least, it also appears that readers who never before considered crime fiction are drawn to this new genre. Indeed it’s fair to deduce that domestic situations provide a fertile breeding ground for any suspense thriller. Every day, dramas play out around kitchen tables or in the bedrooms of family homes.
In fact, generally speaking, the more life is presented as ‘perfect’ to the outside world, the more we find very strange goings-on behind closed doors. We only have to look to the bizarre and dubious private behaviour of high-profile people in public life to attest to this. Of course, such behaviour is not confined only to those in the public eye. Individuals who on the face on it are normal, professional, respectable, family people can just as easily turn out to be sinister and deviant. Perhaps this is exactly why ‘Domestic Noir’ is so powerful. It’s unsettling precisely because it lies darkly somewhere between the creepy and the familiar.
‘Domestic Noir’ allows the reader to get under the skin of the characters and to explore what’s going on in their heads - their wants, desires, and motivations. It allows for increased voyeurism.
No longer is it just enough to know who committed the crime, or how they committed the crime for this new breed of savvy readers. Readers of this genre want to know far more. They’re often allowed to become very involved in the psychology of a crime – why a villain did something as well as how they did it.
It’s also fair to say that ‘Domestic Noir’ draws much of its appeal from characters that are generally quite engaging. Certainly for this author, when characters are flawed they’re at their most intriguing. Often, in this genre the reader is never quite sure who the villain is – perhaps that too is part of its appeal. Readers are allowed to become armchair detectives, solving crimes from afar. They’re allowed to connect with their inner Hercule Poirot or DI Jane Tennison from the comfort of their living rooms or on their train commute.
What happens to relationships of ordinary people when they’re put under pressure both from inside and outside relationships makes for engrossing reading. People do strange things and react bizarrely when under pressure. In Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’ we see the author adroitly use the genre to explore the dynamics and psychology of marital relationships.
Everyday life can turn on a sixpence. Catastrophic events sometimes happen out of nowhere. Someone can just be in the wrong place at the wrong time, say the wrong thing to the wrong person, or simply make a small mistake that snowballs into something grievous and sinister.
‘Domestic Noir’ explores these many possibilities and extrapolates on everyday situations that we can all identify with. In Tana French’s ‘Broken Harbour’, she skilfully explores what happens when evil breaks into a family’s dream home. The setting is a suitably gloomy ghost-estate in recessionary Ireland - the perfect ‘noir’ backdrop.
In Hermann Koch’s ‘The Dinner’, two couples dine in a smart restaurant in Amsterdam and discuss how they are going to keep their children out of trouble. Their children have been caught doing something horrendous on CCTV but so far only the parents have recognised them. We see the lengths the parents will go to, to protect their children.
And in another good example of the genre - Peter Swanson’s ‘The Kind Worth Killing’, a man meets a woman in an airport bar while waiting to board his flight and he complains about his wife. The woman in turn offers to kill the wife. It too is a good example of the genre with lots of twists and turns along the way.
Much of what we read in ‘Domestic Noir’ is now echoed on our TV screens. In fact, there’s a growing synergy between the two. Recent successes are fuelling the desire for more both of the same in books and film.
In a recent airing on Channel 4, I watched ‘The People Next Door’ - a one-off suspense. The characters were ordinary and believable - people that viewers could identify with which made it an all the more enriching and rewarding experience. While we wouldn’t want all this mayhem going on in our own lives, it’s great to observe it at a remove.
Whether these successful novels and TV screenings are in part responsible for spawning the genre, or simply responding to an increasingly voyeuristic desire to explore what really goes on within four walls is difficult to say.
One thing is for certain – it seems that it’s set to lurk around for a while longer at least. And that can only be a good thing. May the genre go from strength to strength.
Vive Domestic Noir!
“She would never have fit as neatly into the trunk of his own car.” Limerick, Ireland: the O’Brien family’s driveway. American Oscar Harvey opens the trunk of his hosts’ car and finds the body of a woman, beaten and bloody. But let’s start at the beginning. Kate and Mannix O’Brien live by Curragower Falls in Limerick, in a lovely house they can barely afford. Their son Fergus is bullied at school, and their daughter Izzy blames herself, wishing she could protect him. Kate decides that her family needs a vacation, and is convinced her luck’s about to change when she spots an elegant Manhattan apartment on a home-exchange website. Hazel and Oscar Harvey and their two children live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Though they seem successful and happy, Hazel has mysterious bruises, and Oscar is hiding things about his dental practice. They, too, need a change of pace. Hazel has always wanted her children to see her native Limerick, and the house swap offers a perfect chance to soothe two troubled marriages. But this will be anything but a perfect vacation. And the body in the trunk is just the beginning.
More information can be found on her website.
Follow her on Twitter -@SiobhanMMacD
Find her on Facebook.