I’m not going back on what I said in my very first post about reading everything in terms of queries, because sometimes I don’t know what I want until I see it, but here’s the first of what will be an ongoing series of spotlights on subgenres I really, really want.
Domestic thrillers, in a nutshell, are defined by the thrills happening at home. I’ve sometimes used the phrase “murder and mayhem in suburbia,” though a domestic thriller can take place in an urban or rural area, too. The main character can be, but doesn’t have to be, employed in law enforcement. Regardless of profession, the main character does have to be involved in something one would normally find in a thriller, perhaps a murder or stalking or even identity theft. The MC doesn’t have to be a direct victim or perpetrator of a crime. S/he could be the parent or sibling or neighbor of someone more affected by it. You’ll see law enforcement and courts, but it’s very unlikely you’ll see the CIA or a mention of Al-Qaeda.
What I love about domestic thrillers: I fully admit, it’s the “me” factor. It makes a book all the more terrifying knowing that something like the crimes I read about in these novels could happen right next door. Though Numb3rs is one of my all-time favorite TV shows (for those who haven’t watched, if The Big Bang Theory were a crime drama, this would be it), I don’t always seek out books about FBI agents. I’ve never been a huge fan of books that involve high-octane international chases after people who want to blow up the world. I’m much more interested in books where the terror begins at home.
Some examples of domestic thrillers:
- Too Close to Home by Linwood Barclay
- Defending Jacob by William Landay
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
- Down the Darkest Road by Tami Hoag
- Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
Even within these few books there’s a wide range of crimes and effects of such, but what they all have in common is that their protagonists are dealing with crimes that, while they affect the characters in a huge way, would have almost no effect on the rest of us outside those pages. There are no high-stakes terror plots to solve. Stephen King wrote in the afterword to Full Dark, No Stars that he wanted to write about “ordinary people in extraordinary situations,” and I can hardly think of a better definition of what makes a domestic thriller.
YA has some fabulous domestic thrillers too, like I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, and Gone by Michael Grant. In YA, you tend to find that these thrillers have a secondary element outside of domesticity; Imaginary Girls is more of a psychological thriller and Gone has an important science fiction plot, but these elements don’t change the basic nature of them being domestic thrillers.
I also mentioned police procedurals. For me, what separates a cop novel I want to read from one I don’t is the answer to the question: “Do I want to have to listen to this character’s voice for 5+ novels?” I do like cop novels, especially ones that give themselves well to franchises, but again, I prefer that the focus of the series be on local crimes. There’s a reason Alex Cross sells a lot of novels: His is a voice people want to hear. He’s tough, but just as dedicated to his family as he is to his job. One of the reasons I think Rizzoli & Isles is so successful is the interaction between two smart, independent women who are not only great at their jobs, but who go through family dramas just like the rest of us. Stephanie Plum makes us laugh (and swoon) as she brings down Trenton’s crooks.
Having grown up in suburbia, I know it can be as terrifying as anywhere else, just in its own ways. Hand me a book that explores it well and I’m yours for the next 3 hours.