There’s something particularly sinister about discovering there is a monster living in your home, and that you’re married to her or him. It makes for a delicious set-up for a novel, especially when you mix in all of society’s preconceived notions about the perfect couple. We should all know by now that there is no such thing: perfect couples are just a perfect illusion. In these works of domestic suspense, one spouse is clueless; the other something awful, maybe even a killer. Gone Girl may have kicked off the trend, but it’s still going strong.
What draws readers to thrillers about marriage as a space of danger? For some, it’s the fact that we understand the distinct type of torture that two people who know each other very well can inflict, whether emotionally or in extreme cases, physically. Just take a glance at the explosive headlines and non-stop coverage when a husband kills his wife or lover, despite the fact it is all too common in our society. In fact, women are generally murdered by someone they know. According to the CDC, half of all female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by a former or current intimate partner. That’s both terrifying because it’s true, and deeply disturbing because these numbers don’t change much through time. Those are the facts. In my novel Best Day Ever, the reader begins to wonder if Paul’s wife Mia could become one of these victims. It’s the pulse of the story, and the unfortunate reality of our society.
But despite all of these grim realities, the enjoyment in reading a marriage suspense novel, I think, is that we’ve been there. We’ve all had intimate relationships that worked, and others that didn’t. We’ve allowed ourselves to pick a partner for better or for worse, and despite the picture perfect wedding day, there will be bad times. Dark days, funny days, sad days, and if we’re lucky, great days together, too. Part of the fun of reading these types of stories may be to remind ourselves how lucky we are. Because even our worst days with our partner, won’t come close to Mia’s weekend getaway with her husband Paul. And that makes it fun to take a glimpse behind closed doors of seemingly perfect lives and realize, wow, I don’t have it that bad.
Here are some of my absolute favorite psychological thrillers that revolve around marriage:
The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine
Like the Constantine sisters wrote this wonderful thriller and I like to read about privileged people. Money doesn’t insulate you from bad guys, it turns out. Maybe it draws them to you? That’s certainly the case with scheming Amber, who the current Mrs. Parrish doesn’t seem to see coming. The Last Mrs. Parrish is a twisty, wonderful tale told in the voice of the first and second wife. Centering around the husband, wife and home-wrecker, reader be warned, there are a few scenes of domestic violence. It’s the cautionary tale of watching out for what you wish for, and how if it looks too good to be true, it probably is, and I couldn’t put it down.
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekannen
Another novel where women are fighting over a man, The Wife Between Us is a twisty and suspense-filled read where you’ll be surprised all the way to the last page. Featuring a scheming ex-wife, a husband with many secrets and a naïve new soon-to-be wife #2, the book description says it all: assume nothing. In this novel, the characters are not what they first appear. Read it and you’ll see what I mean.
The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn
A Hitchcockian thriller about an agoraphobic woman and her neighbors across the street, The Woman in the Window is a fast-moving story. Anna is convinced something terrible has happened; and it has. But as Finn’s clever plot unfolds, we realize the monsters in her mind may be more powerful than what she sees across the street. Or are they? This story takes relationships to a new level, showing how even when things have ended, you can still be haunted by those you have loved. PG-13 for some scenes of suspense and violence.
Any novel by author B.A. Paris (Behind Closed Doors, The Break Down, Bring Me Back)
Can you tell I’m a huge B.A. Paris fan? Paris’ novels all deal with husbands and wives behaving badly. In her first novel Behind Closed Doors, we meet Grace and Jack, a flawless and wealthy young couple who love to entertain in their perfect mansion. But Grace’s fear is unmistakable. The only question is, what is she afraid of? Or who is she afraid of? B.A. Paris seems particularly interested in whether knowledge of another person’s actions makes you culpable in those actions, leaving space for the reader to make up her own mind. This brilliant story won’t soon leave your imagination.
The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle
I was hooked on this story from beginning to end. As the story opens, Iris Griffith discovers how little she knows about her husband, Will, after he is allegedly killed in a plane crash on his way to a conference. But did he die? Iris is determined to get to the truth and we follow along, hurriedly turning every page. I loved it. This is a true suspense, with little to no violence. Pure page-turning bliss!
Lie to Me and Tear Me Apart by JT Ellison
Sure to keep you up reading all night. Ellison is a master at suspense, and creating troubled wives and husbands, so you’ll be happy to meet celebrated writers Sutton and Ethan KMontclair in Lie to Me. They are the perfect couple, or so everyone thinks, until Sutton disappears. A fantastic nod to Gone Girl, with a twist. Tear Me Apart continues the story and came out this August 28th. These stories do feature some violence, but Ellison writers them in a way that they appear melodramatic, and not too intense.
The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd
Oh, what some people will do for love. Samantha campaigned to help free Dennis, who has been wrongly imprisoned for a brutal murder. Their love begins with letters while he’s still in prison, but blossoms into marriage once he is released. The problem is, now that he’s her husband, Dennis doesn’t seem quite so innocent after all. Creepy, right? But we can’t feel too bad for protagonist Samantha; after all, she knew Dennis’ criminal record from the start, and the main question is, does she believe he really did it? Amy won the Daily Mail’s first novel contest with this psychological suspense. Give it a read.