Much of the hoopla around the popularity of psychological thrillers today is focused on the question of why women would want to worry our pretty little heads with something so violent. This implies that we’re all out there reading violent fiction purely from the standpoint of escapism. The modern psychological thriller, however, with its slow-build descents into relationship psychosis, is not too far from everyday experience. Even if we’ve never been with a partner who showed the tell-tale signs of potential abuse, we’ve all been friends with at least one person who has.
Of course, some of the red flags of crime writing are more realistic than others, and some clearly fit into well-worn but perennially enjoyable recurring fictional tropes. We may be able to tell that a character’s husband/boyfriend/wife/daughter/teacher/neighbor/coworker/stalker is no good, but the exact kind of nogoodnik they are can run the gamut from realistic to absurd.
Here is a list of the most glaringly obvious and least relatable red flags of crime fiction, because on Valentine’s Day, we all want to feel like we can spot a bad thing from a mile away (and we all want to feel secure in whatever our version of a good thing is). The following are presented in gender neutral tones, because crime fiction contains plenty of traps set for men by women, as well as vice versa (although of course we all know who’s most likely to be responsible for a real-life relationship’s turn towards violence). My inspiration for the examples derives from classic literature and cinema as well as the domestic suspense novel, given that most classic novels with even a tinge of romance are basically psychological thrillers anyway. See if you can spot the book from the red flag!
Also, if any of these are true about your relationship (and we sincerely hope that none of them are), you may be living in a psychological thriller.
CAN YOU SPOT THE BOOK FROM THE RED FLAG?
(SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM TO ACCESS ANSWER KEY)
1. Your distant cousin promises to sleep with you if you help seduce/destroy their enemy.
2. Your partner is threatened by your independent sleuthing skills learned from your ex-CIA mother.
3. Your husband’s mistress proposes to work with you to kill off your husband so you can run your French boarding school as a feminist paradise.
4. Your partner is so ready to get married, but not at all ready for you to appear in that pesky little documentary about your not-quite-salad days.
5. Your partner keeps you locked in the attic while seducing his child’s tutor.
6. The lights keep flickering, and your partner says they haven’t noticed (and there’s a surprisingly young Angela Lansbury hanging out in a French maid outfit).
7. Your partner moves back home after a long time away, suddenly wealthy, and ends up marrying your niece to spite you.
8. Your partner moves you to a rural college town and begins spending more and more time with their students for “tutoring.”
9. Your partner keeps spending way too much time with your daughter from a previous marriage, and your pie business is under-writing their excess.
10. Your partner promises you’ll be together forever—as soon as you finish killing their current spouse and collecting the insurance payout.
11. Your partner moves you to an isolated mansion full of lingering reminders of his first wife’s presence and the housekeeper is super creepy.
12. Your partner imprisons someone who looks remarkably like you in a mental asylum, and (thanks to a sympathetic art tutor) you discover this is but one part of a dastardly plan to steal your fortune.
13. Your partner returns from a train trip looking rather smug and talking about a new friend who can solve all of your problems.
14. Your partner holds you prisoner in a bookstore basement while editing your manuscript.
15. All of your partner’s previous romantic entanglements seem to go missing or die suddenly, and her sister’s always hanging around with a disapproving expression and a ton of bleach.
16. You and your partner both know you’re only marrying each other because you’re of the same social class and witty temperament, and yet you gaslight each other into thinking it’s love.
17. Your partner bases their romantic expectations on sentimental novels, and is subsequently disappointed by real life.
18. Your boss’s wife befriends you, despite your romantic entanglement with her husband, and gets you to finally start working out.
19. You live on a compound in the woods, and your partner tells you the world has ended and you can’t ever leave the bunker because there are fire monsters outside.
20. Your partner has a lock on the basement, gives you a key, and tells you never, never, to enter.
21. Your partner happens to know more about your movements than you do, and has possibly embedded a tracker in your shoulder.
22. You don’t remember much of your last vacation, and your partner decides to fill in the gaps for you while you recover from amnesia.
23. Your partner seems indifferent to your charms, and a strange, tentacled creature has taken up residence in your home.
24. You and your partner may be great at solving crimes, but you’ve never spend enough time together sober to tell if you actually like each other. Luckily, your dog has no idea how much you both drink.
25. You and your partner can’t stand each other, and for some reason decide that’s an excuse to be together forever.
1. Dangerous Liaisons, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
2. Monday’s Lie, Jamie Mason
3. Film: Les Diaboliques
4. Luckiest Girl Alive, Jessica Knoll
5. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
6. Film: Gaslight
7. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
8. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
9. Mildred Pierce, James M. Cain
10. Double Indemnity, James M. Cain
11. Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier
12. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
13. Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith
14. You, Caroline Kepnes
15. My Sister The Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite
16. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
17. Madame Bovary, Gustav Flaubert
18. Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough
19. TV Show: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
20. Folktale: Blackbeard
21. TV Show: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
22. Remind Me Again What Happened, Joanna Luloff
23. Film: Possession
24. The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett
25. Any Shakespeare Play