A little over ten years ago, Gillian Flynn already had two successful thrillers under her belt, Sharp Objects and Dark Places, but her third release would be a genre-defining moment. Gone Girl propelled domestic noir into the spotlight, bringing in new readers to the thriller genre in droves, and paving the way for the now-wildly popular subset of the thriller genre.
Crime fiction, and even domestic suspense, didn’t start with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Amy certainly isn’t literature’s first unreliable narrator. However, the release of Gone Girl catapulted domestic thrillers into what they are today, it brought the genre’s readership to numbers it had never experienced. Gone Girl was the hook, it sank its teeth into readers everywhere, and still ten years later, domestic noir maintains its stronghold as one of the most sought-after genres. To see this in action, do a Google search for “books like Gone Girl,” and scroll through the hundreds of millions of results. Readers across the globe read Gone Girl and wanted more. They still do.
Within the domestic thriller writer community, there are few authors who don’t recognize what Flynn, and arguably one of the most well-known books in modern literature, Gone Girl, did for the genre.
Author Jess Kitching, a fresh face in the domestic thriller space, credits Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl as the inspiration that sparked her writing career. “Gone Girl is the book that made me want to write thrillers. I remember reading the twist, dropping the book and thinking I HAD to talk to someone about it. I wanted to write a book that could inspire the same reaction in a reader.” Her debut novel, The Girl She Was Before, and her sophomore novel, How to Destroy Your Husband, have proven that she has accomplished what she set out to do.
Today, readers’ insatiable thirst for the next domestic thriller with a jaw-dropping twist hasn’t wavered. There are book clubs dedicated to the genre, Facebook groups, and entire sub-communities on Instagram and TikTok, where readers connect over their love of twisty domestic noirs.
Readers connect with domestic noir due to its relatability, which adds that extra layer, bringing the thrill closer to home. Books in this genre take characters who could be your spouse, neighbor, or co-worker, and pose the question: What if? Marked by flawed characters, these twisty, propulsive plots keep readers engaged, on the edge of their seats, and losing sleep to read just one more chapter.
Author Kathleen Willett, whose debut The Mother of All Secrets, a Today Show Hoda & Jenna’s “Faves & Finds” said, “Domestic thrillers appeal to crime fiction lovers because they hit close to home, literally. They’re always just plausible enough that you have to ask yourself as you’re reading, ‘Could this happen to me? How well do I really know the people closest to me?’ The potential for relatability makes them even scarier, which of course is what crime fiction readers and writers want!”
Book influencer Carrie @carriereadsthem_all agrees: “I love domestic thrillers because they feature ordinary people caught in circumstances that could happen to any of us. The universal themes of betrayal, jealousy, and revenge are so appealing!” This sentiment was echoed by book influencer Miesha (@bookedanbusy): “I love reading domestic thrillers because they are real life people I could consider my neighbor or friends. What appeals me to them as a reader is that you never know what happens behind closed doors, and the characters are your ordinary, run of the mill people you’d least suspect to be involved in a horrible crime.”
The fascination with humanity’s dark side and relationships crosses boarders, fueling the global appeal of domestic thrillers, a genre that shines a spotlight on these themes. Sisters Krista & Brittany who run the bookstagram account @thriller_book_sisters explain, “Domestic thrillers is one of our favorite sub-genres because of the glimpse into relationships and the crimes resulting from those relationships. These thrillers are bursting with gaslighting, deceit, revenge, and lots of secrets. We tend to get fully invested in the plot and characters that will leave us on the edge of our seats, which is every thrill-seeking reader’s goal.”
Flynn isn’t the only author who has risen to domestic thriller stardom, the genre includes bestselling authors Lisa Jewell, Ruth Ware, Freida McFadden, Alice Feeney, Jennifer Hillier, Melanie Gideon, Tarryn Fisher, Rachel Hawkins, and Lucy Foley, to name a few. All bringing fresh perspectives, unique voices, and their own spin to the genre.
USA Today bestselling author Kaira Rouda is among these leading voices. When asked what she loves about the genre, she said, “I think these stories make us feel grateful we’re not living them. Maybe it’s a little voyeuristic, too? Whatever it is, I’m just as guilty. Is it escape or is it to feel better about our lives? I do know I am fascinated by places where everything seems perfect, purposefully so, but of course nothing ever is or could be. I’m drawn to suburban settings where people manufacture a façade of happiness but we all know that can’t be true, can’t be real, as much as we wish it was. It’s a uniquely American suburban dream. Insular neighborhoods, with outward beauty and perfection. The lawns are manicured, the seasonal holiday displays appropriately rotated, where kids ride bikes and play sports before sitting down to dinner with mom and dad. It’s cracking the surface, revealing what’s beneath, that is fun for me to explore as a novelist. As Kirkus Reviews noted about my novel, Somebody’s Home: ‘Whatever the opposite of family values is, Rouda seems intent on perfecting a genre that enshrines it.’ I love that.” Kaira Rouda continues to craft binge-worthy domestic noirs with her December 2022 release The Widow about a husband with secrets. A wife with no limits. A riveting novel of marriage, privilege, and lies.
Jessica Payne quickly made a name for herself in the domestic thriller genre with her 2022 debut Make Me Disappear and sophomore follow up The Lucky One. She explained her interpretation of the genre’s popularity, “Readers love domestic thrillers because it pulls back the curtain and lets you see what’s really happening behind closed doors. We all secretly love being voyeurs, whether we’ll admit or not. Every person, every family, has things they’d rather not talk about. Domestic thrillers let you in to the hidden lives of your neighbors, the rich people in the big house on the corner, that doctor everyone loves so much. Because no one is as nice or perfect as they seem.” Both an avid reader and writer of the genre Payne continued, “When I read our genre, I’m so impressed when an author successfully tricks me. I’m shocked, because the twist is so unexpected—annoyed, because I guessed wrong—and secretly pleased. Who doesn’t love a good surprise?”
As a reader, I’ve been drawn to darker fiction from a young age, with an — some may say —unhealthy obsession with horror and Stephen King. Like many others, Gone Girl, and Flynn’s entire backlist ignited something in me. I was hooked and haven’t stopped seeking thrills through the page of domestic thrillers since. So not unlike other domestic thriller authors, I credit Flynn for helping me discover my creative voice in a genre I love. Through my books, I explore the darker side of humanity, those emotions that make people snap and do bad things. I create characters who don’t do the expected. They are flawed, and nuanced, and sometimes unlikable, but they could be you or someone you know if circumstances aligned just right. My debut thriller We’re All Lying will be released on March 14, 2023, and my sophomore novel My Darlings follows in 2024.
Flynn redefined a genre in 2012 with Gone Girl, seismically changing the literary world. Now in 2023, she continues to make her mark on this industry with her latest endeavor, Gillian Flynn Books, an imprint of Zando. Available now, Scorched Grace by Margot Douaihy is the imprint’s debut. “There has always been an appetite for mystery and noir stories about domestic life,” Douaihy said. “Post-war books by authors like James M. Cain and Patricia Highsmith examined darker themes of love, lust, and socio/economic anxiety. But the profound success of Gone Girl signaled a seismic market shift and helped solidify the dominance of the domestic noir genre within popular fiction. Gillian Flynn took a swing at the narratological awareness around character interiority, marital relations, and gender. Gone Girl paved the way for authors to roll the dice with new noir takes on family dynamics. My book, Scorched Grace, is hardboiled inspired, with some noir and raticionation signatures. I am so grateful to Gillian Flynn Books for giving me a platform to write about themes like identity and queer resilience. Diverse PoVs enhance and storytelling, and Gillian Flynn Books is helping to usher in an exciting new chapter for intersectional genre authors.”
I can confidently speak for readers and authors in the domestic thriller space: Thank you Gillian, we wouldn’t be here without you.