Binge-Reading: “Domestic” Thriller Edition

Following my foray into Appalachian noir, I found myself haunted by setting and images that were prevalent in the genre. I needed a palette cleanser. I decided to read what it seemed like every adult was reading: “domestic” thrillers. I headed to The Vault – the storage room at work where all our Advanced Reading Copies (ARCS) are stored. I grabbed for any books that looked like the next Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. I headed home with my book bag bursting with upcoming releases.

It seems that publishers are scrambling to find the next The Girl on the Train, or Woman in the Window, or Wife Next Door, etc. Currently, there are at least three male authors that use ambiguous pseudonyms in order to market themselves as female writers (I’m looking at you, Riley Sager). It was impossible to think that all of these books would be bad – but they all sounded like they would be. I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

And I was. Well, kinda.

The genre of “domestic” thrillers is one that is full of tropes. There must be secrets. There seems to be a plethora of password-protected cellphones and email accounts. The women are beautiful and the men are handsome. There is usually money. Lots of money. An affair (or two). Innocent (or not so innocent) children. Nice houses with manicured lawns and tasteful interiors. These are books that are saturated in consumerism: nice cars, designer clothes, name-brand electronics, high-paying jobs, and tropical vacations.

Over three days, I read the following books:

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

This one had an intriguing historical aspect centered around girls at an abandoned boarding school. There was also an effective subplot that focused on a Holocaust survivor.

In the present day, a scrappy freelance writer with a tortured past (her sister was gruesomely murdered on the grounds of the boarding school) decides to investigate the history of the boarding school. She has a cop boyfriend that is loyal, dependable, supportive, and handsome. Her mother is dead, her father is a famous Vietnam journalist.

Told in a classic split-narrative between past and present, the events unfold and reveal clues to the reader in small chunks. Once all is revealed, the book becomes a good example of what can go right with “domestic” thrillers. However, I don’t know if I will remember anything about this book in a month. Rating: B+

Her Pretty Face by Robyn Harding

What. The. Hell. Was. This.

Warning: there are spoilers, so if you want to actually read this book – please skip to the next section.

This book is very problematic. The main character is a self-proclaimed “chubby” middle-aged woman that is insecure and unlikeable. She hungers for approval from the rich moms in the carpool lane at the private school her son attends. She is embarrassed by things that the average woman shouldn’t be embarrassed about. She’s lazy until she receives the attention of a beautiful and skinny new mom in the neighborhood. Note: I mention female body weight because this book does. A lot.

The main character, Frances, does have a really hot and in-shape husband. That she is insecure about. In the husband’s defense, he is loyal and loves his wife. There are a few times in the book where it is implied that Frances’s insecurities are all in her head. The novelty that beauty can come in all shapes and sizes. This is not a book that one would find on a #MeToo reading list.

The domestic thriller part of the book is convoluted: one of the women was once a murderer. And not just any murderer, but a sadistic sexual one. It’s pretty clear which woman is which, and the novel doesn’t have any decent plot twists hiding at the end. It is pretty cut and dry, with the ending of the book failing to leave the reader satisfied. Rating: F

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

There is nothing more escapist than a book about young and pretty rich people. I feel like this book’s targeted audience is the Kardashians.

Erin and her fiancee Mark are about to get married. They are rich and living in a million dollar home in London. Their wedding is ridiculously expensive. They honeymoon in Bora Bora in a private cabana. They go deep-sea snorkeling. They find a bag full of cash and diamonds (duuuuuuude, this so happened to me once *eye roll*).

With the logic of people that watched Breaking Bad and thought it was a documentary, Mark and Erin decide to deposit the money into a Swiss bank account. Additionally, their foolproof plan involves selling the diamonds on the black market. They actually believe they will live happily (although ethically reprehensible) lives. Erin and Mark are idiots.

I probably don’t need to give you any more information about the book. Mayhem and violence ensue. The couple makes mistakes. There is a double cross and a semblance of a plot twist towards the end. Neither character takes the moral high ground. One of them lives happily every after. Knowing that this book was a pick for the Reese Witherspoon book club, I bet you can guess which one. Rating: C

Lies by T.M. Logan

A brief note about T.M. Logan: the author is a dude. Usually gender can be a non-issue, but remember how I mentioned the ambiguity that goes into the author names attached to “domestic” thrillers? Exactly. You could think that T.M. Logan is a woman. Which would be interesting considering that Lies is told entirely in the first person perspective of a male protagonist. Now that is a plot twist for a genre marketed to female readers.

The main character, Joe, is pretty likable. He’s a loyal husband, a teacher, and a hands-on dad. His wife, Mel, is portrayed as a shit mom, who neglects her adorable son to work late nights, and (wait for it) is having an affair with her best friend’s husband.

The book is titled Lies. And there are so many of them that it becomes hard to keep track of them all. By the time the plot twist happens (and it is a decent one), the lies and secrets and actions of the characters have all creeped into implausible territory. There is a lot of law breaking that occurs in this book, with very little serious consequence. I am pretty sure that if I acted the way Joe does when he finds out his wife cheated on him, that I would be arrested and thrown in a very dark cell. Rating: B