The Lure of Domestic Noir

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Domestic noir is a growing genre. Given successes such as Paula Hawkin’s GIRL ON A TRAIN and Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL, it appears that regular domestic situations are a fertile breeding ground for suspense thrillers. Everyday dramas play out around the kitchen tables and the bedrooms of family homes. In fact, generally speaking, the more life is presented as "perfect' to the outside world, the more we find very strange goings-on behind closed doors.

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Siobhan-MacDonald-author-writer

Column by Siobhán MacDonald, author of TWISTED RIVER
(March 2016, Penguin Books). Siobhán studied in university in
Galway, Ireland. She then worked as a writer for the technology
industry in Scotland, and then in France, before returning to Ireland.
She now lives in Limerick with her husband and two sons. Follow her on Twitter

We only have to look to the bizarre and dubious private behavior of high-profile people in public life to attest to this. Of course, such behavior is not confined only to those in the public eye. Individuals who appear to be normal, professional, respectable, family people can just as easily turn out to be sinister and deviant. Perhaps this is exactly why domestic noir is so powerful. It’s unsettling precisely because it lies darkly somewhere between the creepy and the familiar.

(Literary terms defined -- the uncommon and common.)

My novel, TWISTED RIVER, is a chilling tale of domestic noir that recounts what happens when a seemingly ideal house-swap goes horrendously wrong. In this thriller two families come to an arrangement about swapping homes on either side of the Atlantic, one—a quirky house at Curragower Falls in Limerick, and the other—a smart Manhattan apartment at Riverside Drive, New York. They have never met in person, only on the Internet.

On the surface, the O’Brien and Harvey families are similar. Two professional couples, each with two kids roughly the same age. Both families badly need a holiday as they are going through troubled times. However, as the holiday unfolds, they soon realize that rather than soothe their ills they have unwittingly stepped into the dark spaces the other has left behind.

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Domestic Noir allows the reader to get under the skin of the characters and to explore what’s going on in their heads—their wants, desires, and motivations. It allows for increased voyeurism. No longer is it enough for this new breed of savvy readers to know who committed the crime, or how they committed it. These readers want to know far more. They want to get involved in the psychology of a crime—why a villain did something as well as how they did it.

It’s fair to say that Domestic Noir draws much of its appeal from characters that are generally engaging. Certainly for me, when characters are flawed, they’re at their most intriguing. Often, the reader is never quite sure who the villain is—perhaps that too is part of its appeal. Readers are allowed to become armchair detectives, solving crimes from afar. They’re allowed to connect with their inner Sherlock Holmes from the comfort of their living rooms or their train commute.

(What does that one word mean? Read definitions of unique & unusual literary words.)

What happens to relationships of ordinary people when they’re put under pressure both from inside and outside relationships makes for engrossing reading. People do strange things and react bizarrely when under pressure. Everyday life can turn on a dime and catastrophic events sometimes happen out of nowhere. Someone can just be in the wrong place at the wrong time, say the wrong thing to the wrong person, or simply make a small mistake that snowballs into something grievous and sinister. Domestic Noir explores these many possibilities and extrapolates on everyday situations that we can all identify with.

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