When I began writing The Marriage Lie, I knew right off the bat it was a different kind of story than I was used to writing. My first two novels were women’s fiction with a dash of suspense and some romance, but the story in The Marriage Lie—a husband dying under mysterious circumstances, a wife determined to dig up the truth about the man she was in love with—could only be a suspense. There was really no other way to write it and do the story justice.
And so I set out to write the type of story that I love to read—one with a strong, likeable woman in the leading role and enough plot twists to keep the reader guessing. Think: Julia Heaberlin’s Black-Eyed Susans, Kate Moretti’s The Vanishing Year, A.J. Banner’s The Twilight Wife and Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger. Like The Marriage Lie, these stories feature normal, everyday women in the lead. These women are not spies. They’re not private detectives or trained killers. They are ordinary women living ordinary lives…until something extraordinary happens. A kidnapping, a murder, an accident that steals their memory or a plane crash that steals their husband. Whatever it is, it flips their lives upside down and sets the story in motion.
Unlike novels narrated by unreliable characters—books like The Good Girl and The Girl on the Train, where the narrators have something to hide—the heroine in The Marriage Lie is remarkably normal. Iris has loving parents, a doting twin brother, a stable, middle-class upbringing. She wants what so many of us want out of life—to fall in love, to get married, to start a family, to live happily ever after. Her ordinary desires make her instantly relatable, which makes the dangers she faces feel that much more personal. The reader gets a visceral punch, because it could just as well be their name written on the page.
Because domestic suspense stories often star women and are written largely for a female audience, emotions play a big role in the story. In The Marriage Lie, it’s not just about the action on the page, but about how the character responds to what happens. Iris loses her husband under suspicious circumstances. In addition to her grief and confusion, she’s also dealing with feelings of betrayal, and her emotions color every decision she makes from there on out. The action drives the emotion and the emotion drives the action, and the two become so intertwined that one can’t exist without the other. Her next move becomes even more unpredictable, both for her and the reader. What will she do now? Who can she trust? Her story is dark and puzzling.
As readers, we all love asking ourselves “what if…?” What if this awful thing happened to me? What would I do in this situation? Domestic suspense brings the suspense into the home and allows us to live the story we’re reading. The characters and their relationships and their lives feel very real and personal, and that is what makes these stories so exciting and engaging.
Do you love domestic suspense? What books has caught your eye in the genre? Let us know in the comments below!