Last year proved to be a relatively quiet 12 months for the thriller market in terms of blockbusters. The publishing industry did its utmost to meet readers’ interests by offering the usual plethora of subgenres but there was no stand-out thriller as in previous years.
The ever popular domestic noir market still looks as strong as ever following the runaway successes of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and later Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train.
This subgenre has seen in recent years an exponential growth in interest as it changed the reading habits of many women who are preferring to seek out female-centric titles that keep them on the edge of their seats.
Women form the majority of thriller readers and their surge in interest in domestic noir has built up sales in the UK market of around 20m books per year.
This type of crime fiction is not only changing the psychological makeup of women in novels, but is possibly challenging the traditional narratives of the thriller.
The use of multiple narrators, a general absence of typical thriller tropes, and their softer climaxes seem to be altering the perspective of what is chilling, given that the stories often revolve around humdrum urban lives.
But framing a story around terrible marriages and abusive relationships is nothing new to the thriller market. It is a deeply mined subject of the traditional psychological thriller. Rebecca, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Dial M for Murder are all examples of the subgenres popularity in earlier decades.
Perhaps the real difference between the older classics and the modern domestic noir, is, as others have already pointed out, that the investigation being carried out by the writer is really about the breakdown of the relationship rather than the murder itself. The murder is no more than a McGuffin.
Money and control are often at the heart of a thriller, and it is no different in domestic noir. The woman is invariably dependent on a husband who is unfaithful and she feels her position becoming suddenly vulnerable because the man poses a threat.
But unlike the archetypically doomed femme fatales of the past – written mostly by men – the female characters in domestic noir tend to end up coming out on top. They are no longer the victims.
Amy in Gone Girl manages to get the upper hand, Jodi, a psychologist, in The Silent Wife, gets away with despatching her philandering partner, while in Season to Taste, dear Lizzie Prain has no qualms in eating her husband.
The thriller market has always been the golden goose for publishers, film makers, theatre and radio producers, alike. Nearly everyone from all backgrounds enjoys being transferred to an edgy world where they can be frightened or held in suspense.
It is an organic genre that keeps evolving and sub-dividing into subgenres. How long domestic noir will remain popular is anyone’s guess. This trend will no doubt reach a limit amongst readers and will probably give way one day to a new vogue in crime fiction, in the same way that Nordic noir thrillers are now starting to lose their shine.
Could the absence of a big blockbuster in 2017 be a sign of uncertainty about the direction that the thriller market is currently heading? Even in the cinema it seems to me that fewer traditional thrillers are being made. Is there some uncertainty about what people really want from a thriller today as there is so much competition from other genres?
A relatively fallow year for crime fiction doesn’t mean anything, of course, as the whole of the book market goes through such trends from time to time. While it is not a rare phenomenon it does seem curious that there was no real big splash in the thriller market last year given the huge number of books in the marketplace.
Too much choice? Not enough book critics in the media shining their torches on hidden gems? I have no idea how publishing houses pick and choose books, but as a consumer of their products I would urge them to go out on a limb and just take more risks.
Keep up to date with Tom Claver at http://www.tomclaver.co.uk