Trend Alert: Exploring the 'Moms in Danger' Thrillers

Posted by Cybil on March 19, 2018
Mystery writer Jessica Strawser is the author of this month's Not That I Could Tell and serves as editor-at-large for Writer's Digest. Here, Strawser digs into a new trend taking over the domestic thriller genre: moms in danger.

Look into any so-called publishing trend, and you'll likely find a mysterious creative synergy: After all, today's new releases began to take shape years ago, as their authors drafted whatever most compelled them—wholly unaware that like forces were simultaneously compelling other authors to follow related story threads.

Take, for instance, my new release, Not That I Could Tell. The story was very loosely inspired years ago, not by a trend or a headline but by personal experience: the murder of a friend in a domestic violence incident. The story that evolved bears almost no resemblance to my own, except in the heart of the questions it raises: A young, well-liked mother gone missing becomes a catalyst for her neighbors and friends to grapple, while trying to help find her, with how much we should know about what's happening behind closed doors.

When I first heard Not That I Could Tell couched as part of a trend of "moms in danger" in domestic suspense, I had to pause—I'd not thought of the trend in precisely those terms before—but not for long. A glance at my shelves and again at my "TBR" pile proved the observation right and got me thinking about the forces at play far beyond my own writer's room.

Did it begin with the plight of Celeste planning her hope-she-won't-need-it escape in Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies? The concern over where Bernadette went in Maria Semple's breakout hit? A 24-hour news cycle filled with real-life mothers revealed too late to have been, unbeknownst to their friends and family, in serious jeopardy?

All of the above, perhaps. The domestic suspense genre is defined by a threat that comes not from a stranger but from within our inner circles. And while these stories often, but not always, feature subsets of "suspicious husbands" and "children in danger" (I’ve written about both myself; in my 2017 debut, Almost Missed You, a "perfect" husband absconds with his young son in the middle of a family vacation), perhaps it's this new subset that strikes women readers, and mothers in particular, as the most heart-gripping of all.

Because while most of us would and do selflessly put our children before ourselves—and while little is more unthinkable than something horrible happening to the people we love most—a threat to our safety is a threat to our families. We would fight, with all our being, to get back to them or to remain at their sides.

And thus we fight vicariously right alongside these protagonists, on a primal level as well as an emotional one.

On bestseller lists of late, mothers also vanished—are they dead or alive?—in page-turners like Janelle Brown's Watch Me Disappear and Chris Bohjalian's The Sleepwalker, and found themselves unwitting targets in psychological thrillers such as Shari Lapena's The Couple Next Door, Liv Constanine's The Last Mrs. Parrish, and Mary Kubica's Every Last Lie.

As this wavelength continues into 2018, here are some other titles I've enjoyed so far and a few I'm looking forward to getting my hands on:

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)

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message 1: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Drake Great piece, Jessica! It's interesting how many permutations there are of the missing spouse or kid plots. Thanks for mentioning Just Between Us on your list of enjoyable thrillers!

message 2: by BookWormYami (new)

BookWormYami Such a great article!

message 3: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Strawser BookWormYami wrote: "Such a great article!"

Glad you enjoyed it -- thanks for saying so!

message 4: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Strawser Rebecca wrote: "Great piece, Jessica! It's interesting how many permutations there are of the missing spouse or kid plots. Thanks for mentioning Just Between Us on your list of enjoyable thrillers!"

My pleasure! Both JUST BETWEEN US and ONLY EVER YOU have kept me up past my bedtime. :)

message 5: by Joanne (new)

Joanne Serling I recently finished The Glass Forest and am still thinking about it weeks later. Great piece. I'll check out the other books.

message 6: by Jess (last edited Mar 21, 2018 01:22PM) (new)

Jess What an amazing article! Some of these are on my wish list to purchase once released, and some I hadn't come across yet but can't wait to read! It's not exactly scary-mommy reading, but Because I Was Lonely is what I am currently reading and it's so spot on how mothers' can get caught in the same-ole same ole of mommyhood, and relish a little attention from the boy's of our younger years. And just how bad things can get when the little harmless attention becomes sooooo much more! Hope other readers will enjoy this one as well!

message 7: by Cindy Joneson (new)

Cindy Joneson B. A. Paris had the best!!

message 8: by Sohanram (new)

Sohanram Panna Ram Thanks to you.

message 9: by Jess (new)

Jess Just downloaded Inlaws and Outlaws, hope to start this afternoon! Thank you for the recommendation Kate!

message 10: by Kate (new)

Kate Fulford Jess wrote: "Just downloaded Inlaws and Outlaws, hope to start this afternoon! Thank you for the recommendation Kate!"

Hope you enjoy the tale, Jess - let us all know what you thought of it too! /Kate

message 11: by Liz (new)

Liz Wright I definitely noticed this trend and also a trend of domestic fiction in general - the interest in seeing what goes on in other people's homes and how their lives "work." Could we be socially comparing ourselves to see where we stand on the "hot mess" scale or even feeling the lack of knowing our neighbors well? Great list of titles, I WTR listed a lot of them.

message 12: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Glynn Try "what she knew" by Cara Hunter..I loved it..

message 13: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Glynn Catherine wrote: "Try "what she knew" by Cara Hunter..I loved it.."
Sorry I meant by GillyMacMillan,but I loved "Close to home" by Cara Hunter too..both brilliant..odd I read them close together and both share some characteristics so I got a bit mixed up..

message 14: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Glynn Sorry I got that wrong..Cara Hunter wrote "Close to Home" and I loved it but I also loved "What she knew" by Gilly MacMillan..I read them close together and both share some themes..I got mixed up. sorry..both fit into the above trend..

message 15: by Nicole (new)

Nicole Don't forget Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips!

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