Jodi and Todd, Christine and Ben, Cecilia and John-Paul and -- of course -- Nick and Amy... Not the guest-list for a dinner-party (what a hellish party it would be) but four couples at the center of some of the most talked-about books of recent times. Step aside, Fifty Shades: This is the day of the marriage thriller.
Even if you're the one person left in the western hemisphere who hasn't read Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, if you've taken the subway or boarded an airplane in the past few months, you will almost certainly have seen someone clutching one of the books in this compulsive sub-genre of new psychological suspense writing. Books such as Liane Moriarty's The Husband's Secret and A.S.A. Harrison's The Silent Wife have riveted readers with their portraits of the relationships gone terribly -- and terrifyingly -- wrong.
As a subject, marriage has always attracted writers, of course. It's such an intimate relationship, and one that involves the things that concern people at the deepest levels: sex, money, children. And that's what makes it such rich material for psychological suspense: In these books, danger comes not from a faceless stranger but from the person who shares your bed. Your home -- the place where you imagine you're safest -- is actually the most dangerous place of all.
Marriage thrillers have long been big in cinema, from Dial M for Murder and The Postman Always Rings Twice to Sleeping with the Enemy, but what's behind this sudden boom on the fiction shelves? Cynics will say it's the Gone Girl effect, but it feels like more than that. After all, the protagonists of Gillian Flynn's first two novels were utter loners and Liane Moriarty had written four quite different novels before The Husband's Secret.
For me, there are two factors at work. As we marry later and later, we're going into marriage with more to lose. After years of being independent, the idea of sharing our lives -- and control -- can be frightening. Second, we're living in the age of exposure, sharing details of our personal lives on Twitter, Facebook and reality TV as never before. When relationships are good, we happily post wedding photos, pictures of holidays, our pets and children, but when things turn sour... silence. And that, for a writer, is when things get really interesting.
Here are some of the best -- and most chilling -- psychological suspense novels with marriages at their heart, both new and enduring.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
First published in 1938, this is still one of the best. Du Maurier's classic tale of a naïve young woman who marries a man tormented by his ex-wife even after her death is eerie and wonderful.
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
A terrifying portrait of the psychopath as a young man, Brighton Rock also features one of the most frightening marriages surely ever written. The scene in which Pinky effectively buys Rose from her father is bone-chilling.
Broken Harbor by Tana French
The fourth novel in French's Dublin Murder Squad sequence, Broken Harbor is a literary detective story, a portrait of post-crash Ireland and a gripping, tragic story of a marriage of two people who tried to do everything right and paid the ultimate price.
Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
As important as Gone Girl in the canon of new marriage thrillers, this book got people talking about the condition suffered by its protagonist, Christine, whose memory is wiped every time she goes to sleep. Really, though, it's about marriage, loyalty, trust -- and obsession.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The multi-million-selling global bestseller about the toxic marriage of selfish, unlikeable Nick and psychopathic Amy. Witty, observant and much-twisting, this was a landmark in the genre. The film, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, will be released this year.
How To Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman
Married to Hector for decades, Marta has been the good wife of the title, paying careful attention to the marriage manual given to her by her overbearing mother-in-law. When her son leaves home, however, and she stops taking her medication, Marta begins to have visions -- or are they memories? -- that she can't explain.
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Another global bestseller, this novel starts with Cecilia's discovery of an envelope addressed in her husband's handwriting marked with the instruction that it should be opened only in the event of his death. She opens it -- of course -- and discovers that he has been hiding a terrible secret.
The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
Married in all but name, Jodi and Todd live a privileged life in Chicago where Jodi runs her practice as a psychologist and lives an ordered life while turning a blind eye to Todd's compulsive philandering. An unputdownable story about how much we will tolerate before we can tolerate no more, this novel -- Harrison's first and last, sadly -- starts with the announcement that the controlled Jodi will soon have committed murder.
You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz
To be published in March, this eagerly awaited novel by the author of Admission is the story of Grace Reinhart Sachs, a therapist in New York City who has written a book, You Already Know, in which she castigates women for not listening to their intuition about men. Alas, she is about to discover how little she knows about her own husband.
Season to Taste by Natalie Young
Subtitled "Or How to Eat Your Husband," this British novel will be published in the U.S. in July. Marriage breakdown is taken to the extreme here as Lizzie Prain kills her husband, Jacob, with a shovel to the head -- then meticulously butchers, cooks and eats him.
Lucie Whitehouse is the author of the new book Before We Met.