While I’ve been a little unfaithful (more than once), it’s fair to say that I’m in a committed relationship with crime. Crime novels, that is. The signs that I’d be a crime buff were there since adolescence. When my friends were off reading Babysitters’ Club, I preferred the company of Dr Kay Scarpetta. What’s not to admire about a woman catching serial killers by dissecting their victims? To experience the sting of a bullet, the ache of a chokehold, the thrill of the chase without any personal risk is the easiest thrill law abiding citizens can ask for.
I studied forensics and criminology as part of my psychology degree, but later in life I found myself having a lengthy affair with general fiction. I went a little soft, post-kids, but I still loved the high stakes, the grit, the suspense of murder mysteries, but also love dissecting the complexities within strained relationships – digging deeper into characters flaws.
That’s about when I discovered the appeal of domestic noir.
So, what exactly is it? Taken literally, it means ‘darkness in suburbia’, and originated as a film genre depicting cynicism and moral ambiguity. I think the literary version (termed suburban gothics, marriage thrillers or chick noir) casts a wider net.
Thrillers depend on building tension to a climax, a crescendo of suspense within the story that has readers holding their breath, skipping ahead to the final reveal. Whereas, the domestic noir subgenre relies on the tension within relationships; stained, rotten and ruined by lies, deception, and varying levels of physical or psychological abuse. Violence, mistrust, unreliable narrators, twists and turns – drama at its best is the core of domestic noir, which is exploding in the market.
Starting about a decade ago with best-selling phenomenon such as Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, and, more recently, The Couple Next Door and Big Little Lies, domestic noir tackles the seedy underbelly of life where supposedly safe settings (marriage, schools, workplaces) become alien, unreliable places where danger lurks in shadows. It is within these murky depths that people shed their skin, unleash their passions and allow themselves to be vulnerable. This genre takes those simmering feelings, hiding behind closed doors and takes them to extremes.
Story is about conflict. And if you ask any cop, the breeding ground for the greatest struggles is found in your average suburban street. I love how these tales blend the suspense of a mystery, the grit of a crime and the depth and heart of a character driven relationship drama.
After all, it’s relationships under strain that reveal true character, and where are the stakes higher than where our loved ones loiter under the presumption of safety? It is no surprise that families are a cauldron of crime.
There is extraordinary in the ordinary, fascination in exploring long-held beliefs about the role of women in the home, and it is these sub-plots that are woven into the best of domestic noir. Themes often focus on the very real threat intimate relationships can pose to women – domestic violence, controlling husbands, and generally men behaving badly.
Usually, the predominantly female victims overcome their captors/attackers. I believe content (media, novels, scripts) create culture, so I’m all for stories that push against the misogynistic culture that can result in violence towards women in any form. However, in my own writing, I’m also conscious of having a balanced approach to common flaws both sexes might exhibit.
My latest release The Day the Lies Began is a little darker than my earlier books. And while the novel certainly includes one very dangerous man, there are also two very good men and two rather flawed women who aren’t exactly innocent victims, nor above using their strengths to get what they want. Women have, of course, committed their share of murders, but often for different reasons.
This sub-genre is for those that love suspense, but without the often dry, predictable police procedures and crime-scene tape. These stories challenge the idea that the murderous villain is a stranger, not the woman who just dropped your kids to school.
I love it when ordinary people’s lives are pried open by extraordinary events – when you bear witness to unspeakable acts playing out in ‘soccer-mum’ territory. The normality in the setting only heightens the tension, forming part of the façade that hides the dirty deeds as you relate to the characters because they’re just like you.
After all, killers look just like their victims…
With a surfer-lawyer for a husband and three spirited sons, Kylie Kaden stays sane (and avoids the housework) by making things up for a living. Her debut Losing Kate (2014) was plucked from the Penguin Random House slush pile and later translated internationally.
Missing You, followed in 2015. She is also a columnist at My Child Magazine, but is the first to admit that despite having an honours degree in psychology, the wheels fall off at her place on a daily basis. The Day the Lies Began marks Kylie’s launch into the domestic noir-thriller market.
For a sample chapter or to find out more head to www.kyliekaden.com.au
Kylie Kaden is speaking at Sisters in Crime’s event, Domestic noir goes bush, Friday 27 September, 8:00 pm at South Melbourne’s Rising Sun Hotel.
Details & bookings: https://sistersincrime.org.au/event/domestic-noir-goes-bush/