Domestic Suspense

The term “domestic suspense“, as defined by Sarah Weinman, refers to “a category of crime fiction that did not rest easily within the largely male, American, hard-boiled school created by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, or in the largely female, British “Golden Age” of detective fiction best represented by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.”

Simultaneously she clarifies she didn’t originate the term.

And she ends up saying that “stories of domestic suspense—written by once successful, later forgotten women authors like Dorothy B. Hughes, Charlotte Armstrong, and Margaret Millar—charted a third path. These works of fiction were less interested in detective work and crime-solving and more attuned to the instability and fear that lurked within homes, families, and the self. Boundaries blurred. Wrongs and resentments metastasized inside the minds of the characters, and weren’t necessarily righted. In these books, mounting worries about childcare, say, or a cheating spouse could escalate until erupting into scenes of terror, confrontation, and sometimes revenge.” (Source: The Root of All Evil –Tana French and the state of domestic suspense– by Sarah Weinman)

In my view, both the term and its definition are very interesting and it is a pity they have not been more widely accepted. It is true we can find similar terms, such as “domestic thrillers“, “suburban noir“, and others but, as far as I understand, there is no unanimous agreement about what we mean when using those terms. Each one defines them its own way. Hence the importance of adopting a more precise term.

Chronology of Books, 1940–1975

Women in Crime. An Interview with Sarah Weinman

Further reading:

25065636Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s: A Library of America Boxed Set (Women Crime Writers: Library of America #1-2) by Sarah Weinman (Editor)

The Library of America and editor Sarah Weinman redefine the classic era of American crime fiction with a landmark collection of eight brilliant novels by the female pioneers of the genre, the women who paved the way for Gillian Flynn, Tana French, and Lisa Scottoline.  

Though women crime and suspense writers dominate today’s best seller lists, the extraordinary creations of the mid-century female pioneers of the genre are largely unknown. Their work, influential in its day and still vibrant and extraordinarily riveting, is long overdue for rediscovery. Now The Library of America makes these classic books available in a deluxe two-volume collector’s edition.
From the 1940s, here are Vera Caspary’s famous career girl mystery Laura ; Helen Eustis’s intricate campus thriller The Horizontal Man ; Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place , the terrifyingly intimate portrait of a serial killer; and Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall , in which a wife in wartime is forced to take extreme measures when her family is threatened.
The 1950s volume includes Charlotte Armstrong’s Mischief, the nightmarish drama of a child entrusted to a psychotic babysitter; Patricia Highsmith’s brilliant The Blunderer , which tracks the perverse parallel lives of two men driven toward murder; Margaret Millar’s Beast in View , a relentless study in madness; and Dolores Hitchens’s Fools’ Gold , a hard-edged tale of robbery and redemption.

About the Editor: Sarah Weinman is the author of Scoundrel, which will be published by Ecco/HarperCollins and Knopf Canada on February 22, 2022. She is also the author of The Real Lolita: A Lost Girl, An Unthinkable Crime, and a Scandalous Masterpiece, which was named a Best Book of 2018 by NPR, BuzzFeed, The National Post, Literary Hub, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Vulture, and won the Arthur Ellis Award for Excellence in Crime Writing. She also edited Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit & Obsession (Ecco), winner of the Anthony Award for Best Nonfiction/Critical Work; Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s (Library of America); and Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives (Penguin).

Weinman writes the twice-monthly Crime column for the New York Times Book Review. A 2020 National Magazine Award finalist for Reporting and the Calderwood Journalism Fellow at MacDowell, her work has also appeared most recently in New York, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, and AirMail, while her fiction has been published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and numerous anthologies. Weinman also writes (albeit more sporadically) the “Crime Lady” newsletter, covering crime fiction, true crime, and all points in between.

She lives in New York City. (Source: © 2022 Sarah Weinman)

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