This is the title I’ve selected for a program I’ll be presenting in the not too distant future. I was pleased – probably too much so – with myself for coming up with it.
Once the first few moments of self-satisfaction passed, I began casting about for content. I came up with this list:
- Domestic (i.e. psychological) suspense
- Classics reissues and rediscoveries
- International authors and settings
- Use of actual historical personages as detectives
- Historical mysteries
- Regional mysteries (U.S.)
- “Crime fiction is finally getting the critical respect it deserves”
I was immediately filled with unease. Are these trends necessarily hot? Are they especially new? Are they even trends, properly called? And what about that pert little exclamation point? Perhaps I should at least modify the punctuation, e.g. ‘Hot new trends in crime fiction?’ But what a woeful lack of confidence is betrayed thereby!
More often than not, domestic suspense involves a family menaced by a threat from outside (and sometimes, from inside) the family unit. Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me is a good example of the subgenre. Gone Girl, a book I couldn’t get through, is, from what I know of it, yet another, and can possibly be credited with jump starting the present trend.
Another book that could possibly fit into this category is What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross. I’d never heard of this novel until it was chosen by one of my book groups. The plot hinges on a kidnapping rather than a murder. The writing isn’t brilliant, but the story grabbed me. Both the kidnapper and the circumstances are unusual, but the motive behind the crime is all too understandable. The abduction occurs near the beginning of the narrative; the description of the fallout from it is very compelling. My emotional response was unexpectedly strong.
It should be mentioned that domestic suspense is more often written by women, with a woman as the featured protagonist. The Library of America’s two volume edition of Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s contains some excellent examples. This collection was curated by Sarah Weinman, whose knowledge of this field is deep, as is her enthusiasm for it. (Last year the Usual Suspects discussed one of the novels included in this collection, Margaret Millar’s Edgar winner Beast in View.)
These mid-twentieth century works provide a neat segue into the subject of crime fiction classics. Stay tuned…