As a reader who has always enjoyed devouring thrillers since childhood, I’m pleasantly surprised to see a spate of women writers penning crime thrillers. While Agatha Christie has won many hearts consistently, for a very long time there were only a few good men such as Robin Cook, Frederick Forsyth and Robert Ludlum followed by James Patterson and Baldacci who held fort when it came to crime and thrillers.
Now with the stupendous success of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, a new trend has been ushered in and, of course, a new name has been coined for it: Domestic Thrillers. Women writing about diabolic intentions, deception, murder, intrigue and grisly murders that are hatched and executed within the confines of the home and family. In the last few years I have read more thrillers by women authors than men. And each of them brilliantly written.
While earlier thrillers were restricted to subjects related to war, espionage, secret service, double agents and contract killers—albeit very gripping and thoroughly enjoyable—the new spate of domestic thrillers is like a breath of fresh air, or should I say a cold shiver down the spine? A new chilling feeling or relationships gone awry, nagging questions at the back of your mind: do you really know your partner or your neighbour or your BFF in whom you confide your deepest secrets. There’s nothing more horrifying and disturbing than imagining a twisted mind in your book club or maybe your neighbourhood!
Another new aspect that I have noticed and immensely relished in these thrillers written by women authors is the experimental narrative structure. As an author, I don’t just like to read for pleasure but also to learn. Gillian Flynn showed the rest of them the way by using a remarkable narrative structure. First-person narrative of both characters and each talking about the situation from their point of view that led to heightened dilemma for the reader—who is speaking the truth and who is lying. The intelligent narrative structure becomes an integral part of the story.
But the age-old conundrum of do women writing thrillers gain easy acceptance still exists. So one sees that in few instances women authors opt for androgynous names rather than their own feminine ones. Case in point: JK Rowling or to be more precise, Joanne Rowling, writes under the pen name of Robert Galbraith, BA Paris and CL Taylor are women who use their initials rather than their full names. But these are only few instances. It is indeed heartening to see women venture into the dark and not shy away.
Not just in the West but at home too, women are taking to writing thrillers and crime stories. One just needs to do a simple Google search on Indian women writing thrillers and a long list scrolls down. While literary agents are of the belief that none among the women thriller writers in the country have struck it big, like mythology or romance, I’m sure it’s not too far away.
We are living in difficult times and more so for women, with cases of violence against women being reported in abundance. It is bound to find its way in what we write. My recent book Nobody’s Child is the story of a young girl shunned by her family, who comes to Mumbai to try her luck as a singer in the music contest and crosses path with people who have an agenda of their own. Politics, drug gangs and senseless violence find a way into the book. Singapore-based Damyanti Biswas’s debut book, You Beneath Your Skin, is about the horrors of acid attacks. A superbly crafted thriller, it weaves a chilling tale of a perpetrator who defaces his victims. Tanusree Poddar, Madhulika Liddle, Ruchi Koka… the list is long. Women are writing thrillers and crime stories and each of these books are hard-hitting, chilling and adrenaline-pumping. Here’s to women breaking through yet another stereotype and may our tribe increase!
By Invitation Kanchana Banerjee Author