Instead of spies jumping from helicopters or rogue agents trying to find ticking bombs, domestic thrillers follow everyday people who find themselves in thrilling and often dangerous situations related to domestic life.
Because of their relatable settings and characters, domestic thrillers takes vicarious thrills to a whole other level by making us wonder if the same really could happen to us.
10 Must-Read Domestic Thrillers
Below are 10 must-read domestic thrillers that whose plot twists are anything but domesticated.
You might notice that I’ve left out two prominent domestic thrillers from the last decade—Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Both are excellent thrillers, but also two of the most well-known, so we’re giving both newer and lesser known titles a moment in the spotlight.
You can, however, check out our list of the best books like Gone Girl.
1. The Husbands by Chandler Baker
In this twist on The Stepford Wives, a successful attorney and her family move to Dynasty Ranch, an exclusive suburban neighborhood. There, Nora meets a group of high-powered women, including a tech CEO, a neurosurgeon, and a best-selling author.
Nora notices that the husbands of these women are remarkably supportive, helping to equally split the “second shift” of household chores and management with their wives.
But when Nora agrees to help with a resident’s wrongful death case, she uncovers a plot that may explain the secret to having it all.
2. The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
Lucy knows she isn’t the wife Diana had always envisioned for her son. And while Diana keeps Lucy at a cordial distance, Lucy still keeps trying for the sake of her husband and family.
When Diana is found dead, what initially looked like a suicide is quickly ruled a murder by police.
Diana was loved by her community—who could have wanted her dead? And why did she make a last-minute change to her will to disinherit both of her children?
3. Every Last Secret by A.R. Torre
Cat worked hard to get where she is now, with a beautiful home and a successful, handsome husband, William.
When a friendly new couple moves in next door, Cat is cautious, but still welcomes them with open arms.
Unlike Cat, Neena wears off-the-rack dresses, struggles with personal issues, and has a husband who just can’t seem to deliver on his promises. This new move reminds Neena of everything she doesn’t have—everything Cat has, including William.
4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Elena Richardson has always played by the rules, and Shaker Heights is a neighborhood with lots of them. In this quaint, progressive suburb, Elena lives in a perfect home with her perfect family.
Then, Mia Warren moves in with her daughter Pearl and threatens to burst the town’s idyllic bubble.
Mia is an artist and single mother with a mysterious history, and when a custody battle divides the town with Mia and Elena on opposing sides, Elena finds motivation to look into Mia’s secret past.
5. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Nine strangers gather at a remote health and wellness resort in hopes of bettering themselves.
Some want to lose weight, some want to find motivation, and others are there for reasons they can’t even face themselves.
Then there’s their strange and charismatic host, the owner and director of Tranquillum House, who claims to have all the answers. But it’s not long before the nine guests start to question whether they should run while they can.
6. Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena
After a tense Easter dinner with their three adult kids, Fred and Sheila Merton are found brutally murdered.
Their children are devastated, of course. Aren’t they? They did all stand to inherit millions, and thanks to their vindictive father and neglectful mother, they never were much of a happy family.
7. The Best of Friends by Lucinda Berry
Lindsey, Kendra, and Dani are best friends whose children are involved in a tragedy that leaves one dead, one in a coma, and another too traumatized to speak.
This tragedy soon pits family against family as the mothers make troubling discoveries that lead to chilling questions, making them wonder how much they really knew their children or each other.
8. Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost by Lindsay Marcott
After losing everything—her job, mother, relationship, and home— Jane’s friend arranges for her to work on a Big Sur estate tutoring the wealthy owner’s daughter in exchange for a cottage.
Jane knows that Evan Rochester has been accused of killing his wife, and even though she’s skeptical of his claims that she drowned herself, Jane still falls herself falling for the secretive Evan as she also grows closer to his daughter.
But when a ghostly presence makes repeat appearances, Jane is determined to find answers, and she soon uncovers evidence that makes her question Evan’s innocence. How much will the truth cost her?
9. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Korede’s sister, Ayoola, has an inconvenient habit of killing her boyfriends.
Thankfully, Korede knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, has a trunk big enough for a body, and stops Ayoola from posting on Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend.
When the handsome doctor Korede works with and has long been in love with asks her for Ayoola’s phone number, she must decide how long she’s willing to protect her sister.
10. The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney
The Girl Before tells the stories of two women—Emma and Jane—who have lived at different times at One Folgate Street, designed by the neurotic Edward.
Edward retains full control of the home and maintains strict rules: no books, throw pillows, photos, or personal items. Jane, the current resident, unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, and experiences the same terror as the girl before.
What Makes a Domestic Thriller?
Domestic thrillers stand in contrast to the classic action-packed stories traditionally associated with the thriller genre.
Instead of rooftop chases and ticking bombs, domestic thrillers often combine elements of crime or psychological thrillers and set them against the backdrop of interpersonal relationships and familiar settings, like the home. In recent years, a popular example is Gone Girl, in which the old ‘it’s-always-the-husband’ trope gets turned on its head.
There might be some sort of secret or mystery standing between a couple or family. The focus on interpersonal relationships makes domestic thrillers relatable for most people, which is why they can feel especially eerie and thrilling.
A Thrilling Twist on the Familiar
Because domestic thrillers use familiar settings and situations, they speak to some of our greatest fears and curiosities, even if some twists seem soap opera–worthy.
Everyone has secrets, and domestic thrillers will make you think about what the person next to you may be hiding—or even what you’ve kept hidden yourself.