Rightly or wrongly, marriage is still expected to be one of the most significant relationships of our lives. Somewhere along the way, most of us will pick one other person to love, cherish, and all of that. It doesn’t always go the way it’s supposed to, though. Some marriages end up dark and twisted – in real life, and in fiction. Here are thirteen twisted marriage thrillers that give a whole new meaning to “for better or for worse”.
The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald
The Cry is a dark, psychological thriller with a gripping moral dilemma, perfect for anyone who enjoys a story about good people doing bad things. Joanna is a young first-time mother, travelling to Australia with her nine-week-old baby Noah and her partner Alistair. They’re coming to wage a custody battle for Alistair’s child from his first marriage, but everything changes when Noah goes missing. The ensuing media storm is enough to throw a wrench in any marriage, but it turns out Joanna and Alistair have even darker depths that Fitzgerald plumbs to perfection. This is one of the best twisted marriage thrillers I’ve ever read, hands down, and the TV series adaptation is incredible, too. Read my full review of The Cry here.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
You can’t talk about twisted marriage thrillers without talking about Gone Girl, the blockbuster best-seller that defined the sub-genre. Flynn set the standard for books about marriages gone wrong, and about beautiful unlikeable women to boot, for years to come. The story begins (as so many do) with a pretty blonde woman going missing, and her husband the obvious suspect in her disappearance. But about half-way through, the reader discovers that the missing woman, Amy, has a bevy of secrets she’s been keeping very close to her chest, and it changes the game completely. Read my full review of Gone Girl here.
My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
The hint is right there in the title: My Lovely Wife is a twisted marriage thriller about a wife (and a marriage) that is anything but lovely. Millicent is the titular wife, and she and her (unnamed) husband appear to have the perfect suburban life. They’ve been married for fifteen years, they’re raising two kids, they work and they spend quality time together… only their quality time isn’t exactly what you’re picturing. The “secret” to keeping their marriage alive is darker and more twisted than you could possibly imagine, and it’s all about to unravel. This is a shockingly good debut that will have your chin on the floor.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Every marriage looks perfect from far enough away. Alicia Berenson seemed to have it all: high-profile career, gorgeous grand house, happy husband. Until, one night, he came home from work and she shot and killed him – then never said another word. In The Silent Patient, a criminal psychotherapist becomes obsessed with the case and begins working with Alicia, determined to get to the bottom of her crime. The investigation takes him down something of a rabbit hole, and soon you’ll be questioning his own motivations. Read my full review of The Silent Patient here.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
In some twisted marriage thrillers, even the characters don’t realise they’re in one – until they do. Cecilia is a happily married mother of three, waiting for her husband to come home from a business trip, nosing about in the attic looking for something when she finds something else entirely. It’s a letter, addressed to her in her husband’s handwriting, with instructions that she should only open it in the event of his death. Even though her husband is still alive and well, curiosity gnaws at her. What secret could he be keeping? The Husband’s Secret is one of Moriarty’s early-career novels, and it’s sure to get debate raging at your book club. Read my full review of The Husband’s Secret here.
Fates And Furies by Lauren Groff
Anyone who reads twisted marriage thrillers knows there are two sides to every story. That’s the truth at the heart of Fates And Furies. This is an unabashedly ambitious novel that skews to the side of the literary, but it will still have your heart in your throat. Charting the growth of a marriage over decades, it explores what couples might hide from each other and whether it’s honesty or secrecy that makes a marital union last. Groff has carefully crafted a story that has no heroes, and will make you wonder how well you can ever really know somebody.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Daphne du Maurier wrote one of the O.G. twisted marriage thrillers. Rebecca has never been out of print – never, not once – since it was first published back in 1938. The author described it herself in a letter to her publisher as “a sinister tale about a woman who marries a widower… psychological and rather macabre”. The young, naive narrator thinks she’s getting a happily-ever-after when she’s whisked away by the handsome and withholding Maxim de Winter, only to plunge into a life haunted by the specter of the wife who came before her. What really happened to Rebecca? Read my full review of Rebecca here.
The Other Woman by Sandie Jones
Twisted marriage thrillers that have ghostly wedding dresses hanging empty on their covers always slap. Always! Take The Other Woman, for instance: an addictive and highly-bingeable debut novel that made the cut for Reese’s Book Club. Emma thinks she’s found Mr Right. Adam is charming, attentive, the whole package… except that package includes his mother, Pammie. If you think your mother-in-law is bad, trust me when I say she’s got nothing on Pammie. The other woman in Adam’s relationship will stop at nothing to get rid of Emma. Nothing.
Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
We’ve all had a disorienting moment upon waking after a nap or a big night out where we don’t know exactly where we are or what’s going on. What if that happened every single time you woke, though? This strange amnesia is the conceit of Before I Go To Sleep, a high-concept twisted marriage thriller. Christine loses all of her memories every time she sleeps. There’s only one person she can trust to put the pieces together: her husband, Ben. Only, can she trust him? Is he telling her the whole story? This is a heart-pounding domestic suspense novel that will have you flipping pages as fast as your eyes and fingers will let you.
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
We love to hate the perfect couple, don’t we? Jack and Grace are newlyweds, with wealth and charm and little hearts in their eyes. They host dinner parties in their beautiful home, and maintain a gorgeous garden. Everything looks too good to be true… because it is. In Behind Closed Doors, we look closer at the perfect marriage to find its fault-lines. Is it nice that Jack and Grace are never seen apart, or is it creepy? Is it understandable that they have high-security metal shutters on their downstairs windows, or is it strange? Is it enviable that Grace can cook elaborate dinners and yet remain so slim, or is it a symptom of something being terribly wrong?
The Last Mrs Parrish by Liv Constantine
The Last Mrs Parrish is a twisted marriage thriller about envy, greed, and manipulation… but not from within the marriage, from outside it. Amber Patterson wants everything that Daphne Parrish takes for granted – money, power, beauty, adoration – and she has a plan to get it. She slowly insinuates herself into the Parrish family, gradually edging closer to taking all she wants for herself. The closer she gets, though, the more she realises that Daphne’s life might not be everything she dreamed – and a secret from Amber’s past might ruin her best-laid plans, anyhow.
The Perfect Marriage by Jeneva Rose
Many a perfect marriage has broken down over an affair – nothing particularly twisted about that. But what if your husband’s mistress turned up dead, he was accused of killing her, and you had to defend him in court? That’s the kind of thing twisted marriage thrillers are made of! And it’s the premise of The Perfect Marriage. Sarah Morgan loves her work as a defense attorney, but this case will test her like never before. None of the facts (that Adam and Kelly were having an affair, that Kelly was found stabbed to death in Adam and Sarah’s holiday house in the woods) are in dispute – except the most important one. Did Adam do it? Can Sarah ever be really sure of his innocence?
Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
Unreliable narrators are the bread and butter of twisted marriage thrillers – but at least the narrator of Sometimes I Lie is up front about it. It’s right there in the title! Amber Reynolds is in a coma – kind of. She’s aware of what’s going on around her, but she can’t move or speak. She has no idea how she ended up this way, but she’s fairly sure her husband doesn’t love her anymore. Through alternating timelines, the pieces slowly come together. No one can be trusted in this heart-pounding psychological thriller about the lies that prop up a marriage and what happens when it comes tumbling down.