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A Reading List of Marriage-Gone-Bad Thrillers

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My first novel, For Worse, in bookstores April 2, 2024, is a domestic thriller about a vision impaired woman who’s trapped in a dangerous marriage with a husband who uses her blindness to sabotage her. Desperate for freedom, she finds an unexpected solution in a ladies chat room on the dark web, whose members have a sinister but successful remedy for navigating a bad marriage.

I knew about the domestic thriller genre, but I never realized, till I wrote For Worse, that there was a subcategory called “Marriage Gone Bad.” I thought this was fascinating, and when CrimeReads asked me to come up with my top MGB thrillers, I was ready.

Please note: some of these books involve themes of abuse and/or other possibly triggering subjects, so please do your due diligence and read responsibly.

Gone Girl Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, pub. 2012

While I know there had to have been other Marriage Gone Bad thrillers before this (see my next entry), Gone Girl seems like the modern MGB starting point, with its unguessable plot twists, troubling themes and unreliable narrators (I love a good unreliable narrator). This novel sparked my own interest in domestic thrillers, and perhaps is what catapulted the genre into its current ubiquitous incarnation.


The Jealous One, by Celia Fremlin, pub. 1976

A happily married woman suspects that her husband is having an affair with the woman next door, but keeps second-guessing herself, thinking she must be imagining it. Things take a turn when she dreams that she’s murdered the woman, and wakes to find the woman has disappeared. What I love about Fremlin is that she’s very funny, not something you generally find in thrillers. Check out her earlier book, The Hours Before Dawn, about a mum in 1950s London, who’s so sleep deprived from her latest baby, who hasn’t slept through the night in eleven months, that she can’t tell what’s real and what’s hallucinatory. The suspense is palpable, but it’s also hilarious.

Something in the Water Catherine Steadman

Something In the Water, by Catherine Steadman, pub. 2018

A young couple, blissfully in love, go on their honeymoon to Bora Bora and, while scuba diving, discover a bag full of money and jewels. Their marriage unravels as they decide what to do with it. This provides the requisite psychological twists and turns but is also quite witty, which is always a plus for me. I found the heroine, who’s first seen irritably digging a grave, very snarky and fun.


The Silent Wife, by A.S.A. Harrison, pub. 2013

This is a slow burn of a novel about two partners, never married, whose twenty-year relationship has long been faltering: he’s chronically unfaithful and she pretends not to know. When he finally leaves her and she learns that, because they were never married, he has no financial responsibility towards her, she decides to take an extreme tactic. This is less a twisty-turny page turner and more of a “Geez, what would I do?” book, but there’s still plenty of nail-biting moments.


The Family Remains, by Lisa Jewell, pub. 2022

This is a sequel to The Family Upstairs, following the lives of the children in the aftermath of their traumatic childhood. This is a tale where many different strands from the past come together to inform and heal the characters in the present, something Jewell does brilliantly. There is a Marriage Gone Bad amid the strands, and it’s horrifying, but it’s only one part of a complex and compelling story that, like most Lisa Jewell novels, you can’t put down.


Rock Paper Scissors, by Alice Feeney, pub. 2021

Married for ten years, their marriage straining under secrets and lies, a couple goes to a remote getaway in Scotland for their anniversary, to give their marriage one last chance. Part haunted house story, part thriller, part rumination on love and trust, this novel has at least one surprise that even a veteran domestic thriller/MGB reader like me did not see coming.


The Echo Wife, by Sarah Gailey, pub. In 2021

The heroine of this sci-fi thriller is a renowned scientist in the field of cloning, whose husband has used her ground-breaking research to clone himself a more compliant version of her. This is a brilliant, dark and troubling novel that, now that I think about it, I’m going to read again.


Wilderness, by B. E. Jones, pub. 2021

In the interests of disclosure, I have to report that I haven’t yet read this, but I saw the excellent limited series on TV and I’ve ordered the book. A newly married wife discovers that her husband has been having an affair, and agrees with his ostensibly repentant suggestion that they go on a road trip across the US to rekindle their love and trust. This sounds like a good plan, except she can’t forgive him and wants to kill him. It was a great watch and I expect it’s a great read as well: simple, logical, extremely well done, and compelling.


Behind Her Eyes, by Sarah Pinborough, pub. 2017

A single mom meets a man in a bar who turns out to be her new boss, a married psychiatrist, so they initially don’t act on their mutual attraction. Later, his wife, unbeknownst to him, strikes up a friendship with the single mom, who believes the wife has no idea that the single mom and the husband are dancing around an affair. This triangle has enough sizzle to keep it going on its own, particularly since the single mom hears from both the husband and the wife that the other is unstable and making their life miserable. However, Pinborough adds a very strange twist that, when you first read it, makes you think, “Wait–what???” but she’s so good that two seconds later you’re fine with it. This MGB thriller is a high wire act that Pinborough pulls off with aplomb. I saw it on TV as a limited series and then read the book. Neither disappoints.


Our House by Louise Candlish, pub. 2018

A woman comes home from a few days away to find that another family is moving into her house, which wasn’t even on the market when she left. This disorienting beginning (typical of Candlish’s books, all of which I love, whose jumping off points seem to be quotidian “what-if’s”) kicks off a masterfully plotted novel of lies, betrayal and deception that kept me up way past my bedtime.

There are so many fabulous thrillers out there, marriage gone bad and otherwise, that readers can be assured that if one novel doesn’t scratch their itch, the next one probably will. May your next great read (and I hope it will be mine!) keep you up way past your bedtime!



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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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