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B.P. Walter on His Favourite Domestic Thrillers

Posted on 31st March 2021 by Mark Skinner

A master of the disturbing psychological thriller, B.P. Walter's latest literary rollercoaster ride is The Dinner Guest, in which a wealthy West London family's meal ends in grisly murder. In this exclusive piece, Walter highlights his favourite crime novels set in the family home, from classic whodunit to contemporary chiller. 

I’ve always been drawn to novels that explore the dark side of families and tricky relationships with relatives. There’s something eternally compelling about the idea of an immediate danger (or slowly simmering threat) being so close to home that it’s literally inside one’s home. My latest novel, The Dinner Guest, looks at how the unravelling of a family secret and consistent lies lead to a murder within a previously happy household, and part of my inspiration for the book came from my love of crime fiction that tackles these shared themes in different ways. For this piece, I’ve brought together five novels – four relatively recent and one 1930s classic – that fall into this wide-ranging subset of thriller fiction, all of them gripping and memorable in their own unsettling ways.

The Open House by Sam Carrington

This is a very recent read for me – I only discovered it within the past few weeks – and I loved it right from its compelling first chapters. It deals with a marriage break-up, a difficult mother-in-law/daughter-in-law situation, the sale of the family home and a creepy mystery surrounding the day the house is opened up for viewing by potential buyers. I was completely gripped.

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Perfectly plotted and paced, Carrington’s spine-chilling thriller centres on the sinister consequences of a Devon couple’s open house event and the secrets that lie within the rooms of their seemingly desirable residence. Everyone's welcome. But not everyone leaves...
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Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

Whilst it feels slightly odd recommending a Christmas book in the spring, out of all of Christie’s novels this is the one that immediately comes to mind when thinking about the themes of family dynamics and buried secrets (strong contenders also include Ordeal by Innocence, After the Funeral and The Hollow).Sibling rivalry, bickering spouses, a disappointed patriarch, financial resentment – all these ingredients bubble away within a large old manor house over the festive period. It’s a real treat. Fans of 2019 whodunnit film Knives Out may find a lot of familiar things here, since that film almost functions as a semi-adaptation of this novel and includes some clear nods to the plot (while of course doing its own fresh, original spin on the genre).

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One of Christie’s most meticulously constructed plots finds Poirot called in to investigate the demise of a loathsome patriarch at Christmastime, in a country house filled with family members hiding a multitude of secrets.
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Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Paula Hawkins’s follow-up to The Girl on the Train is a very different novel in many respects, although has that same compelling urgency behind the narrative. Perhaps in some ways more similar to her 2013 novel The Reunion (published under the pseudonym Amy Silver), Into the Water deals with a wide cast of characters with dizzying skill, throwing the reader into a plot concerning disturbing secrets between family and friends and long-buried, disturbing memories. 

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Hawkins’ follow-up to her phenomenal bestseller The Girl on the Train doesn’t disappoint. A multi-layered, multi-viewpoint novel that delivers the suspense readers expect, and surprises they won’t.
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Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

Clare Mackintosh’s books are the type of thrillers you read in one breathless rush (because they are SO brilliantly compelling), but then shortly after turning the final page you realise the story isn’t over: it will be lingering in your head for a long time to come. Years after reading Let Me Lie, I’m still haunted by its menacing plot and startling twists.

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When a young woman starts questioning whether her mother committed suicide or not, she puts herself and her new baby in grave danger in Mackintosh’s superbly structured and satisfying domestic thriller.
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Only a Mother by Elisabeth Carpenter

Elisabeth Carpenter’s books are always terrific and this is my favourite of hers: an extremely menacing thriller that hinges on a parent-offspring relationship stretched to breaking point. Expect very uncomfortable questions, superbly handled.

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Original and psychologically astute, Carpenter’s novel is told from the point of view of a convicted killer’s mother and asks searching questions of how far a mother’s love can stretch and how much she is prepared to do to protect her son.
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