Let’s face it, there is no shortage of domestic thrillers these day, which isn’t to say the genre is tired. In fact, quite the opposite. Domestic thrillers are experiencing a kind of renaissance, each new one to hit the shelves offering readers a fresh twist on the stories they only thought they knew: a brutal murder in a quiet suburb, a spouse with a secret identity, a child who disappears in the middle of the night. Take Louise Chandlish’s U.S. debut Our House, which begins with a tale of a husband’s betrayal, mixes it with property fraud, and adds in a true crime podcast for good measure. Inventive, addictive, and all together unexpected, Our House is just the latest reminder that domestic thrillers still have so much to offer readers.
For the families of Alder Rise, few things give them more pride than their address. That is why estranged married couple Fiona and Bram have agreed to a “bird’s nest” custody agreement that allows them to keep their house at 91 Trinity Ave, despite their decision to divorce following a heartbreaking betrayal. They want their two sons to be able to stay in their childhood home and close to their friends, no matter how awkward and painful sharing it may be for either parent. “‘I’m not forgiving. I’m just doing my best to control the impact events have on me,” Fiona explains. “‘If I have to make adjustments to my life, then I’ll be damned if anyone else decides what they’ll be.’”
So when Fiona — or Fi — arrives at her house one day to find another family moving in, she is obviously a little confused, especially because she did not sell it to them. But when Fi confronts the couple that appear to be taking over the place she has called home for over a decade, they insist they purchased the property from her husband, Bram, for a cool two million pounds. Of course, Bram is nowhere to be found — he is not at his place of employment, not at the estranged couple’s second residence, and not at his mother’s — and his cell phone has been shut off. Worse, Fi has no idea where her two sons are, and if Bram has done something with them, too.
What unfolds next is a multi-layered narrative told through three perspectives. The first chronicles, in third person, the events as they happen, starting from the moment Fi comes home to find her house was sold without her knowledge. Then there is Fi’s side of the story, as told on The Victim, a true crime podcast that is self-described as “not an investigation, but a privileged insight into an innocent person’s suffering.” A fun and unique narrative choice, The Victim even includes the hashtag #VictimFi and a slew of entertaining comments that range from sympathy to surprise to victim blaming, not unlike the real-life conversations about true crime podcasts that happen online every day.
Bram, the husband who betrayed his wife and possibly stole and sold his family’s home, also gets a chance to explain his version of things via a word document he tells readers straightaway is a suicide note. “By the time you read this, I’ll have done it,” Bram writes. “Break the news gently, please. I may be a monster, but I’m still a father and there are two boys who’ll be sorry to lose me, who’ll have reason to remember me more kindly.”
It is hard not to feel for Bram who uses his suicide note to try and convince readers — and himself — he isn’t just a villain. It’s equally hard not to mourn for the loss of Fi and Bram’s marriage, which despite its history of complications, seems to have been born out of real love. When a new love interest appears, readers will find themselves torn, just as fictional podcast listeners were, about whether Fi should move on, or give Bram another chance. Because as much as Our House is an enthralling mystery about property and financial fraud, it’s also a gripping story about a broken marriage, tainted love, and the limits of forgiveness.
A stunning literary thriller that artfully twists and turns until the very end — and I mean the very end — Our House is the kind of page-turner that will have readers echoing the sentiments of one fictional podcast commenter who so accurately said, “Aargh, I’m not going to get anything done today, am I?” No, if you pick up this sophisticated tale of domestic suspense, the only thing you’ll get done is a day of binge-reading, one you surely won’t regret.