Without really meaning to, I tend to read in themes—one book leads me to another and to another. And lately, that theme is MARITICIDE—stories in which women kill their husbands. Which, when my husband picked up on the new direction my reading had taken, understandably earned me a pretty large side eye.
So. If YOU want to freak out anyone and everyone in YOUR living space, try these books on for size:
The Ice House by Minette Walters
This is what started it all! I picked this one up as a re-read, meaning to work my way through all of Minette Walters’ books in order, and got distracted. And how could I not? For the last ten years, Phoebe Maybury and her roommates have been outcasts in Streech village, suspected of being witches and lesbians—this was originally published in 1992, so be prepared for some less-than-progressive attitudes on the parts of some of the characters—and yes, murderers. Phoebe’s husband went missing a decade ago, and now that a partially decomposed, partially dismembered body has been found on her property, the villagers—police officers included—assume that she’s finally going to get what’s coming to her.
This is Walters’ very first novel—it’s twisty and turny, with fantastic dialogue and characters who don’t just learn and grow, they reveal themselves over time. ALSO. It was made into a BBC miniseries with DANIEL CRAIG as D.S. McLoughlin.
Verdict: BUY, BECAUSE MINETTE WALTERS.
Out by Natsuo Kirino
THIS BOOK. Holy cow.
Four women work nights together at a local packed lunch factory in order to make ends meet. It’s hard work, but they’re a good team—they aren’t super-close friends, but they’ve got a good rhythm, and they look out for each other. So when one of them—the quietest, meekest, prettiest one of the bunch—snaps and murders her abusive husband, the others help her out by dismembering and disposing of the body.
Events unfold from there, and they go in EYEBALL-POPPINGLY SURPRISING DIRECTIONS. Super characterization and strong dialogue; a really distinct portrayal of a specific slice of Japanese culture in terms of economics and racism and gender dynamics and female body image; a pace that starts out steady and calm and then TURNS INTO A TORNADO OF BONKERS. I can’t wait to read everything else she’s ever written.
Verdict: BUY IT. BUY IT LIKE THE WIND.
Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King
Dolores Claiborne sits down with the police and proceeds to tell them about how, while she IS guilty of murder—”…twenty-nine years ago, when Police Chief Bissette here was in the first grade and still eatin the paste off the back of his pitchers, I killed my husband, Joe St. George…”—she most certainly did NOT kill her recently dead employer, Vera Donovan.
Like many a Proud Mainer, I do love Stephen King. And this is the sort of King story I love best: in Dolores Claiborne, he writes tight; he focuses on character and voice more than woo-woo scares; he takes a good, long look at the harm people do to each other, but also at the ties that connect them. Dolores’ voice is wonderful—I’ve never found an author from elsewhere who can capture the old-timer Down East accent without overdoing it—he does a great job of showing the very-real cultural divide between people from Maine and people From Away, and overall, it’s funny and horrifying and hopeful and sad.
Verdict: DEPENDS ON WHAT YOU LIKE IN A STEPHEN KING BOOK. IF YOU LIKE THE WOO-WOO OR THE EPIC, BORROW. IF YOU LIKE HIS MORE REALISTIC STORIES, BUY.
The Angel Makers by Jessica Gregson
Based on a true story, this follows Sari, whose general demeanor and knowledge of herbal lore has her branded as a suspected witch in her small Hungarian village. When all of the men leave to fight in WWI, though, all of the dynamics in town change—and then the presence of a local POW camp chockful of Italian officers changes things even more.
When the war ends and the men of the village return, the women realize that they don’t WANT to go back to the old ways—they liked the last four years of independence, of not getting beaten up or raped every time they turned around. And so the poisonings begin…
This was one of those that held me while I read it, but didn’t leave me with much when it was over. And any novel that’s based on a true story that DOESN’T include an Author’s Note about changes made to the known story or research or even a list of suggested reading loses a lot of points in my book. So I’m seeing this one as more as a jumping off point—I’ve already got a nonfiction book and a documentary on hold at the library.
Verdict: BORROW AT THE MOST. OR EVEN BYPASS AND JUST READ ABOUT THE REAL DEAL ON WIKIPEDIA.
You must have some great recommendations around this theme, right? Let us know in the comments!