Not long ago, I picked up a copy of The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. I had no clue it was a mystery until I started to read. Liane Moriarty’s book covers all feature pink color palettes and artistically rendered objects like lollipops and flowers (fractured to show us they are edgy). Penguin Random House is clearly marketing Moriarty’s books as upmarket women’s fiction writer, but all three of the books I’ve read are also good mysteries.
Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret are both murder mysteries. In The Husband’s Secret the murder takes place years before the narrative starts. The main characters are tied together by some connection to the murder and not much else, in some cases. Throughout the book, she tracks how their lives twist around secrets that were never meant to be kept.
In Big Little Lies, Moriarity very cleverly starts the books with the murder and then jumps back in time nine months. Instead of examining how murder twists relationships after the fact, she uses the entire space of the novel to examine how little lies contort relationships to the point a perfectly civilized person can commit violence.
Because of Moriarty’s focus on relationships, her books are squarely in the realm of women’s fiction, hence the pink covers. But, in my mind, the categories of fiction are somewhat arbitrary and largely determined by marketing. Plenty of mystery writers examine relationships and have strong character development. Louise Penny, for instance. Her books focus heavily on the tangled relationship within the village of Three Pines. Out of curiousity, I pulled up Penny’s title, Still Life, on Amazon. Amazon reports that people who bought Still Life also bought Big Little Lies. Perhaps consumers see past the marketing? Or maybe they just buy the books displayed most prominently at the front of the store? Big name authors tend to transcend genre.
While on Amazon, I noticed that one of the reviews for Big Little Lies listed Bridget Jones’s Diary as a predecessor to Big Little Lies. That surprised me. I always thought chick lit mysteries, Janet Evanovich et. al., echoed Bridget, but the reviewer is right. Bridget could easily be a character in one of Moriarty’s books. Moriarty’s writing is refined enough to be upmarket, but she’s got a big streak of Bridget Jones running through her center. Maybe a book like Big Little Lies is the new face of chick lit. (If you never read its obituary, chick lit as-we-knew-it died ten or so years ago, coincidentally, right about the same time I started writing a chick lit mystery. As a native South Dakotan, I’m at least fifteen years behind most trends. Maybe that’s not true anymore with the internet, but when I was growing up it was a solid fifteen years.)
If a book like Big Little Lies is the new face of chick lit, I wonder what made it so. My best guess–it captures the fun spirit of the genre, but with significantly less frivolity. There is more meat to one of Moriarty’s books. Either that, or the genre’s fans are approaching forty, as are Liane Moriarty’s characters.
I’m not going to argue that Moriarty’s books aren’t women’s fiction or even an incarnation of chick lit, it’s just that I think they hold their ground as solid murder mysteries, too. What are some of your favorite crossover mysteries? Any thoughts on Liane Moriarty’s books?