It’s no secret that domestic thrillers are topping TBR lists as of late. With gripping plots laced with enigmatic mysteries and juicy revelations, bestselling books like Big Little Lies and The Couple Next Door have readers racing through their pages. These types of novels are made all the more intriguing by the fact that they’re set within locales that seem unlikely to harbor explosive secrets, such as close-knit suburban neighborhoods. Ultimately, domestic thrillers shred the facade of normalcy to show us that appearance isn’t everything, and even a seemingly perfect life can have deadly faultlines threatening to crack at any moment.
At the forefront of this riveting subgenre is J.T. Ellison, a prolific suspense author who has found her niche penning psychological thrillers and domestic noir. A New York Times bestselling author, Ellison has over a million books in print, with her work published in 28 countries and 16 languages. More than anyone else, Ellison knows how to lure readers into a mystery before turning the story completely on its head. But for such a successful author, the road to publishing wasn’t as smooth as one might assume. Before she started crafting addictive psychological thrillers, Ellison embarked on another, altogether different career path.
Born in Florida, Ellison lived in both rural Colorado and Washington, D.C. before attending Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she graduated with a double major in Politics and English Creative Writing and a minor in Economics. She originally planned on pursuing a Master’s of Fine Arts, but after a harsh professor left her feeling discouraged about her prospective writing career, she pivoted to politics.
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Ellison earned a master's degree from George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. A presidential appointee, she was employed in the White House and the Department of Commerce before working as a financial analyst and a marketing director in the defense industry. Over a decade after receiving her master’s degree, Ellison’s literary aspirations were but a distant memory when she happened to read the Prey series by John Sandford. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s “grip-you-by-the-throat thrills” (Houston Chronicle) reinvigorated Ellison’s love of storytelling, and she decided on the spot that she would pursue a writing career in earnest.
Ellison made her literary debut with All the Pretty Girls in 2007, the first entry in the Lieutenant Taylor Jackson series, which starred a Nashville homicide detective. She would go on to write two more series, one a medical thriller spinoff of the Lieutenant Taylor Jackson series (Dr. Samantha Owens), and the other a co-written venture with romantic suspense veteran Catherine Coulter (A Brit in the FBI). These early novels veered toward the police procedural genre, with Ellison researching investigative details alongside the Metro Nashville Police Department and the FBI to fuel her pulse-pounding stories. However, Ellison soon found another calling: writing domestic thrillers.
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Ellison wrote her first standalone domestic thriller in 2016, and she hasn’t looked back since, releasing one each year since, to the delight of eager readers. Her first was No One Knows, a “a skillfully plotted story that’s equal parts mystery, psychological thriller, and cautionary tale” (Publishers Weekly) about a woman who wonders whether her missing husband, who’s presumed dead, could still be out there. However, it was with 2017’s Lie to Me that Ellison really found her footing. A power couple finds their marriage disintegrating in this unputdownable suspense novel. Below, discover more about each book in the trio of gripping novels that are at the heart of Ellison’s psychological thriller work.
Lie to Me
When Lee Child calls a book a “one-more-chapter, don't-eat-dinner, stay-up-late sensation,” you know what you’re getting yourself into—and you know you’ll love every minute of it. Lie to Me revolves around two writers who seem to have it all. Sutton and Ethan Montclair are attractive, talented, famous, and best of all, they’re married, magnifying their star power twofold. However, a recent tragedy has brought their perfect life crashing down to reality.
Ever since their six-month-old son died in an accident, Sutton and Ethan’s marriage has been tenuous, with each hurling blame at the other. In the midst of this dark and strained period in their marriage, Sutton disappears without warning. She’s left behind a note asking Ethan not to look for her, and all of her possessions appear untouched. With suspicion mounting, the police are taking a hard look at Ethan to find out whether his wife disappeared of her own free will, or if he did something to her. With multiple points of view and unreliable narrators that thicken the plot, Lie to Me is an explosive thriller that will have its hooks in you long after you’ve turned the last page.
Tear Me Apart
Isn’t it strange how your life can change in the course of just a few minutes? Mindy Wright was a competitive skier with a bright future in the sport, but a traumatic accident has left her life hanging in the balance, to say nothing of her career. On top of this debilitating news, doctors make a shocking discovery while operating on Mindy in the aftermath of the crash: her body has been silently fighting a severe form of leukemia.
With one life-altering revelation after another, Mindy feels like her perfect life is going up in smoke. But there’s one more secret that will make its way out before long. Mindy needs a stem cell transplant, and when her parents are tested, it’s discovered that she isn’t biologically related to them. If you think you know where this story is headed, prepared to be proven wrong by Ellison’s perfectly plotted twists. “An inventive thriller with a horrifying reveal and a happy ending,” Tear Me Apart will do just that (Kirkus Reviews). This domestic thriller works your brain overtime even while it wrenches at your heartstrings.
Good Girls Lie
Most domestic thrillers take place in suburban households, but Good Girls Lie ushers readers into a space that they may be less familiar with: the hallowed halls of a prestigious all-girls boarding school. A new student has matriculated at the Goode School in Marchburg, Virginia. Ash Carlisle is beautiful and brilliant, even if she is a little tight-lipped about her past. Little do the other students know, her arrival will test the bonds of established academic cliques and bring out vicious competitive tendencies among the teenagers.
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Simmering tension finally boils over when one of the students at the Goode School is found dead halfway through the semester. With an investigation underway, there are far more questions than answers, especially in a place ruled by secret societies, malicious gossip, and unseen power struggles. Featuring “a complex, convoluted plot that mystery fans will savor," Good Girls Lie is a rich, atmospheric psychological mystery that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality (Library Journal).
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