50 Mystery Novels by Women Crime Writers, Read in a Year

  • Post by Molly Odintz

The list below is the tip of the cold, murderous iceberg when it comes to works by women crime novelists, but like any other list, it’s a good place to start.

With my yearly New Year’s Resolutions, most of which I will never revisit, I usually come up some kind of reading project, based around genres, authors, or settings I’ve neglected. 2015’s goal? Best not mentioned, as I miserably failed in my efforts to complete it. 2016’s reading goal? Read fifty books by women, and if possible, fifty works of crime fiction by women; not just new releases, but also classic noir and domestic suspense. With the release of Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s, we’ve entered a new era of publisher and reader support for crime fiction classics by women.

Many of the books below are part of the zeitgeist – you’ll see a lot of girls in the title. I’ve also tried to focus on reading some of their antecedents, and you’ll see works on the list from Dorothy Hughes, Daphne Du Maurier, Margaret Millar, Patricia Highsmith, and other classic women crime writers of mid-century America, plus a couple of golden age works from Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. You won’t find many representatives of the tough second-wave protagonists of the 80s and 90s, or many works in translation – both areas, I’m sorry to admit, I neglected in the past year.

You will find quite a few books set in Texas, and some that have yet to be released; both quirks of a bookseller’s reading habits, as we tend to dive deep into the literature of our areas, and often receive early copies of upcoming releases.

The list below is the tip of the cold, murderous iceberg when it comes to works by women crime novelists, but like any other list, it’s a good place to start. There’s no particular order to the list below, aside from focusing on new releases, and perhaps this lack of pattern indicates how diverse and eclectic women’s crime fiction has become over the years. I’ve read and enjoyed every one of the books listed below, and project or no project, I hope y’all enjoy these reads just as much!

  1. The Case of Lisandra P. by Hélène Grémillon, trans. Alison Anderson – A French novelist’s take on 1980s Argentina, in which a woman’s deadly fall leads to the imprisonment of her therapist husband, who then enlists the help of a client to find out the truth.
  2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – A classic work of romantic suspense, in which a young woman fears the long shadow cast by her husband’s first wife and the sinister intentions of his housekeeper.
  3. Security by Gina Wohlsdorf – A slasher novel, told from the perspective of a luxury hotel’s video cameras as a killer stalks its halls.
  4. Judenstaat by Simone Zelitch – An alternative history of Israel and East Germany, in which a Jewish state is established in Saxony. An archivist prepares a documentary for the anniversary of her state’s founding as mysterious clues about her husband’s murder point to disturbing answers.
  5. Black Water Rising by Attica Locke – Civil rights attorney and former activist Jay Porter takes on big business and political intrigue as he works to protect Houston’s African-American community and its allies from sinister forces.
  6. Pleasantville by Attica Locke – Jay Porter, decades later, defends a young man accused of murder in a case with vast ramifications for the the future of politics in the prosperous African-American community of Pleasantville.
  7. Good as Gone by Amy Gentry – Long after the disappearance of Julie Whitaker’s daughter, a young woman with more than a passing resemblance to the missing girl arrives on her doorstep claiming to be her returned child. The Whitaker’s are ecstatic at their daughter’s return, yet Julie suspects there may be more to the young woman’s story…
  8. Sunset City by Melissa Ginsburg – After the murder of her childhood friend, a bored barista traverses the alien landscapes of Houston’s highways in search of the killer, with more than a little hedonism to round out this sultry gem of a novel.
  9. Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry – A woman seeks her sister’s killer and unearthes dangerous small town secrets in rural England.
  10. Murder on the Quai by Cara Black – Aimee Leduc’s first case! This one should please series fans and new initiates, as we follow Aimee through her final days of med school and a case involving Nazi gold and family secrets.
  11. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – I know, I should have read this two years ago. I know all of you already know this, but man, that book is messed up. For a case study of how two people can destroy each other, read this book.
  12. The Do-Right by Lisa Sandlin – A woman recently released from prison finds a job with a private eye just starting out. The two work together to build a practice and tackle cases big and small in 1970’s Beaumont.
  13. The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King – Although I love all the books in the series, this one might be my new favorite. Despite the provocative title, most of King’s latest tells an alternative version of Mrs. Hudson’s backstory. Dickens meets Thackeray for a rollicking 19th century adventure.
  14. Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers – Sayers’ send-off of the petty jealousies of those in advertising. Wit, sarcasm, and a murder – the perfect Golden Age text!
  15. The Animal Lover’s Book of Beastly Murder by Patricia Highsmith – Highsmith loved animals a lot more than humans, and here’s the proof. Each story in the collection is told from the perspective of an animal, most of whom  end up (justifiably) murdering a human.
  16. The Assistants by Camille Perri – I file this one under the category of heist novel. Several underpaid assistants, saddled with student debt, devise an ingenious plan to pay off their loans with a little help from the company expense fund.
  17. Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman – A prosecutor returns to her father’s home after her husband’s death, and quickly takes on a murder case with profound implications for a different crime in the town, thirty years before.
  18. The Trespasser by Tana French – French’s latest Dublin Police Squad installment. A woman with seemingly no personality is murdered, and it’s up to Detective Antoinette Conway to brush off sexual harrassment from her department while digging for the truth. Out in October – Pre-order now! 
  19. Maestra by L. S. Hilton – As steamy a mixture of art history and sex as The Thomas Crown Affair, with a much darker message about the power of duplicity.
  20. Wolf Road by Beth Lewis – Elka discovers her guardian is a killer, and flees from him in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, getting help on the way from a wolf and a worldly young woman.
  21. Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer – In this fairy-tale-cum-mystery, after a young girl’s kidnapping, her mother goes quietly insane, while her daughter battles dark forces and twisted attitudes.
  22. The Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan – Her second in her community policing series has sexy poetry-quoting Esa Khattack in a bind, as the Canadian government forces him to infiltrate a terrorist group whose charismatic leader has gotten unconformatly close to Khattack’s sister.
  23. Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood – After an elderly woman is flung from a train, Phryne Fisher takes on the case to relieve a spot of boredom, and enjoys a good frolic in between seeking clues.
  24. The Horizontal Man by Helen Eustis (included in the Library of America collection Women Crime Writers of the 1940sedited by Sarah Weinman) – This may be one of the earliest and most fascinating “murder on a college campus” mysteries. Read it for the plot, and also the sweaters. Such collegiate sweaters.
  25. In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes (included in the Library of America collection Women Crime Writers of the 1940sedited by Sarah Weinman) – An early reversal of the femme fatale trope, this cold, creepy thriller follows an homme fatale as he seduces and kills women across the city, while renewing a wartime friendship with the police officer in charge of the case. Only the policeman’s wife can sense the danger lurking behind his charming visage..
  26. The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson – Partially a true crime story of the murder of Nelson’s aunt, Jane, in the late 1960s, and the trial of her aunt’s murderer decades later, and partly a haunting expose of society’s obsession with the murders of young, beautiful white women.
  27. The Dove’s Necklace by Raja Alem – When a corpse is discovered in the back alleys of Mecca, the police investigator assigned to the case becomes romantically obsessed with the corpse. Alem’s narrative shifts between two women, one of whom escapes the neighborhood, and one of whom dies in its streets, keeping the reader guessing.
  28. Dare Me by Megan Abbott – Abbott’s cheerleader noir uses soldier-inspired language to great effect as a new coach interrupts the complex dynamics of the team and propels them to either victory or doom.
  29. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott – This one’s a gymnastics noir, as a heartthrob’s death tears apart a tight-knit athletic community on the cusp of seeing their star head to the Olympics.
  30. The Night She Disappeared by April Henry – Two teens work to solve a series of disappearances associated with their humble pizza parlor.
  31. The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis – In a hotel known for the glamorous models and secretaries who once called it home, a journalist investigates a mysterious attack that occurred in the 1950’s.
  32. Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall  – A homicide detected is assigned the murder of a high school senior and discovers significant parallels between the case and her sister’s unsolved disappearance from year’s before. What secrets was the victim hiding from her family, and could a shady construction developer have played a role in the murder?
  33. Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet – Millet’s protagonist hears voices – as long as her daughter remains speechless. When her daughter utters her first words, the voices stop, but their warnings remain: she must leave her husband behind in Alaska and take her daughter to Maine, where she joins a commune of other voice-hearers and tries to make sense of her husband’s menacing attempts to reunite their family and ensure his future political dreams come to fruition.
  34. The Girl Before by Rena Olson – A woman believes she’s in a happy marriage, and has had a happy life, until the FBI arrests her and her husband. As she is interrogated by the police, she gradually realizes that her fond memories of close family may be hiding a far more sinister nature to their relationship.
  35. The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt – Aurora, TX is the setting for this tale of long buried secrets come to life, as a woman with no papers and several names sets out to find out the truth to her origin, as she and her mother become suspects in a wayfarer’s attempted demise. Alexandra Burt comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest on Tuesday, February 21st, at 7 PM
  36. Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough – This one is out in February of 2017, and I’m already sure the novel’s twist ending will be the biggest (literary) surprise of the year. As Behind her Eyes begins, we follow a young divorcee as she becomes increasingly involved in the sick relationship games of her boss and his wife. Sarah Pinborough comes to BookPeople Saturday, February 18th, at 3 PM. 
  37. For Time and All Eternities by Mette Ivie Harrison – Harrison’s latest is our pick of the month for January, and when you read it, you’ll certainly understand why. For Time and All Eternities is Harrison’s most complete mystery yet, with a locked-compound murder providing a satisfying structure to Linda Walheim’s sleuthing. Harrison comes to BookPeople Monday, January 23rd at 7 PM, so mark your calendars!
  38. Collected Millar: Legendary Novels of Suspense: The Stranger In My Grave by Margaret Millar Madmen meets Faulkner in Margaret Millar’s stunning sixties tales of identity in crisis, with an emotional and physical landscape that is all California. In The Stranger in My Grave, a woman dreams of her own tombstone marked with a date four years before, and hires a private detective to find out what happened on that fateful day.
  39. “”: How Like an Angel by Margaret Millar How Like an Angel takes us deep into California Cult Country when a drifter is hired by a nun to track down a man whose disappearance still haunts a small California town. 
  40. “”: The Fiend by Margaret Millar The Fiend brings together every classic motive – money, sex, power, and obsession – when a young girl disappears, but Millar keeps the reader guessing as to the girl’s whereabouts, and the morality of those in her small community, till the very end. An astonishing portrait of the selfish and the truly disturbed, and the unstable border between.
  41. “”: Beyond This Point are Monsters by Margaret Millar  Beyond This Point are Monsters begins with a court date, as members of a family go to a judge to try to get their disappeared loved one declared deceased. As the inquiry continues, secrets come to light, and complicated relationships between characters are revealed.
  42. The Mother by Yvette Edwards –  Eight months after 16-year-old Ryan is stabbed to death by another teenager, his killer goes on trial, ready to protest his innocence. Ryan’s mother, and her sister Lorna, hope the legal system will show that they value Ryan’s life, the life of a murdered young black teenager, yet they also find empathy for Ryan’s classmate on trial. The outcome of the trial comes down to the testimony of a vulnerable teenage mother previously involved with both Ryan and the defendant. An important exploration of justice, violence, and the school-to-prison pipeline.
  43. The Last One by Alexandra Oliva – Competitors on a reality TV survival show face increasingly brutal challenges to win an enormous sum. As contestants face dangerous situations, they begin to wonder if the show’s creators are still in control, or if more sinister forces have devised their challenges….
  44. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerey – A pensioner’s murder of a suspected burglar sets in motion a kaleidoscope of characters. From the elderly woman’s criminal son, recruited to cover up the murder, to the alcoholic father of six he hires to help; from the alcoholic’s drug-dealing son who bears the brunt of his father’s misdeeds, to the burglar’s ex-girlfriend, seeking answers while vacillating between drugs and religion for her fix, McInerey examines the long-term consequences of murder, and the even longer search for redemption.
  45. The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo – Two eighth grade girls, one popular, one not, are in a sandwich shop after school. A masked gunman robs the store, and kidnaps one of the girls. The other, he leaves behind. What follows is a fascinating meditation on the privileges and pitfalls of popularity, as the girl left behind feels a complex mixture of jealousy, relief, sadness, solidarity and concern for her classmate, even as her dramatic experience catapults her into the Queen B position left vacant. The Fall of Lisa Bellow comes out March 14th – pre-order now!
  46. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – Well, I finally sat down and read Paula Hawkins’ runaway bestseller, and between the booze-soaked protagonist and the many twists and turns of the plot, man, did I enjoy it!
  47. Down City by Leah Carroll – In this stylish, intense memoir, Leah Carroll explores the untimely deaths of both of her parents – her drug-addict mother a victim of a mafia killing before Leah’s fifth birthday, and her alcoholic father dead from heartbreak and his own excesses by the time the author reached 18. Down City is on one hand, the story of a murder, but moreso, the story of the long-term consequences of addiction mingled with misery. Down City comes out March 7th – pre-order now!
  48. The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda – When Leah is fired from her newspaper job for refusing to reveal a source, she runs into an old college friend just out of a relationship, who suggests that the two move to a small town and get a house together while the controversies in their lives die down. When a woman resembling Leah is found near-dead nearby, Leah’s roommate disappears, leaving behind no evidence of ever having existed.The Perfect Stranger comes out April 4th – pre-order now!
  49. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie – While normally I take a few steps back from any story with a Christmas theme, this Poirot novel was simply delightful! When a conniving yet lovable patriarch is murdered, it’s up to Poirot to take a trip to the sleepy manor setting and find out which deliciously petty relative was responsible for the crime.
  50. Little Tales of Misogyny by Patricia Highsmith – This violent, twisted short story collection may not have proper claim to the title ‘mystery,’ yet it shows (like The Animal-Lover’s Guide to Beastly Murder that appeared earlier in this list) the incredible literary experimentation of Highsmith’s later work. Little Tales of Misogyny takes Highsmith’s ability to portray gendered disgust to the limit, with a good amount of gallows humor thrown in.

You can find each of the books listed above on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

3 thoughts on “50 Mystery Novels by Women Crime Writers, Read in a Year

  1. I miss seeing Louise Penny on this list. She is a wonderful author and creates characters that have depth to them. I think the list is great and even though I have read some, it begs me to revisit ones I read years ago. I have to say that Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train to me are overrated, the characters are shallow and self obsessed and I couldn’t relate to them at all, they didn’t seem real to me even though they rated as best sellers, I am happy that I have a library as I would have been sorely disappointed to have paid for these novels. But that’s just me. I am a huge mystery fan and neither of these books really filled the bill for me. This list has been added to my “to read” list this year.Thank you for creating this and giving a brief summary of each one . Also, for letting us know of soon to be released books.

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