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.
For the past few decades a sense of a crime novel canon, a set of essential classics, has taken on form and substance. We can all acknowledge the innovators and masters of the genre, yet unless we contemplate golden-era British detective fiction, most of the authors already incorporated into the crime fiction canon are male. And yet, those names make up only a part of crime fiction’s history.
“I think it’s important to note that feminism is something that is present in terms of a reflection of the lives these women led, not necessarily because they themselves identified with the cause…The wonderful thing about feminism is it includes everyone, whether they really want to be there or not, because the tenets are so simple: equality for both genders.”
Women have always made up a substantial chunk of the most popular writers in the genre, whether writing golden-era detective novels, thrillers, noir, or the recently repopularized domestic suspense novel, yet women in genre fiction tend to go out of print as soon as they stop writing new fiction unless they have established a wildly popular series. When classics of the genre have been brought back into print, most often, publishers have chosen to privilege works by men – until now, with Library of America’s Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 40s and 50s, released last year.
As International Women’s Month draws to a close, feast your eyes on an interview with Sarah Weinman, editor of the incredible Library of America collection, Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 40s and 50s. The two-volume set, also sold seperately by decade, contains eight novels, four per decade. The collection’s companion website includes thoughtful essays on each book included in the LoA collection from some of the premier figures of the detective novel world, including contributions from Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, and Sara Paretsky, among others.
“Criticism requires a somewhat different toolbox than does journalism, than certainly does fiction or reading, but all are informed by the other and inform each other. I sure would not have it any other way, except maybe making more time for fiction…”
Sarah Weinman is previously the editor of the anthologyTroubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, and has been instrumental in bringing long-neglected classic crime and suspense stories by women authors back into print and into the public eye. Thanks to Sarah for letting us send these questions along!
Molly Odintz: It must have been incredibly difficult to decide which volumes to include in this collection – how did you assemble the works that made it in?
Sarah Weinman: We certainly had many spirited meetings over selections, but the truth of the matter is, most of what constituted Women Crime Writers was a fairly speedy consensus. The LoA publisher and editor, Max Rudin & Geoffrey O’Brien, and I agreed quickly on In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes,The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, and Laura by Vera Caspary, so that was 3/4 of the 1940s volume. O’Brien suggested The Horizontal Man, which I knew about but hadn’t read, and once I did I realized it had to be in there. For the 1950s, we knew we had to have a Charlotte Armstrong and a Margaret Millar and they would *probably* be Mischief and Beast in View but we did talk about some other 1950s titles just in case — but then settled on those two. Dolores Hitchens was a strong choice early on but getting a hold of a copy of Fool’s Gold was not easy, and in the meantime we also really came close to including Dorothy Salisbury Davis (I really, really love A Gentle Murderer.) So weirdly enough, the Highsmith came late, and it took a couple of tries for me to really get into The Blunderer, but once I did, I think it was the final connective glue for the entire collection that really solidifies the whole group.
Joe R. Lansdale’s Hap & Leonard Now Have Their Own TV Show!
We were happy to have one of our best Noir At The Bar events to date a couple weeks back. Joe R. Lansdale read from his latest book, Honky Tonk Samurai, featuring his East Texas ne’er-do-well buddies, Hap & Leonard, and we celebrated the release of a new collection of Hap & Leonard stories, hot off the press. His first book in the series, Savage Season, will be part of a six episode run with an impressive line-up of talent, including Christina Hendricks, Michael Kenneth Williams and James Purfoy. The first episode airs this Wednesday, March 2nd, at 9PM Central on the Sundance Channel. Here’s the teaser trailer, below!
Congratulations to our friend, Joe, and if a new novel and a TV show aren’t enough to satisfy your need to read about the exploits of the boys, a collection of all the short stories and novellas, aptly titled Hap & Leonard, has just been released.
Recently, NPR’s Steve Inskeep interviewed two of our favorite figures in the mystery world: author and literary critic Megan Abbott, and editor and author Sarah Weinman. In the interview, they discuss the role of women in crime fiction as readers, writers, and characters, and work to solve the mystery of all those thrillers with “girl” in the title. It is a fascinating talk – you can read the highlights, or listen to the full discussion. You’ll also find a list of recommended recent reads from Abbott and Weinman.
Sarah Weinman is the editor of the two volume Library of America collection, Women Crime Writers Of The 40s and 50s, a must for crime fiction fans. Volumes are available together or individually. The collection comes with a brilliant set of essays on each classic work, which you can find online. Look for Megan Abbott’s latest novel, You Will Know Me, out this summer.
This year showed the true importance of reissues. By bringing books that haven’t seen new publication in decades or giving a book its first US printing, many of these books got people talking about how they had to look at the history of the genre and what was truly influential. Below you’ll find a mix of books we’d been dying to see back in print, and made us rethink which classic crime writers may have deserved more credit than they got.
Through time shifts between past and present we watch a blue movie king lose his empire and piece together the plot that betrayed him. Hard boiled to the core with imminent violence dangling like a guillotine above the story, Syndicate Books stateside release of this novel should send this into the classic pantheon.
By showcasing lesser known authors like Margaret Millar and the almost forgotten names of Charlotte Armstrong, Dolores Hitchens, and Helen Eustis, this two volume collection of eight domestic suspense novels makes us completely reevaluate the history of postwar crime fiction. If that’s not enough, there also damn entertaining.
This book follows the crimes and misdemeanors of a mother and daughter, centered around when mom talks her thirteen year old in taking a murder rap for her. This debut does for mother-daughter relationships what Gone Girl did for marriage. You can find copies of Concrete Angel on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
With the help of her psychiatrist, a woman tries to find her missing child, even though she has no proof or memory of when her child was taken. Burt mixes vivid characters, a strong sense of pace, and the perfect amount of biting satire to make this a one of a kind. You can find signed copies of Remember Mia on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
The roots of Flynn and her contemporaries. This book gives us eight authors who truly deserve their due in helping create the domestic suspense sub genre. An entertaining eye-opener. Accompanying essays online allow the crime writing enthusiast to explore the history and themes of suspense writing through the decades. You can find copies ofWomen Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s: A Library of America Boxed Seton our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
For months, MysteryPeople has been anticipating the release of The Library of America’sWomen Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s, edited by celebrated crime fiction expert Sarah Weinman. The collection comes out Tuesday, September 1st, and we’re excited to tell you a bit more about it.With works from both well-known and long-forgotten luminaries, including Margaret Millar, Patricia Highsmith, Vera Caspary and Dorothy B. Hughes, this two-volume set is a crash course in classic works by female suspense writers.
March is Women’s History Month, so at the beginning of the month, I reached out to many of my favorite female authors writing in crime fiction today for some thoughts and recommendations. Jamie Mason, Meg Gardiner, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Megan Abbott, and Lori Rader-Day all sent replies along, posted earlier this month(Mason’s response posted separately), and now we bring you some of their amazing recommendations. Not all the authors listed below are currently in print (although some soon return to print), and this is certainly not an exhaustive list of all the best crime writers today (a virtually impossible task). I’ve added quite a few of the following to my “to read” list. Enjoy!
Jamie Mason Recommends…
Daphne du Maurier
Second Wave Authors:
Mary Higgins Clark
Meg Gardiner Recommends…
Mary Shelley (as innovator of suspense fiction)
Ausma Zehanat Khan Recommends…
Dorothy L. Sayers (and the Jill Paton Walsh continuation of the Wimsey/Vane series)
Long Beach, California is known for sunny weather and soft breezes. Thursday, November 13th it became gloomy and overcast with rain. Some blamed this on the hoard of crime fiction fans, writers, publishers, and booksellers recently arrived in town. It was the first day of the 2014 Bouchercon, the world’s largest mystery conference, where we talked about dark stories under an eventually bright sky.
The first night, I had the honor of being invited to a dinner for the authors and supporters of Seventh Street Press, celebrating their second anniversary. It was fun to hang out with my friend Mark Pryor, creator of the Hugo Marston series, and meeting Allen Eskens, whose debut, The Life We Bury is a must-read for thriller fans, and Lori Rader-Day. Terry Shames arrived late, but had the excuse of winning The McCavity Award for best first novel on her way to dinner.
At the most entertaining panel I attended, titled Shaken, Not Stirred, writers discussed their use of drinking and bars in their work. Con Lehane, a former bartender, opened the discussion by stating that James Bond’s vodka martini is not really a martini because it is shaken. After he described the process of making a vodka martini, no one argued. Johnny Shaw said the more his characters drink, the more they surprise him. Eoin Colfer spoke of how he loved bars because a bar is a great equalizer, where anybody can walk through the door. When asked about the new smoking ban in Irish pubs, he said “It’s horrible. You can smell the men.”
The most enlightening panel I attended was Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane. Peter Rozovsky moderated a panel of learned crime writers and scholars who picked an author they felt deserved their due. Max Allan Collins, one of my favorite hard boiled writers, talked about Ennis Willie, who wrote about mobster on the run Sand in the early Sixties. Collins described the books as a Mickey Spillane imitation, but also discussed how these novels had a lot in common with Richard Stark’s Parker, who debuted the same year. Sarah Weinman, editor of Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, an upcoming anthology of stories by female thriller authors of the forties and fifties, introduced me to Dolores Hitchens.Gary Phillips gave a history of Joe Nazel, who formed a triptych of Seventies African-American crime writers, along with Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim.
Bouchercon has proved to be a great source for upcoming books. All of us who met Mette Ivie Harrison couldn’t wait to read her new novel, The Bishop’s Wife, coming out at the end of December. Harrison, who has had an interesting history with the Mormon Church and her own faith, has written a novel based on a true crime set in her community. I also got into a conversation with Christa Faust and CJ Box as Christa talked about the research she’s doing for her next Angel Dare book, where she puts the hard-boiled ex-porn star into the world of rodeo. CJ and I were both impressed by her knowledge of the sport.
There were also personal highlights. I got to hang out with Bobby McCue and Richard Brewer, the two men responsible for hiring and re-hiring me at The Mystery Bookstore, my first book slinging job, and showing me the ropes. It was also probably one of the best Dead Dog Dinners (the meal shared by the people who remained Sunday night after the conference has closed) as we talked about the state of the industry, books that moved us, and plotted 2015 in Raleigh. And if that wasn’t enough, there was this moment with Texas Author Reavis Wortham and a cheerleading squad.