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.

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Molly’s Top Ten U.S.-set Crime Novels of 2016

Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

97803162310771. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

16-year-old Devon has spent her life perfecting soaring vaults, gravity-defying balance beam routines, and ferocious tumbling, all with a one-day-dream of going to the Olympics. Her entire hometown is rooting for her success. When a handsome volunteer at the gym is found dead, the whole gymnastics team is thrown into disarray. No one in town, not even the dead man’s family, want Devon distracted from bringing home the gold. In the face of sublime talent, who dares punish a misdeed?

97803932855432. Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet

This hard-to-peg-down tale of a voices-hearing mother and her young daughter on the run from their conniving politician patriarch was my favorite literary mystery of 2016. Millet’s protagonists, after fleeing Alaska, find refuge in a motel in Maine full of others like them. There, they form a support group, even as the protagonist’s husband exerts increasing pressure to have a picture perfect family by the election. Sweet Lamb of Heaven is part thriller, part gothic ghost story, and part exploration of language, making the final product wholly unique.

97811019823583. The Girl Before by Rena Olson

Olson works as a marriage therapist, which must be why the dysfunctional relationship at the core of The Girl Before reads as so convincing. In Olson’s debut, the reader follows a woman through interrogations in prison and flashbacks to her young life. Is she the culprit in her husband’s misdeeds, or is she an innocent victim?

97803162677244. IQ by Joe Ide

While every year brings new additions to the Holmesian canon, IQ was by far my favorite Sherlockian tale of the year. IQ follows Isaiah Quintabe, IQ for short, a putupon genius living in South Central LA. IQ weaves back and forth between Isaiah’s youth, as he devises a criminal enterprise with his best friend and new roommate, and his adulthood, as he comes into a new career solving mysteries for folks in the neighborhood. A case involving a drugged-out rapper who can’t finish his album may be Isaiah’s, and his best friend Dodson’s, big break – if they can stay alive long enough to solve it.

97816819902795. Collected Millar: The Master at her Zenith by Margaret Millar

Syndicate Books, with SoHo as their distributor, are bringing 1950s Queen of Suspense Margaret Millar’s complete works back into print. By the end of 2017, all six affordable volumes will have reached our shelves – which together, form a deliciously creepy image of domestic suspense across the spine. We give thanks to the editors for bringing Millar’s strongest novels back into print first, in this four-volume anthology, which includes Millar’s most chilling work, Beast in View. 

97816819902866. Collected Millar: Legendary Novels of Suspense

Once you finish the first volume of Millar’s collected works, you’ll feel the urge to immediately move on to the next! Collected Millar: Legendary Novels of Suspense includes works that challenge the stability of our identity, question society’s values, and acknowledge that the most hidden of secrets may be the most forgiveable of infractions, and the least worthy of having been hidden at all…The stories in this volume also highlight Millar’s grasp on psychology, including motivation and self-deception.

97805449209587. Good As Gone by Amy Gentry

Gentry has long been a figure in the Austin literary scene, and I’m pleased to have gotten a chance to talk to both Amy and the world about how much I love her Houston-set debut. Good As Gone follows a mother as she and her family welcome home who they believe to be their long-lost, kidnapped daughter. Flashback sequences from the young woman’s perspective keep the reader guessing as to her identity and her experiences.

97816162056218. Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

Wohlsdorf, a lifetime devotee of slasher movies, labeled her debut as a slasher novel, and this tale of terror is sure to thrill with is careful plotting, surprising emotional weight, and experimental structure. As a hotel prepares for its grand opening, killers stalk its long halls, captured by the hotel’s security cameras, even as hotel staff remains blissfully unaware of the danger lurking…

97800624297049. Sunset City by Melissa Ginsburg 

An underemployed barista searches the highways of Houston for answers in her best friend’s murder. Ginsburg’s debut is a heady, hazy mix of drugs, sex, and alcohol, as her protagonist seeks comfort as much as answers. A twist at the end makes Sunset City a complete mystery, and one which could serve as a primer on how to pass the Bechdel Test.

978006208345610. Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

Lippman’s 2016 standalone, Wilde Lake, is firmly within the “unreliable/unlikable narrator” category of mystery fiction. When a prosecutor returns to her hometown to live with her aging father, she takes on a case that leads to revelations about her own past, complicating her memories of her mother and of a shocking incident during her high school years.

9780765336378Honorable mention: Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall

Land of Shadows came out in 2015, which is the only reason it’s not on the list above – Hall released a second installment of her series in May of 2016, Trail of Echoes (as was properly pointed out to me in a comment on this post), that would certainly have made it onto my top list for the year…if I had managed to finish reading it before the end of the year. Alas, I’ll have to wait for 2017 to review it properly.

In Land of Shadows, Howzell Hall’s debut, her protagonist, Detective Louise Norton, takes on the case of a murdered cheerleader found on a construction site. The owner of the site is anxious to get the project back on track – is his impetus drawn from ordinary business interest, or something shadier? Detective Norton, still stung by the city’s lackluster investigation of her sister’s disappearance, is bound and determined to discover why someone would take the life of such a promising young woman. Land of Shadows features a strong, intelligent, cynical, wise-cracking, feminist, African-American protagonist in a genre that frequently ignores such perspectives, and is a welcome addition to the genre and to my reading library. Plus, it’s got a dynamite ending!

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

If you like Daphne Du Maurier…

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

daphne-du-maurierDaphne du Maurier was best known for her perennially best-selling gothic romance Rebecca, adapted to the screen by Alfred Hitchcock, who also based his film “The Birds” on a short story of Du Maurier’s. Like Patricia Highsmith, many of us today come to du Maurier’s work through film, astonished to discover how fresh and compelling her stories are today. She might not have assigned her fiction to the mystery category, but her gothic settings and destructive relationships fit right in with our current obsession with domestic suspense. The works below are united by their gothic sensibilities, disturbing romances, and dramatic settings. While each has a sense of the mysterious, the novels below acknowledge that what truly haunts us is within us.

9781616205621Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

For those who like their crime fiction cinematic, try Security by Gina Wohlsdorf. Told from the perspectives of a hotel’s security cameras the night before opening as the staff are hunted down by nihilistic killers, Security is perfect for those who who like their settings creepy and luxurious. Named Manderlay, the luxury resort that becomes a killing field in Security deliberately evokes the haunted mansion of Rebecca, and as in  Rebecca, the estate is as much of a character in the novel as any person. You can find copies of Security on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9781681990286Collected Millar: Legendary Novels of Suspense: The Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar

Margaret Millar’s The Stranger in My Grave, included in Collected Millar: Legendary Novels of Suspense, the second volume of Syndicate Books’ release of Margaret Millar’s collected worksis the perfect California twist on Southern Gothic. Daisy Harker dreams again and again of her own grave, the date marked four years earlier. When she meets a private detective while bailing her father out of jail, she hires him to reconstruct the date on the tombstone – December 2nd, 1955 – in her life and the lives of those around her, leading to shocking revelations of hypocrisy from Daisy’s closest companions. You can find copies of Collected Millar: Legendary Novels of Suspense on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9781101984994The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

The Dollhouse, by Fiona Davis, has a gothic setting worthy of any Du Maurier tale. Set in New York City’s famed Barbizon Hotel (in its heyday a residence for glamorous models and secretaries) the novel begins with a journalist’s decision to research the history of her creepy abode, and discover the story behind her neighbor’s unexplained scar and shut-in lifestyle. Flashback sequences to the 1950s describe the professional and sensual awakening of a young secretary just arrived in the big city, caught in a love triangle with a jazz singing maid at the Barbizon and an army vet chef at the local jazz club. Perfect for those who like their romances realistic and their mansions mysterious… You can find copies of The Dollhouse on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

31 Crime Novels by Women: A New Year’s Resolution Progress Report in Honor of Women’s Equality Day

  • 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.

Minotaur Books Created This Stunning Image to Celebrate Women's Equality Day
Minotaur Books created this stunning image in celebration of Women’s Equality Day (this year, Friday, August 26th).

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.

This year, to my surprise, I’m a bit further on the path to completing my reading goal, so time to brag and share it with you all, despite my failure to complete it as of yet. Hey, I’ve got four more months left, so why not put the cart before the horse and smugly tell you all about my accomplishments? After all, I’m 31 books in, 31 crime novels by women that I can now confidently recommend in the store and on the internet, because I have read and enjoyed them. Before I (prematurely) rest on my laurels, I’d like to trace the origins of this mighty goal.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Gina Wohlsdorf

 

  • Interview by Molly Odintz

Gina Wohlsdorf has just released her debut thriller, Securityand man do we love this twisty thriller, told from the omniscient perspective of a hotel’s security cameras as a killer stalks a luxury hotel the night before opening. We asked Gina a few questions about her brilliant and oddly affecting debut for a wide-ranging conversation on gothic literature, slasher films, and surveillance. 

Molly Odintz: Security has a fascinating gimmick – the story is told through the perspective of a hotel’s security cameras, thus making manifest the omniscient narrator. How did you come up with the novel’s unique structure? Are the cameras, and the security guards watching them, our modern equivalent of an all-seeing deity? 

Gina Wohlsdorf: I’d had the premise of a killer in a hotel for quite a long time – I think three or four years – but I didn’t know how to attack it. How could I tell it in a way that was particular and unique, a way that duplicated the sustained dramatic irony of a horror film: the no-don’t-go-in-there knowledge that the viewer has and that the characters lack?

Then I was assigned a novel in grad school – Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet. It was a crazy POV experiment with a first-person narrator who never uses the pronoun ‘I’. This melded in my mind with the old horror hotel plot in a way that was very abrupt, very freaky. The Head of Security started talking, and I listened. The camera splits grew naturally from that, because that’s what he’s seeing. He became my eyes. As near as writing ever gets to easy, it was easy – the biggest problem was keeping up with him.

To be sure, the narrator shares a lot of features with a god – but a god who’s all but incapable of interfering, of hurting or helping, until he accepts his limitations, and how his strengths can survive within those limitations. When our society is assured a place is secure, we tend to believe it. But just as nature abhors a vacuum, chaos deplores our attempts to control it. Oftentimes, the safer we believe we are, the more vulnerable we are to danger, because we stop being vigilant.

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