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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If you like Tana French…

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

French has a reputation across the world for designing cases that bring her protagonists’ darkest desires into play, and creating murder victims that psychologically mirror (and sometimes physically, as in The Likeness) the detectives working on the case. Her latest, The Trespasser, features a model-thin corpse, a bunch of good ole’ boy detectives, and Antoinette Conway, odd woman out at the police station, driven to solve the case by the mocking challenges of her peers, plus the usual Tana French resonance between the case and Conway’s past. Here are three stories that exploit unstable identities, distorted reflections, and the weight of the past to comment upon the anxieties of our times.

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz9781451686630

In Lisa Lutz’s latest, The Passenger, two women on the run meet in a bar in Austin, form an alliance, and switch identities, hoping to outwit their pursuers. Lutz has created a fascinating meditation on the changeable nature of identity – but her slow reveals and tense travel sequences keep The Passenger moving at highway speed. You can find copies of The Passenger on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9780143108573Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

Flynn Berry’s debut, Under the Harrow, takes the reader to a remote village, where city girl Nora has just arrived to visit her sister Rachel, only to find the sister and her guard dog murdered. An attack by a slasher marred her sister’s teenage years, and police have in mind a recently released convict for both crimes, yet Nora suspects the village, and its secrets, may have more to do with Rachel’s death. Like Tana French, Flynn Berry weaves past and present together for their themes – not their coincidences. You can find copies of Under the Harrow on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9780765336378Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall

In Rachel Howzell Hall’s L.A.-set debut, Land of Shadows, Eloise “Lou” Martin is a homicide detective with a porsche, but she won’t let herself forget that she comes from a poor neighborhood in South Central La and her porsche showed up as a “sorry, baby” gift from her cheating, game-designer husband. When a cheerleader is found murdered at a controversial construction site, real estate moguls clash with neighborhood leaders as the investigation stalls construction. Martin is out to get justice for the young woman, whose murder reminds her of her sister’s disappearance 20 years before, and she’s out to get a little justice for the neighborhood too. Personal vengeance mixes with housing policy to create a complex, multifaceted tale of murder, investigation and consequences. You can find copies of Land of Shadows 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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Molly’s Top Ten (actually, 11) of the Year (So Far)

  • Post by bookseller and blogger Molly Odintz

97816162056211. Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

Gina Wohlsdorf’s debut thriller, Security, is a perfect mixture of romance, action, and surveillance, told from the multiple perspectives of a hotel’s security cameras just before its grand opening. The hotel, named Manderley Luxury Resort, is the modern-day mixture of many of fiction’s creepiest mansions and resorts.  Security follows two men, the Killer and the Thinker, as they carve their way through the hotel’s staff. Are they psychotic serial killers? Are they trained mercenaries? Is it personal? All these questions may not even matter to the reader once they become fully immersed in the queasy voyeurism of narration-by-camera and watch the novel’s two heroes, hotel manager Tessa and her foster brother Brian, rekindle their childhood romance as they fight for their lives. The novel concludes with a stunning chase sequence and a host of shocking reveals, and the end is strangely emotionally affecting.


97816121950012. The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

 This one is part fairy tale, part abduction narrative. When a young girl in a red coat goes missing from a fairground, her mother suspects the worst, worried her fey-like child might never return. Hammer continues the tale from the dual perspectives of mother and daughter as they face their own challenges in their quest to reunite. Unexpected and haunting, with gorgeous prose and fascinating characters!

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MysteryPeople Q&A: UNDER THE HARROW by Flynn Berry

 

  • Post by Molly Odintz

Flynn Berry’s debut novel, Under the Harrow, is a powerful novel about women, their choices, and their relationships with each other. Nora, London sophisicate and ex-party girl, takes the train to Cornwall, expecting a nice, bucolic visit with her sister Rachel. Upon her arrival, she finds her sister murdered. Her vacation away from the stress of the city turns into a nightmare of rural secrets and resurfacing traumas as she seeks her sister’s killer. 

Under the Harrow has received a ton of praise this summer, all of it well deserved. RT Book Reviews, in just one of many gushing reviews, called the novel “the stuff of classic crime fiction, but this is deeper than a caper—it is the story of a woman working through her stages of grief.” My favorite blurb comes from author Claire Messud described Berry’s debut as “like Broadchurch written by Elena Ferrante,” which I took to mean the novel does not sacrifice pace for feminism, or vice versa. I also must admit that while I hate recommending books as “beach reads,” I did read most of Under the Harrow at the beach, and the dark atmosphere of the novel provided a perfect antidote to the hot, hot sun. 

Flynn Berry joins us Saturday, June 18th, at 6 PM to speak and sign her debut. She was kind enough to let us interview her before the event. 

“The “girl” trend is funny, but so understandable. Publishing is hard, and if you have a shortcut to get a reader’s attention, it makes sense that there’s pressure to use it. I also like that “girl” is now shorthand for “dark and twisted.” That’s so satisfying.”

Molly Odintz: Under the Harrow is your debut, yet it perfectly mixes mature themes and a nail-biter of a plot. What was your writing process for the novel? What advice would you give writers starting out in the genre?

Flynn Berry: I spent a year writing Under the Harrow. Then there was another year of revision and copyedits once it was with the publisher. My writing process is that I write longhand, while listening to the same few songs on repeat. I try to write for three hours a day. But I was also working, so often it was less.

And the other thing is that I wrote two full novels before this one, that I didn’t send out. I loved working on them and was committed to them, but they weren’t quite ready.

So I think my biggest piece of advice is to be patient. And to just always keep nudging it forward, even if all you can do in a day is write one sentence or figure out a character name.

MO: It’s so rare to find women avenged by other women in crime novels – usually a man goes out to seek revenge for the death of a woman. In fact, I can’t think of a single crime novel where a woman sets out to avenge the death of an adult male figure. What was your inspiration for the women in this story, and why do they seek their own vengeance?

FB: That’s so interesting—I’d never considered it before, but you’re right, I can’t think of one either.

I was really angry when I started the book. There had been a few awful crimes against women in Austin that made me furious on behalf of the victim.

So the book is sort of a revenge fantasy. And I kept asking what I would do next, and that led Nora further and further into obsession.

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