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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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 Sarah Weinman

  • Interview by Molly Odintz

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 50sreleased 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 anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wivesand 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.

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MysteryPeople Favorites In the Media

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!

hap-and-leonard-200_trudy-christina-hendricks_hap-james-purefoy_leonard-michael-williams_01_1000x594
Photo courtesy of Sundance

Watch the Hap & Leonard Trailer

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.


Why All the Mystery Novels with Girl in the Title? Megan Abbott and Sarah Weinman Explain the Phenomena to NPR

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.

Click Here for Interview Highlights or to Listen to the Full Interview

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.

Molly’s Top 10 U.S.-set Crime Novels of 2015

2015 has been an eclectic year for crime novels. Below, you’ll find historical fiction, reissues, domestic suspense, sophisticated city thrillers, and coincidentally, several books detailing the nightmarish and inescapable legacy of high school. Whether you are looking for dark and dense or light and playful, there’s a book on this list guaranteed to tickle your fancy. 


1. In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hugheswomen crime writers 1940s

Hughes’ tale of an homme fatale turns the sexualized imagery of crime novels on its head, and like much of the genre, once again reminds us how to find the eroticism in death, and the violence in sex. In a Lonely Place, after decades out of print, is now available as part of the Library of America’s collection Women Crime Writers of the 40s & 50s.


2. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegheileen

In Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh takes us on the tour of small town life in mid-century America. Eileen, a repressed juvenile prison administrator stuck taking care of her drunk father in their filthy house, is fearful and disgusted by virtually every bodily function or urge. When a glamorous new coworker joins the prison staff as the new juvenile therapist, the two form an intense bond, liberating each from the confines of their historical context.

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Top Eight Reissues of 2015

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.


Scott’s Top Reissues of 2015


1. GBH by Ted Lewisgbh

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.


2. Women Crime Writers Of The 40s And 50s edited by Sarah Weinmanwomen crime writers 1950s

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.

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If you like Gillian Flynn…

– Recommendations from Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
9781940610382Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott
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

9780425278406Remember Mia by Alexandra Burt

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 of Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s: A Library of America Boxed Set on our shelves and via bookpeople.com