Sam Spade... Charlie Chan... Mike Hammer.
If you're not a serious reader of crime fiction then when you think of the genre you probably think of men: Dig a little deeper — or be as well-versed in the genre as the authors of this list — and you'll find dozens of titles not only featuring female protagonists, but written by women as well.
In honor of Women's History Month, and to broaden your horizons, I give you this list of crime fiction titles that are both about women and written by women. Enjoy.
by Celia Fremlin
This Edgar-award winning debut is a realistic and then terror-filled portrayal of a new mother desperately in search of sleep as her child keeps crying the night. When a new boarder moves in downstairs, things start getting moved around, the baby disappears — only to be found outside hours later — and the mother's increased anguish is blamed on nerves and dismissed by those closest to her. Is she losing her mind or is something sinister at work? This is a tremendous domestic thriller, the likes of which I wish we'd see more of now.
by Summer Brenner
As a fiction writer, I've been obsessed with America's (and the entire worlds') underground economies for the past year or so, which is why I think I-5 had so much resonance for me. The author not only effectively paints a portrait of the life of a front-line sex worker, but also takes on the point of view of everyone from the boss/organizer to middle management to the lowliest workers on the totem pole... and he packs all of it into a tightly wound ball of sheer horror. A fantastic read from beginning to end.
by Megan Abbott
Marion Seeley's doctor husband has lost his license due to drug use, and the only job he can get is in Mexico. So he leaves his young wife in Arizona where she gets a job at a clinic. It's there that she meets Louise Mercer — a nurse who is vibrant, scintillating, full of life, and is as much a woman of the world as Marion is naive and innocent. Louise and her friend Ginny introduce Marion to another life — wild parties, alcohol, and powerful and dangerous men. Watching Marion become drawn into the depravity and become tainted by it is both enthralling and unsettling. This is a wonderful tale filled with darkness, lust, sin, vividly drawn characters and beautifully atmospheric and evocative writing.
by Margaret Millar
Millar's 1955 novel Beast in View won the MWA's Edgar Award, was named as one of the >The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time by the British Crime Writers Association, and was made into an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It's also Millar at the peak of her psychological suspense powers, as lonely, wealthy and reclusive Helen Clarvoe begins receiving threatening phone calls from someone identifying herself as Evelyn Merrick, a former classmate who was also briefly married to Helen's homosexual brother. Estranged from family and not sure where to turn, Helen enlists the aid of Paul Blackshear (a "tired, detached, balding knight in Harris tweeds"), the man handling her late father's estate. Lured out of her comfort zone and sanctuary within the rooms of a second-rate residential Hollywood hotel, Helen soon finds herself drawn into a world of extortion, pornography and murder, as the story builds to one of Millar's signature surprise endings.
by Kelli Stanley
Sam Spade is the classic early 20th-century San Francisco private eye. But Stanley's Miranda Corbie, a chain-smoking and sarcasm-chewing young escort turned detective, proves herself to be no less capable than Spade in this thoroughly engaging first entry in a new Bay Area-based series. The year is 1940, and Corbie is digging through Chinatown and the echoing hallways of her city's establishment to find out who murdered a young numbers runner. Racism and sexism both rear their ugly heads as Corbie's investigation leads her to gangsters up from Los Angeles, a human smuggling ring, and a parallel probe into the sorry fate of an old friend.
by Craig Rice
It's a shame that the novels of Craig Rice (pseudonym of Georgiana Ann Randolph Walker Craig) are out of print, but please don't let that stop you. Used copies are still available of this screwball murder mystery in which the inebriated trio of socialite Helene Brand, press agent Jake Justus, and lawyer John J. Malone must find the murderer and figure out why all the clocks suddenly stopped right at 3:00. It was originally published in 1939, but Rice's inimitably soused and zany humor, and the utterly bizarre mystery of the plot, hold up extremely well. Rice continued to write about the trio for many years, and in 1946 she had the honor of being the first mystery writer ever to appear on the cover of Time magazine.
by Imogen Robertson
by S. J. Rozan
S.J. Rozan is one of the finest P.I. writers alive today and China Trade introduces us to Lydia Chin, a Chinese-American private eye. China Trade sees Lydia hired by the Chinatown Pride Museum to recover stolen antique porcelains. She enlists the help of her sometimes assistant, full-time sleuth Bill Smith to deal not only with the criminal element of Chinatown, but also her own family's issues with her choice of employment. After all, P.I. work is not suitable for a young Chinese lady!
by Ryan David Jahn
Asked for crime fiction — written by a woman and with a female protagonist — a title immediately sprang to mind Unfortunately, it's written by a man. Fortunately, because the book depicts just how fast the lives of women have changed in my own lifetime, Flashlight Worthy's letting me cheat and use the title anyway. The author is Ryan David Jahn and the novel is his first, Acts of Violence. In 1964, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside her home in New York City. It was thought that up to 38 people witnessed her attack, but did nothing to help, leading to what became known as the "Bystander Effect". Inspired by the case, Jahn's Acts of Violence brings us the fictional story of the night that Katrina Marino suffered the same fate. The novel is effectively a series of vignettes, moving from Katrina's heartbreaking experiences to those of the otherwise engaged witnesses and back again, to the police and ambulance crew who are eventually called to the scene, sadly all too late, and to the perpetrator of the crime. It's a superbly written, shocking and powerful literary thriller that grips from the first lines and never lets the reader relax. When it comes to the lives of women, Jahn depicts time and place with great accuracy. The 1960s were not so long ago, but the pressures felt by women then were different from today. In Acts of Violence, one of the witnesses is a white woman married to a black man; both have to carefully consider their actions and lives in ways now gone, because of racial prejudice and hatred. As well as being an excellent novel, Jahn's Acts of Violence delivers the stark reality of how lives can change in so little time.
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