Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Some Recommended Women Mystery Writers

The first female detective novel was written by a man, James Redding Ware, in 1864. It was another two decades before Anna Katherine Green (I've written about her before) and some other pioneers broke the ice and women became known as both the authors and protagonists of the mystery genre.
Now in the heat of summer as some of you may be seeking books to read, I thought it might be fun to name some of my favorite women writers and what I like about them. Personally, I don't care about the gender of a writer; my only concern is the books. I read widely and these are not the only women I read, so if your favorite isn't on my list it doesn't mean I think her unworthy. Also, my list is not in order of preference, but just a random listing as I think about them.
Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine (1930-2015) is at the top of my pantheon of favorite women writers. She varies from tightly knit psychological novels to the more cozy-style Inspector Wexford series. Some favorites: A Sight For Sore Eyes, a Rendell standalone; Kissing the Gunner's Daughter (Wexford) and The Chimney Sweeper's Boy (Vine).
Patricia Highsmith, (1921-1995) the American grande dame of psychological thrillers. The Ripley books are probably the best known now and worth a read. My personal choice though would be either Strangers on a Train, her first novel, or The Cry of the Owl.
Elizabeth George, (1949-) an American who writes the Inspector Lynley series set in Britain. Lynley is an interesting character, an aristocrat who chooses to work in the sordid crime world of the police. Still, as a character, I prefer his junior officer Barbara Havers, feisty and disorderly, but dedicated to the work. As to books, you can't go wrong with the first in the series, A Great Deliverance.
Val McDermid (1955-), a Scottish crime writer with three series going--Dr. Tony Hill series, Kate Branigan series and Lindsay Gordon series. My preferred of her work, though, are two standalone novels, A Darker Domain and A Place of Execution.
Rebecca Stott (1964) has only published two crime novels to date, Ghostwalk and The Coral Thief. Ghostwalk, the only one of the two I've read so far, was shortlisted for the Jelf First Novel award and the Society of Authors first novel award. The New York Times compared her to Borge and Edgar Allan Poe, which seems right on to me.
Kate Atkinson (1951-), another Brit, who writes (among other things) the Jackson Brodie series. I've only read two of the books to date and Started Early, Took My Dog stands out as another quirky favorite for its wit, characterization and surprises.
Karin Fossum (1954), billed as the 'Norwegian Queen of Crime' makes the list for her Inspector Sejer series. Fossum, who began as a poet, has about a dozen books in the series to date. My choice, Bad Intentions.
Caroline Graham (1931-) is best known for her Chief Inspector Barnaby series (produced for TV as Midsomer Murders). She also has a quirky style that amuses me. I've liked The Ghost in the Machine and Faithful Unto Death, among others.
Sophie Hannah (1971-) is a British poet and novelist. I love her Waterhouse and Zailer series. A fav being Kind of Cruel, which will confuse and amuse you.
Laura Lippman (1959-), a Baltimore-based journalist turned novelist. Her Tess Monaghan series has been a hit since its debut in 1997. But, don't miss her standalone novels either, especially After I'm Gone and The Most Dangerous Thing.
Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958), a Pennsylvania-native, is often referred to as the "American Agatha Christie." During her long career, she penned three series, some 30-standalones, 10 short story collections and a dozen or more plays. Rather than tossing a coin to decide which to read, I'd recommend her first book, The Circular Staircase, which sold 1.25 million copies and propelled her to fame.
Finally, a writer I only recently discovered: Tana French (1973-), an Irish writer/actor whose talent blew me away when I read my first of her novels. To date I've read: Faithful Place, Broken Harbour and The Secret Place. Her novel In the Woods won an Edgar in 2008 for Best First Novel.

I could have recommended many more, but there has to be a limit in a blog. I also know this list comprises writers who have already achieved a modicum of fame. In recompense, sometime in the near future I'll compile a list of lesser-known women writers who've intrigued me.


  1. I too love ValMcDermid's books, especially the stand alone ones. Not too keen on Elizabeth George, she pads out a bit too much but I do like the tv version. I also like Kathy Reichs.

    1. I agree George tends to over-write, but by then I'm too caught up in the story to care. Thanks for commenting, Margaret.

  2. Great list and great reminder. Sometimes we get so caught up in things that we forget some of the authors we enjoy.

  3. You have no idea how many books you just single-handedly added to my TRB. I don't know whether to thank you or run down the road screaming.

    1. That is, TBR. As they say, I do my best proofreading after I hit "publish."

    2. Hah, hah. Didn't intend to send anyone screaming down the road. Thanks, Amy.