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More Chills! More Thrills!

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Have you been on the edge of your seat, waiting for this next installment of my Suspense Spectacular? (Just answer Yes; let’s get an atmosphere going.) My previous post introduced a few big names in the genre. We also honored the predecessors of today’s hits. Today, I’ll start by focusing on female stars of the genre. Lastly, we’ll dig up hidden gems from authors you might not expect.

Writing for The Atlantic, Terrence Rafferty claims that “Women Are Writing the Best Crime Novels.” He says, “They don’t seem to believe in heroes as much as their male counterparts, which in some ways makes their storytelling a better fit for the times.” Without shying away from murder – be it most gruesome – the insightful women who have flourished within “domestic noir” write with “awareness of that inside-out sort of violence” that occurs so often in real life. (1) So, if you’re looking for a psychological edge, you’ll be spoiled for choice among women authors in this genre.

Incidentally, I learned that several male writers use female pen names within this genre. (2) That makes marketing sense, as their readers are more likely to be women. (3) Considering the history of women authors using masculine noms de plume – their only option if they hoped to be taken seriously – it’s ironic that men can now use women’s names in order to increase their own profitability as authors!

Don’t worry. This is not a blog post about The Patriarchy. But I hope to highlight some of the writers of this genre who actually are women – not men using women’s names. (Yes, I did double-check them all! My search history got a little weird.) You can find summaries of intriguing titles online.

Women of the Genre

  • Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train; Deep Water.
  • Katherine Neville, The Eight. This “historical thriller/whodunnit/magical story” paved the way for works like The Da Vinci Code, Kostova’s The Historian, and Mosse’s The Labyrinth. (4)
  • Tana French, The Secret Place. In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad series).
  • Amy Greene, Long Man. A small, East Tennessee community desperately searches for a missing toddler before the TVA floods their town.
  • Sarah Waters, Fingersmith. Readers love this Dickensian tale’s twists and turns.
  • Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl confronts the myth that “women are … naturally good,” a misconception that “robs [them] of any sort of will.” (5)
  • Megan Abbott, You Will Know Me.
  • Denise Mina, Garnethill (Garnethill trilogy); The Field of Blood (Paddy Mehan novels); Still Midnight (Alex Morrow novels).
  • Minette Walters, The Ice House; The Sculptress; The Scold’s Bridle.
  • Dorothy B. Hughes, Ride the Pink Horse; In a Lonely Place.
  • Donna Tartt, The Secret History. “[It’s] both an intellectual novel of ideas and a murder mystery without the whodunnit element.” “[An] amazing book that combines crime and Greek language and mythology with Donna Tartt’s beautiful writing style.” “[This] was one of the most unique reading experiences of my life.” (6, 7, 8)
  • Alex Marwood, The Darkest Secret.
  • Libby Fischer Hellman, A Bitter Veil. Reviewers call it “gripping,” “poignant,” “terrifying,” “viscerally effective.” (9)
  • Vicki Hendricks, Miami Purity. A raw, erotic story.
  • Liane Moriarty, The Husband’s Secret.
  • Tess Gerritsen, Playing with Fire. I love this review: “OMG Tess Gerritsen, give me my life back! I’ve never been so consumed by a book — let alone one about a…diabolical cursed violin score, toddler psychopath, and WWII-era Italy? Yeah, I was as skeptical as you probably are, but somehow it all works. I couldn’t stop tearing through the pages… What a whirlwind!” (10)
  • Renée Ahdieh updates the story of Scheherazade (1001 Nights) in The Wrath & the Dawn.
  • Alison Gaylin, What Remains of Me.
  • Jessica Knoll, Luckiest Girl Alive.
  • Val McDermid, The Mermaids Singing (Tony Hill series); A Place of Execution.
  • Margaret Millar, How Like an Angel; A Stranger in My Grave.
  • Sophie Hannah, Woman with a Secret.
  • Barbara Vine (real name, “Ruth Barbara Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, CBE”) was a prolific writer of intense psychological thrillers and murder mysteries. Award-winning titles include Make Death Love Me, A Fatal Inversion, The House of Stairs, and King Solomon’s Carpet. Reading thrillers written by an English baroness sounds like a good idea to me. (11)

As you can see, there are so many incredible women authors to choose from; I found it difficult to stop adding names to the list!

Now, by “Deep Cuts,” I mean a few things: lesser-known works by famous authors, works of suspense by authors who normally write within a different genre, or even books you might pick up without knowing what thrills lie in store.

Deep Cuts

  • Agatha Christie sometimes falls into the “cozy mystery” subgenre, thanks to her Miss Marple But And Then There Were None is a deliciously frightening work.
  • Steven King, master of horror, also writes suspense that takes place in a monster-less world. The Long Walk and The Running Man are two examples, published under pseudonym Richard Bachman. (12)
  • Dan Brown wrote tech thriller Digital Fortress before finding fame with The Da Vinci Code.
  • Herman Koch’s The Dinner finds two families deciding how to deal with their teenage sons, who have committed a violent crime, over dinner. The evening starts off civil enough, but inevitably unravels. (14)
  • Gogol, Pushkin, Tolstoy, and others shine in the lesser-known tales collected in The Greatest Russian Stories of Crime and Suspense (Otto Penzler, editor). (15)
  • Roald Dahl, beloved children’s author, wrote some truly twisted short stories for adults. I have to say, it was eye-opening to stumble upon them as a young girl!

Nothing beats a page-turner when it comes to summer reads; and I’ve certainly given you a lot to choose from here. So come to the library, check out a book, and beat the heat with a chilling tale of suspense!

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