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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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Southern Women Writers Serve up Some Fantastic Fare!

By Cindy Schuchardt, Reference Department

Mmm, Mmm…

March is National Women’s History Month, an excellent time to recognize the talents and achievements of the South’s female writers. Through the years, Southern women writers have cooked up some amazing literary works, often focusing attention on relationships and families and advocating for gender, racial and socioeconomic equity.  And of course, southern food is key in Southern life and culture and is often used as an important tool for these writers. Won’t you join me for this literary feast?

Appetizer:

Delta Wedding, by Eudora Welty

In Delta Wedding, Eudora Welty examines the complex relationships of the many individuals in the Fairchild family.  The story is set in rural Mississippi during the 1920s, at the family’s plantation, Shellmound.  The novel focuses on a wedding between the family’s 17-year-old daughter, Dabney Fairchild, and Troy, the caretaker for the plantation. From the rehearsal dinner, to the wedding feast, to the post-wedding picnic, Welty gives us Southern cuisine aplenty.  As the Southern women in the story cook together and talk together, we learn much about them, their values, and their commitment to family.

Entrée:

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, by Fannie Flagg

From the first three words on the cover of Fannie Flagg’s book, our mouths are watering.  All through the book, food is important.  The novel tells the story of a friendship between the elderly Mrs. Ninny Threadgoode and the middle-aged and discouraged Evelyn Couch.  When Evelyn’s husband visits his mother at the Rose Terrace Nursing Home, Evelyn instead visits with Mrs. Threadgoode in the lobby.  She returns time after time.

As the two women talk, Mrs. Threadgoode reveals the story of Idgie and Ruth, two women who opened a café together in Whistle Stop, Alabama, back in the 1930s.  In a setting fraught with poverty and racial tension, Idgie makes the café food available to everyone – although she is unfairly required to feed her black friends outside the back door.

The Whistle Stop food was home-cooked, nourishing and comforting, based on recipes from Sipsey, a black woman who had been working in the Threadgoode house since she was a girl.

“Even at eleven they say she could make the most delicious biscuits and gravy, cobbler fried chicken, turnip greens and black-eyed peas,” recalls Mrs. Threadgoode to Evelyn.  “And her dumplings were so light they would float in the air and you’d have to catch ’em to eat ’em.”

A sharp contrast is provided by the pre-packaged snack foods and vending machine fare that Evelyn eats and shares with Mrs. Threadgoode.  We see that Evelyn has an unhealthy relationship with food, gnawing through dozens of candy bars in one sitting and then obsessing about being overweight.

Later in the novel, Flagg depicts a heightened understanding in Evelyn, who prepares a lovely dinner for her friend:

“When Mrs. Threadgoode saw what she had on her plate, she clapped her hands, as excited as a child on Christmas. There before her was a plate of perfectly fried green tomatoes and fresh cream-white corn, six slices of bacon, with a bowl of baby lima beans on the side and four huge light and fluffy buttermilk biscuits.”

Dessert:

Hallelujah!  The Welcome Table, by Maya Angelou

I saved a book by one of my favorite writers, Maya Angelou, for our final course. While best known for her autobiographical memoirs, poems and essays, Angelou has also crafted cookbooks among her “lighter fare.” The subtitle to Hallelujah! The Welcome Table invites the reader to enjoy “A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes.”  The Random House book jacket proclaims that the book is “a stunning combination of the two things Angelou loves best: writing and cooking.”

Each section of the book is introduced with personal reflection. In one of these, Angelou recalls the desserts that were shared to cap off local quilting bees:

“Mrs. Sneed, the pastor’s wife, would bring sweet potato pie, warm and a little too sweet for Momma’s taste but perfect to Bailey and me.  Mrs. Miller’s coconut cake and Mrs. Kendrick’s chocolate fudge were what Adam and Eve ate in the Garden just before the Fall.  But the most divine dessert of all was Momma’s Caramel Cake.”

Angelou goes on to share a poignant memory of how her mother baked a caramel cake to lift her spirits after an incident earlier that day.  A teacher had slapped the then-mute Maya and demanded that she talk. Read the rest of this entry

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