lip top 10: female crime writers
I think I’ve mentioned before that crime fiction is almost a guilty pleasure for me – I read a ton of it in high school, and still pick it up when I don’t want to have to think too hard about the plot or the characterisation. I do realise that the appeal of crime fiction is supposed to be that the reader gets to play detective, but I don’t particularly enjoy figuring out whodunit, or picking the red herrings, or languishing in my sleuthing triumph of failure. Basically, I love a good denouement. God knows I can be damn nosy sometimes, and I just love that it’s lazy read because they’re always going to explain it to you in the last chapter. So here’s a by no means definitive list of female crime writers who have made it on for a variety of reasons. I had to cut a shit ton out of this, so please get in the comments and tell me your favourites. I may find some new authors to check out!
1. Agatha Christie
Whether you’re a fan of the classic crime fiction style, where intellect and logic are the primary tools used by the detective to solve the crime, or not, it’s hard to deny that Agatha Christie is the champion of genre. Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple – they were both her. She also wrote The Mousetrap, which is the world’s longest running play. It has been running continuously in London since 1952, and clocked its 25,000th performance in 2012.
2. Ruth Rendell
Or to use her official title, Baroness Rendell of Barbergh, is credited (along with P. D. James) for revolutionising the crime fiction genre, turning the focus from whodunit into whydunit. In most of her novels the killers are mentally ill or socially disadvantaged, so the stories look at how the protagonists’ situation affects both them and the people around them.
3. Kathryn Fox
I would be a terrible person if I didn’t include at least one Aussie in here, and honestly, if you haven’t read much crime fiction but want to give it a go, this wouldn’t be bad place to start. I really enjoy the familiarity of the Sydney setting of her novels, and like any good crime fiction novel, they’re formulaic but suck you right in.
4. P. D. James
I’ve already mentioned her in passing, and the theme that appears to be emerging is that she is also a Baroness (of Holland Park). I did actually read one of her novels during high school for Extension English and hated myself sick because I thought it was terribly dull, but she last published a novel in 2011 when she was 90 years old which is pretty impressive.
5. Patricia Cornwell
Cornwell has sold a casual 100 million copies of her novels. They must be pretty shit.
6. Harriet Stratemeyer Adams
A little piece of me died when I found that the author of the Nancy Drew stories, Carolyn Keene, was actually a whole bunch of ghostwriters who were all contracted to the Stratemeyer Syndicate, owned by Harriet’s father. But I loved Nancy Drew as a kid, and Harriet wrote a bunch of them, so I’ve thrown her on here.
7. Enid Blyton
I remember being quite young and picking up some books at my grandparents’ house that I think belonged to my grandmother. I can’t remember if it was Famous Five or Secret Seven that I was reading, but it was kids solving mysteries and was probably the start of a phase where I wanted to be detective. A recurring phase. And now that I think about it, was probably the birth of my love of crime fiction. Oh my God, self revelation!
8. Mary Higgins Clark
Higgins Clark has published 42 mystery/suspense novels and every one of them has been a bestseller. Every one. One of them is even in its 75th printing. It stands to reason that she’s pretty popular.
9. Charlaine Harris
You might know Harris as the author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, but did you know that her first series was about Aurora Teagarden, a librarian who belonged to a club that studied unsolved crimes? Her next series was about a cleaning lady who was also a detective. I haven’t seen enough of True Blood to know if it holds true to the books, but Sookie Stackhouse was written as a bit of an amateur detective too.
10. Patricia Highsmith
Strangers on a Train – that is her! I wouldn’t call it traditional crime fiction, but crimes do occur, so she’s in on a technicality. She also wrote the Ripley series.