Crime fiction is a varied genre that is often shunned by book scholars and academics, which is a shame because the vast number of books published in this genre are often fascinating and well crafted. Although crime fiction is a genre often accused of being formulaic, this is not necessarily a negative quality, as within the constraints of a tight set of characteristics skilled authors shine. Here are ten top female crime writers of varied styles.
- Gillian Flynn
Gone Girl is Flynn’s most famous novel, but not her best. The first person perspective used to ramp up the tension is better showcased in her first novel Sharp Objects, which also uses the vaguely gothic small town America setting that Flynn is famous for to provide the subtle eerie quality which makes her narratives so compelling.
- Camilla Läckberg
The influx of Scandinavian crime fiction has helped a new style of crime writing to emerge in recent years, one which Camilla Läckberg pioneers. The dialogue is clipped, the plot tight and the pace fast. Her novels are brilliant examples of how to describe without simply stating. The Ice Princess is a superb novel to begin with if you are new to Scandinavian crime fiction.
- Kate Summerscale
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, whilst a fairly bland television drama, was originally a masterfully crafted and fundamentally scary novel. There is a brusque, matter of fact quality to Summerscale’s prose which lends it the feel of a text written during the period in which it is set, as opposed to the modern novel it actually is.
- Ngaio Marsh
A key figure during what has often been dubed ‘The Golden Age’ for women crime writers, Marsh’s novels are both quintessentially quaint and yet ultimately unsettling simultaneously. Her detective, Inspector Alleyn, is a complex character that never falls into caricature despite the immense number of novels he appears in. Black as He’s Painted is one of her best.
- Sophie Hannah
Although in some respects more thriller than crime fiction, Hannah’s novels are skilled pieces of prose with great emotional depth. The atmosphere Hannah creates is unnerving in an uncanny way, in part because of its superficial domestic feel. Little Face is an excellent example of this.
- Karin Alvtegen
Another novelist from Scandinavia, Alvtegen’s novels forground women characters and her novels are focused on the darker side of human nature, a theme which can lead novels to become unrealistic, but which is masterfully manipulated by Alvetegen. Shame is her best novel and well worth reading.
- Dorothy L. Sayers
Another ‘Golden Age’ writer, Sayers used wit and linguistic skill to make these novels the perfection they are. The novels have not aged as badly as may be expected and some of the moral messages are still relevant. Have His Carcase is the best novel, but the short stories are defiantly worth seeking out- the collection Lord Peter Views the Body is superb and a great place to start.
- P. D. James
James’ novels are an exercise in how write crime fiction without the overuse of gore- James creates interesting and menacing characters and is an expert with a red herring. Many aspects of her novels, such as her sometimes remarkable plots and her sensitive poetry writing police detective, would have counted against a less experienced and skilled novelist but in the hands of James the novels are surprising masterpieces. Shroud for a Nightingale is a must read.
- Ruth Rendell
Rendell’s novels are exemplary examples of police procedurals and the psychology employed is both scary and intriguing. Rendell’s characterisation is immediate and her use of genre tropes is skilled and exact. End in Tears is one of the best examples of this.
- Agatha Christie
Known of as ‘The Queen of Crime’, Christie became the defining figurehead for ‘Golden Age’ detective fiction and a pioneer among women crime writers. Her three main detective franchises, Poirot, Miss Marple and Tommy and Tuppence, as well as her play The Mousetrap, are all still widely and highly regarded today. Her knowledge of everything from architecture to culture and food enhance her already gripping narratives and her quirky characters shine under her linguistic brilliance. Her first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the best place to start.