More dark thrillers by women?
February 5, 2014 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Another ReadMe Question. Lately I've been really enjoying literary-leaning thrillers and mystery type books authored by women. Can you recommend some more?

Recently I've read Gone Girl, We Need to Talk About Kevin, In the Woods, Notes on a Scandal, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Really into these books.

I think why I like them is: 1) The writing is very good, "literary"; 2) They are page turners. They have intriguing plots that move along; 3) They are dark; 4) They are all very creative somehow, either in the story or the structure or both. Not your run-of-the-mill thrillers, so to speak; 4) They are written by women.

I'd like to read more books like this. Can you recommend some?

Thanks! You guys are the best.
posted by Lutoslawski to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 125 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Donna Tartt, I'd wager. The Secret History was great. I haven't read the Goldfinch yet.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:21 AM on February 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I was just about to say, Murder mystery with literary aspirations written by a woman? You want The Little Friend by Donna Tartt.
posted by The Whelk at 10:25 AM on February 5, 2014

Night Film, for sure. Try to go into it as un-spoiled as possible.
posted by jbickers at 10:26 AM on February 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Multiple Exposure by Ellen Crosby was quite good.
posted by stampsgal at 10:33 AM on February 5, 2014

Sounds like Out by Natsuo Kirino might be your cup of tea.
posted by warble at 10:34 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you want well written mystery books, authored by literary women, you HAVE to consider Dorothy L. Sayers. Lord Peter Wimsey isn't dark, but BOY are they thoughtful, well written and just plain interesting.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:35 AM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Lifeboat, by Charlotte Rogan. Just really well done.
posted by mochapickle at 10:35 AM on February 5, 2014

Best answer: Just reading The Goldfinch now and it's right up your alley. Also, Beyond Black.
posted by Erasmouse at 10:35 AM on February 5, 2014

Best answer: To jump on the Donna Tartt bandwagon, The Secret History and The Goldfinch are both fantastic. I found The Little Friend to be slow going in parts. I also adored Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.
posted by kimdog at 10:37 AM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know my mystery-fan mother and sister really like Tana French, though I haven't read her stuff. They're always talking about how literary and smart her books are.
posted by mlle valentine at 10:38 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

All of the Jackson Brodie books by Kate Atkinson. Some of the best literary fiction going.

And if you just want superbly written mysteries, PD James is a writer of immense accomplishment and you can read all of her work in order. It's traditional mysteries.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:38 AM on February 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

You might enjoy Miami Purity or Cruel Poetry by Vicki Hendricks.
posted by dortmunder at 10:39 AM on February 5, 2014

Oh! nthing Fingersmith. You might also like The Little Stranger and Affinity, same author.
posted by mochapickle at 10:39 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Love Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt series.
posted by rdnnyc at 10:39 AM on February 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Barbara Vine is the name that mystery author Ruth Rendell uses when she's writing psychological thrillers. I haven't read any of her most recent books, but I've liked the earlier ones.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:41 AM on February 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

Oops... I was confusing The Little Stranger and The Little Friend in my earlier comment. The Little Stranger by Waters is the one I found slow going. Which means I haven't read The Little Friend, and I am going to rectify that immediately!
posted by kimdog at 10:44 AM on February 5, 2014

^ The Little Friend is good.
posted by mochapickle at 10:45 AM on February 5, 2014

The Thirteenth Tale, continuing the trend of big creepy houses. You've read some Tana French (In The Woods) but have you done The Likeness? Another big creepy house story. It's an unlikely plot, but I couldn't put it down.
posted by mochapickle at 10:47 AM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Barbara Vine -- the earlier stuff, up until about 10 years ago. I like Susan Hill's Simon Serrailer novels (read in order). Finish up with Tana French's books. Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale was really compelling, though not probably as good as some of the others. Val McDermid's A Place of Execution fits (the Hill/Jordan are more run of the mill mysteries). Carol O'Connell's Mallory books or her standalones. Laurie R. King's standalones work (her mysteries are again more typical plotting).

In slightly more typical world, CS Harris writes enjoyable historical mysteries about Sebastien St-Cyr, Cora Harrison writes neat books about Irish law, Ariana Franklin wrote a fantastic standalone about 30s Berlin and series about a Jewish doctor in the time of Henry II, and Imogen Robertson's The Paris Winter was lots of fun.
posted by jeather at 10:49 AM on February 5, 2014

Jennifer Egan's The Keep meets every one of your criteria.
posted by neroli at 10:58 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Denise Mina.
posted by mareli at 10:59 AM on February 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Natsuo Kirino, a Japanese writer. She's amazing.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 11:03 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you might really like Patricia Highsmith:
Although she wrote specifically in the genre of crime fiction, her books have been lauded by various writers and critics as being artistic and thoughtful enough to rival mainstream literature. Michael Dirda observed, "Europeans honored her as a psychological novelist, part of an existentialist tradition represented by her own favorite writers, in particular Dostoevsky, Conrad, Kafka, Gide, and Camus."[2]
Her books are dark alright, but it's a darkness radiant, and her prose can be dazzling.
posted by jamjam at 11:06 AM on February 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yet another person here who came in to recommend Donna Tartt!

Since that ground appears to be well covered, I'll say that I enjoyed Sophie Hanna's Little Face and its sequels and I've heard good stuff about Emily St John Mandel who also seems to fit your criteria.

There's also always Du Maurier.
posted by the latin mouse at 11:10 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

nthing Sayers (not dark, but some of them, like Murder Must Advertise and Have His Carcase, come close) and Highsmith (particularly the Ripley books). Also try P. D. James. The Adam Dalgliesh novels are pretty dark.
posted by ubiquity at 11:15 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Laura Kasischke! My favorite of her books is The Raising, but I think you might also enjoy Be Mine.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 11:21 AM on February 5, 2014

Best answer: Oh! Have you read Emma Donoghue's Room?
posted by pretentious illiterate at 11:24 AM on February 5, 2014

(sorry, I realize you read Tana French already. d'oh. as an exchange for not RTFQ let me suggest Lyndsay Faye's The Gods of Gotham, which is amazing--a historical detective novel set at the start of the NYPD.)
posted by mlle valentine at 11:27 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ooh. If you're doing P. D. James, start with Original Sin. It comes partway through the series, but it works well enough as a standalone and I think that of all her books the events at the end of Original Sin come closest to your fourth criteria.
posted by the latin mouse at 11:29 AM on February 5, 2014

Laurie R. King

The Mary Russell series hasn't been very good the last few years, but the first five or six are great. She has a modern-day series and some standalones as well; I particularly enjoyed A Darker Place.
posted by slenderloris at 11:35 AM on February 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Mo Hayder!
posted by something something at 11:35 AM on February 5, 2014

Last thing: this is pretty much my favorite genre. I recently made a goodreads list of faves in this vein that included Tana French, Gillian Flynn, Sarah Waters, Donna Tartt, Laura Kasischke, and Emma Donoghue - basically, most of the writers that are surfacing here. I didn't mean to make the list be almost all women - I'm only realizing now that it turned out that way. And so I hope it isn't too off-topic to tell you the two books by a man that did make that list: The Meaning of Night and its sequel, The Glass of Time, by Michael Cox. The second one is narrated by a female protagonist, fwiw. I really think you would like them.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 11:36 AM on February 5, 2014

Tampa by Alissa Nutting was a recent dark novel that I loved.
posted by jabes at 12:26 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Similar to P.D. James is Elizabeth George. Her last 3 or 4 books have just been devastatingly dark, but everything didn't exactly begin bright and cheery.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:57 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Adding to the chorus of recommendations for Donna Tartt, Gillian Flynn, Sarah Waters and Kate Atkinson and adding Belinda Bauer since I think she meets all of your criteria. Start with Blacklands (subsequent novels are set in the same village, feature recurring characters but can be read as stand-alone).

I've also got Rosamund Lupton's books on my wishlist (can't recommend them yet but I suspect they'll be good).
posted by humph at 1:38 PM on February 5, 2014

I adored Elizabeth Hand's Generation Loss and Available Dark. Literary thrillers, cool female protagonist, a mix of high and low culture, dark as hell.
posted by cowboy_sally at 1:45 PM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This list is like really good you guys.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:39 PM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

An oldie, but a goodie—I think Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier might scratch your itch.
posted by mynameisluka at 2:54 PM on February 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Actually, du Maurier was a master of dark fiction -- The House on the Strand, My Cousin Rachel, collections of short stories like The Birds and Don't Look Now, etc.

Sarah Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski detective series tends to be dark.

Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan series isn't quite so dark, but she has written a number of great standalone novels -- Every Secret Thing, What The Dead Know, To the Power of Three, Life Sentences, etc. that are definitely dark thrillers.
posted by tully_monster at 3:27 PM on February 5, 2014

How am I ever going to get the new books on my nightstand read when this thread has reminded me of all the books I need to read again?

Nthing The Little Stranger (most Waters, actually, but especially this), The Lifeboat, and much of Patricia Highsmith. I loved this Highsmith biography for much the same reasons I appreciate her work; caution: she was in important ways a terrible person, but it illuminates the darkness of her work. YMMV. Donaghue's Room is hugely disturbing but great.

Adding Margaret Atwood, especially The Blind Assassin and the classic The Handmaid's Tale. I've been meaning to get more into Joyce Carol Oates, the bonus here being that if you like her work, you will be set for a LONG WHILE.
posted by Morrigan at 4:04 PM on February 5, 2014

Nicola Upson is writing a series of murder mysteries with the mystery author Josephine Tey as the protagonist. They are pretty dark. The first one was, I think, the best, and is better still if you have read Tey's books too. Fortunately they are an even bigger pleasure to read, though less dark.

On the somewhat less literary side, you could also try Val McDermid and Minette Walters. They are adequately well-written (though not as good as many of the others mentioned here) but are definitely page-turners!
posted by Athanassiel at 6:09 PM on February 5, 2014

And very dark. Nightmarishly so, sometimes.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:10 PM on February 5, 2014

Among Rendell/Vine's books, The Bridesmaid and the Killing Doll.

Joyce Carol Oates has written excellent dark thrillers under the names Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly.

In The Cut, Susannah Moore.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent took a while to get to the thriller part, but it's well written and dark as hell.
posted by BibiRose at 6:16 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Denise Mina, yeah.
posted by Kazimirovna at 6:18 PM on February 5, 2014

Karin Slaughter is really good. If you don't mind historical (like, 1100's historical) I would HIGHLY recommend Mistress of the Art Of Death by Ariana Franklin. So so dark and compelling.
posted by bibliogrrl at 6:50 PM on February 5, 2014

You might like The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith. Really atmospheric, great writing, fascinating protaganist.
posted by megancita at 7:15 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Donna Tartt (The Secret History is one of my favorite books ever) and Laura Lippman.

I'll also second The Likeness. And if you liked Gone Girl, you should read Gillian Flynn's other two books, Sharp Objects and Dark Places, if you haven't already.

You may also like Carlene Thompson.
posted by SisterHavana at 7:38 PM on February 5, 2014

I don't know if you've read any Muriel Spark, but if you haven't you're in for a treat. You should be able to tell by the cover flap blurbs which ones will suit your tastes. "The Driver's Seat" is a classic.
posted by Hypatia at 7:51 PM on February 5, 2014

All of the above, plus, from Scandinavia: The Boy in the Suitcase and the 2 other books in the Nina Borg series by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, plus anything by Karin Fossum.
posted by matildaben at 8:28 PM on February 5, 2014

You might also try Lisa Unger: such books as Beautiful Lies.

I have mixed feelings about Marisha Pessl's Night Film, but you can probably tell by looking through it a bit whether it'll do it for you. People that like it REALLY like it.
posted by BibiRose at 8:12 AM on February 6, 2014

Louise Penny writes remarkable detective stories (See the Gamache series starting with Still Life). Very much in the Agatha Christie tradition: identifying the murderer is primarily about discovering how a life could have become so twisted that murder came to seem a valid option.

Dark probably isn't the word because of the extent to which her novels are about healing and recovery, responding to horror with humanity.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:22 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Minette Walters - I particularly liked The Dark Room, and The Shape of Snakes. She's a bit trashy I suppose, but I found it really gripping.
posted by indienial at 5:28 PM on February 8, 2014

« Older Do I need a PA or a boss?   |   2-in-1: For the VERY thin-haired, extensions?... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.