Women have always driven crime to interesting places, but it’s hard to argue that they’re having their moment right now. Between Gone, Girl and The Girl on the Train, morally dubious women are taking centre stage, committing crimes as fast as they solve them. But what do you read after you’ve read those? Check out these five great crime novels and take a look at the sharply compelling women who lead them.
Libby Day, Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
You loved to hate Amy Dunne from Gone, Girl (or, if you’re like me, just loved her), so why not settle in with another Flynn heroine? Libby Day’s a little more self-destructive than Amy, but she’s a little sharper too. After her family is massacred by her brother, Libby has lived a stunted life, shepherded between relatives and family friends and living off donations from strangers. But when the money runs out, Libby finds herself speaking to a group of amateur sleuths who aren’t convinced her brother did the crime Libby’s testimony put him away for. It’s a tightly told novel, and one that will twist you in circles before its explosive ending.
Vivian, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
When private investigator, Philip Marlowe, is approached by a father seeking to end another man’s blackmail of his wild daughter, Marlowe probably doesn’t expect to get roped into a murder investigation. There’s sex, porn, shoot outs and stalkings, but it’s Vivian who commands the most interest. Seductive, charming, opaque. She slinks her way through this classic novel so well you’re hard-pressed to pin anything to her.
Ree Dolly, Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Ree’s probably the best-best on this list. She doesn’t commit the crimes, but she goes to dark places to solve one – namely the disappearance of her deadbeat father. This book’s better known for its adaptation – a little indie film of the same name which launched Jennifer Lawrence into the stratosphere – but the book shouldn’t be overlooked. Woodrell has a masterful turn of phrase, and he ramps up the creepy to eleven.
Beth, Dare Me by Megan Abbott
You could really list any character from Megan Abbott’s subversive take on cheerleaders which one reviewer described as Heathers meets Fight Club, but it’s Beth who steals every scene she’s in. Best friends, Beth and Addy have long ruled the school as top cheerleaders, but when they get a militant new coach, Addy becomes enamoured and obsessive and, well, things take a turn for the murder-y.
Diane Downs, Small Sacrifices by Ann Rule
Maybe this is a cheat. After all, Anne Rule is known best for her true crime and Diane Downs is very much a real woman and very much still alive, serving out her life sentence in the Valley State Prison for Women. But Diane’s story reads like a torrid soap opera – an ugly duckling turned glamorous swan who marries young, has three cherub-faced children, leaves husband, falls in love again only this time with a man who doesn’t want any children, let alone Diane’s. When faced with the conundrum, Diane decides to murder her children and settle down with her lover. But she only succeeds in killing one of them, and leaves the other two with serious disabilities. The story itself is fascinating, but even more so is the fallout of the case, with Diane enjoying celebrity – first as a grieving mother, then, as the conviction settles, beautiful Medea – facing trial pregnant again, and a lead prosecutor who would go on to literally adopt Diane’s two surviving children. It’s stranger than fiction, and might just be the biggest page turner on this list.
Who are your favourite women in crime?