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Best Mystery Books by Female Authors

Best Mystery Books by Female Authors

Tired of mystery books written by men? Well we have some good news for you: some of the top mystery novels ever written have been authored by women. In the mystery genre, names like Agatha Christie are whispered almost reverently. Indeed, while historically, men have dominated many of the emerging genres over the past several hundred years, The Mystery Genre, is one of those where women have in fact marched arm in arm with their male counter parts, and in many cases, actually bettered them.

So here's our list of the top best mystery books by written by female authors. And note, these are not just 'the best mystery books written by women', but in many cases some of the BEST mystery books ever written. You might also like one of our author female-centric lists: best mystery books for women.

With a new BBC series out in 2015, theres a reason that this is the best mystery by a female author. Christie is the worlds best-selling author, and this is her best-selling title out of her 80-some books. Christies book was one of her impossible crime stories, where everyone on the island dies. The book is darker and more foreboding than most of her works; many call this Christie noir. On a remote island, everyone is accused of murder and the guests then begin to die one by one in keeping with a nursery rhyme. Its so dark that the stage and screen adaptations had to stick a happy ending on it to make it more palatable to the audience. Its definitely worth the read

Why It Made the List

Its the best-selling book by the best-selling mystery author, making it the best of the best. Its even on high school reading lists these days. A new adaptation comes out in 2015, making it the third time that its been filmed. All three adaptations are available for viewing.

Read It If You Like

Serial killers, noir

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Margaret Millar is sadly better known today as Mrs. Ross Macdonald than as one of the best 20th century crime writers. Its a shame, because personally I think shes the better author of the pair. The recent focus on her husbands 100th birthday celebration has only served to push her further back from the limelight that she so richly deserves. Additionally, collections of her husbands romantic letters to Eudora Welty, have drawn Millar as the shrew in the relationship. However, a recent inclusion in a Library of America anthology of domestic suspense from the middle decades of the twentieth century edited by Sarah Weinman might begin to help her receive the recognition that she richly deserves.

Why It Made the List

The Fiend is a devilishly clever plotline that follows two girls as they are going about their daily lives. Known only to the reader, a convicted pedophile is watching their every move and trying to fight his impulses to talk to the girls. The ending is not what is expected.

Read It If You Like

Dark novels, children in jeopardy, domestic suspense

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A perennial fan favorite, this book takes place 500 years after the crime and the action all takes place in a hospital bed. It doesnt sound exciting, but as Alan Grant tries to find something to occupy his mind after an accident, he decides to take up the case of Richard III and the princes in the tower. For those of you who have been living under a rock, Richard imprisoned his two nephews in the Tower of London after he assumed the throne. They were never seen again, and Shakespeare pronounced sentence on Richard III with his play of the same name. Grant decides that Richard has been maligned by history and takes on the case of the murders to prove the king innocent.

Why It Made the List

This is a favorite of fans, who get to learn a great deal about British history and the intrigue of the royal court along with a mystery novel. Tey only wrote a few mysteries in her life, but each and every one is a gem to be treasured. Though the history used in the book is disputed by some historians, Tey presents a solid case that Richard was innocent of the crimes he was accused of. Not bad for a man who was buried under a parking lot.

Read It If You Like

historical mysteries, cozy mysteries, British mysteries

Books in Inspector Alan G... Series (6)

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Perhaps the most romantic of the entries on this list, Gaudy Night is the third book in the wooing of Harriett Vane by Lord Peter. In this book, she goes back to Oxford to try to find a vandal who seems to be plaguing a womens college. Vane is on her own for most of the book, but Lord Peter shows up towards the end to help out with the solution. In the meantime, the reader sees Peter work with an equal intellect as he does his best to win Harrietts hand in marriage.

Why It Made the List

This book made the list, because it broke through the rules that romance and detection could not go hand-in-hand. The couple discover the perpetrator while they are romantically involved. The piffle spouted by Lord Peter is always worth a read, but in this book, the reader sees past the humorous charade to the man in the same way that Peter encourages Harriett to write her mysteries about real people.

Read It If You Like

Romantic mysteries, mysteries set in Oxford, British sleuths.

Books in Lord Peter Wimse... Series (15)

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Allingham is often called one of the crime queens for a reason. She has Albert Campion, one of the gentlemen sleuths, as a series character who helps the police solve crimes. This seemed to be a trend in the early years of the 20th century, following in the steps of Holmes, Poirot, and Van Dine. These characters were well-heeled and knowledge in every possible type of arcane trivia. In this book, Campions 14th recorded adventure, the detective is asked for assistance by Meg Elginbrodde, a widow who is planning to remarry. However, on the cusp of this second wedding, someone has started sending her cards and photos, supposedly from her dead husband. Campion and his own Watson, Lugg, have to find the mysterious man in the midst of a miserable London fog, which Allingham brings to life so well.

Why It Made the List

The book is a mix of thriller and detective story, since it features Allinghams series character in a unique role. Its not always easy to find a copy of this book, but its one of Allinghams best.

Read It If You Like

thrillers, British mysteries, gentlemen sleuths

Books in Albert Campion Series (42)

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Charlotte Armstrong was a major force in the domestic suspense movement of the middle years of the 20th century. She remains the only author to receive two nominations for Best Novel from Mystery Writers of America in the same year. She won the Edgar from MWA for this book in 1956. The dram in question is left on a crowded bus by the protagonist and he spends the rest of the trip trying to locate the poison and recover it before someone else uses it by mistake. While this is going on, he learns a lot about life and love and his own situation.

Why It Made the List

Armstrong was one of the best of the 20th century suspense authors. One of her novels was recently included in the Library of America volume on domestic suspense. This book was also one of the last Edgars to be won by a woman for decades, so its relevance is cultural as well as literary. Still its a great novel and deserves to be on the list.

Read It If You Like

Uplifting stories, poison stories, domestic suspense

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When Tom Ripley decides that he wants a better life, he specifically decides that he wants Dickie Greenleafs life and kills him to get it. This novel is a series of twists and turns from there that the reader cannot anticipate. Yet for all that Ripley does, the reader is drawn to the character and most of the readers root for Ripley to get away with his crime. The ability to write such a compelling character brought attention to Highsmith, whose first novel, Strangers on a Train, had been filmed by Hitchcock. Highsmith wrote about characters whose lives become intertwined by fate or circumstances. In this work, Tom is hired by Dickies father to bring him back home and hopefully remove the ennui that Dickie has developed in Europe. Tom and Dickie had gone to school together, so comparisons are expected as the two meet and begin to spend time together.

Why It Made the List

This was the first of four Ripley novels by Highsmith. Since then two of the books have been made into successful movies. The 1999 film of this title starred Matt Damon. The Ripley novels brought on the charming anti-heroes of the early 21st century in mystery fiction.

Read It If You Like

Noir, anti-heros, suspense, series

Books in Ripley Series (5)

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A police officer is killed the same day that he finds a gun in his sons school case. Ten months later, a family is murdered, leaving only the granddaughter Daisy alive in its aftermath. The crimes, though very different, will of course be shown to be related, and Rendell doesnt disappoint in this novel, which is a more mature character study than most of her earlier works. In this book, which is long for Rendell, the character of each member of the family comes to life and is shown in relationship to each of the other characters. All of this means that the reader will slowly begin to change her mind as the book unfolds. There are no big surprises at the end of the book, but that just means that Rendell has written the characters well enough for the reader to know what must have happened.

Why It Made the List

The Inspector Wexford series can be wonderful, and sometimes can be less so. This book, which is the fifteenth in the series, is one of the better ones and well worth finding. Of course, most of Rendells works have been filmed, and this is no exception. Be sure to check out the film, but read the book first; its better.

Read It If You Like

British mysteries, British police, character studies

Books in Inspector Wexfor... Series (24)

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The debut novel by James introduces Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard, the poet-slash-investigators. This is a classic whodunit, though James would go on to write many novels that were less classic in nature. A maid, a former unwed mother, is strangled in the home of the peculiar family who resides there. The story has numerous secrets and twists which are all revealed at the end with everyone in attendance, almost like a classic detective novel of the 1930s. Each person has a motive for murder, and in James style, the reader is allowed to see the characters develop in slow detail.

Why It Made the List

This is James first novel, the introduction to one of the most fascinating British sleuths of the late 20th century, and a good mystery to boot. Her work served as a bridge between the earlier Golden Age detective mysteries and the more modern examples of character studies surrounding a crime. This book is more rooted in the former than the latter, but even this book shows the tendencies towards the latter. Most of the James books have been filmed, and you can pick up a copy of it after youve read this page-turner.

Read It If You Like

British mysteries, British police, character studies

Books in Adam Dalgliesh Series (14)

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Lippman has been alternating standalone crime novels with novels about her female private eye Tess Monaghan. In this book, her latest, she combines the best features of both. Tess is asked to assess the security needs of a woman who left her own child in the car to die. Now that Tess is a mother, shes curious about the mentality of the woman who would do something like this. The woman is back in Baltimore, the city that Lippman uses as a setting for most all of her novels, to film a documentary about her life. Lippman manages to throw in an excellent mystery with the study of a woman who killed her own child.

Why It Made the List

Lippman began writing private eye novels and later moved to writing crime novels set in Baltimore. In this book, she brings Tess back, along with the private eye from the last standalone, and a haunting character who could be in any of Lippmans standalones. Its an unbeatable combination.

Read It If You Like

Female private eyes, domestic suspense,

Books in Tess Monaghan Series (12)

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This is the epitome of psychological suspense. Eleanor, the viewpoint character in the book, tells the story of several people who have been invited to stay at Hill House, a structure suspected to be haunted. Eleanor is a quiet woman without friends and seems, at first, like an unusual narrator, but Jackson chose wisely. The reader can catch Eleanor in white lies, which can make the reader suspect that there is no haunting or perhaps it is being overstated. Eleanor quickly joins the ranks of unreliable narrators. The other characters include the heir to Hill House, along with Dr. Montague and his assistant who want help in gaining solid proof that Hill House is haunted. At first, the occult incidents are minor, but the house seems to be preparing itself for something more.

Why It Made the List

Shirley Jackson is one of the best writers of the 20th century without question. Her story, The Lottery, is a masterpiece thats now taught in schools. This novel has been made into two movies, but neither lives up to the terror of this book, which is why its on the list.

Read It If You Like

To be scared, horror novel, supernatural events

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Three women live in a secluded country house called the Streech Grange. Rumors accuse them of being lesbians or members of a witchs coven. The neighborhood does know that one of the women lost a husband after she found him in bed with their abused daughter. The man disappeared and no one has seen him since, though most suspect the woman of killing him. Because of all this, when an unidentified rotting corpse is found in the ice house of the Grange, the police immediately suspect this same woman of striking again. All three women refuse to answer questions and frequently lie to the police about what they know. The police begin to make a case against one woman, but one of the officers is intrigued by one of the other women at the Grange and starts to fall in love with her, making for complications in the investigation.

Why It Made the List

This is Walters first book, and while she only wrote a few books, her works were hailed by critics and readers alike. Each one is a gem, and you should really read all of them.

Read It If You Like

British mysteries, British police

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This is not the first book in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series by King. The first book in that series nominated for an Agatha award. This is a profoundly different Holmes than so many of the pastiches (stories written about Holmes by authors other than Conan Doyle.) Holmes is older and more mellow in some ways, but still with his sharp angles and intelligence. Yet this is very much the series of Mary Russell, the woman who grows up through the series into a woman who is the worthy complement to Holmes. Many of the titles refer to bees, since according to canon, Holmes went to Sussex to tend bees.

Why It Made the List

This series does not have any clunkers in it, and this book is exceptional. This is the ninth book in the series and the first of a two-part adventure in which Holmes family is threatened by a devilish cult. It reads as both an adventure and a mystery and is well-worth the read.

Read It If You Like

Sherlock Holmes, pastiches, British mysteries

Books in Mary Russell and... Series (14)

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Two incompetent kidnappers burst into a home, looking for Bob who they plan on kidnapping. The only problem is that there is no Bob at that house. The family doesnt even know any Bobs. The kidnappers want two million in ransom, except the family is decidedly middle-class and can only afford a fraction of that money. Their plans ruined, they shoot the daughter in the hand and take the grandfather as a substitute victim. The case should have been assigned to DS Alex Morrow, but instead is given to a bumbling colleague. Shes told to follow her colleagues lead, which leads nowhere. She has to uncover the clues leading to a solution in this case. Morrow has her own problems that suddenly become a part of the case, and make it more dangerous for her and the others.

Why It Made the List

Mina is part of a group of mystery authors who write want is called Tartan Noir, bleak crime novels set in Scotland. Since Minas first novel takes place Glasgow, she moves that subgenre forward with her twisted plots and vibrant, gritty prose.

Read It If You Like

dark novels, incompetent criminals

Books in Alex Morrow Series (5)

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The subtitle for this book is A Lawyers Tale and thats just what it is. The narrator of the story is a young lawyer whose firm represents the very wealthy Horatio Leavenworth. When Leavenworth is shot in his library, the crime is decided to be murder since the angle of the shot could not have been self-inflicted. The crime then had to have been committed by one of Leavenworths family and the lawyer along with detective Ebenezer Gryce. Of course, the evidence points to the prettiest of the nieces, with whom the young lawyer quickly becomes enamored. He then has to find a solution to the case to save his lady love.

Why It Made the List

Green is often called the mother of the detective story, because she wrote so many detective novels during her life and is often credited as being the first woman detective novelist. As a result, her works are worthy of inclusion on this list. Her book, The Leavenworth Case, is often called the first American detective novel. No less than Agatha Christie named Green as an influence.

Read It If You Like

Victorian novels, early mysteries

Books in Mr. Gryce Series (15)

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Set in upstate New York in the years before the Civil Rights Movement, the novel tells the story of two adolescences who share a terrible crime. A lewd older man makes advances at Iris, who is white, and her African American partner in crime, Jinx, shoots him dead. Normally these two white girl and black man would have had nothing in common, except for the fact that Jinx murders the man who is trying to rape Iris. Only the two of them know what happened that night. Both struggle to move on as their respective families fall apart. The novel spans a dozen years or so, telling the story of the impact of the crime on the girls and their families while looking at the rise of civil rights in the United States.

Why It Made the List

Joyce Carol Oates is a master craftsperson in writing. Her works have won numerous prizes, and her fiction is at times flawless. This book is one of those flawless pieces to be savored, showing a tumultuous time in American history through the eyes of two characters.

Read It If You Like

literary mysteries, historical mysteries

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At a small college in Vermont (modeled after Bennington.) a small group of students are selected to be the elite few who study with a charismatic professor. Despite the rarified nature of the setting, the narrator, Richard Papen, is a blue-collar student from California, who doesnt quite fit in with the group. He sees them handle the curriculum while consuming large amounts of pills and booze. At one point, the group confesses to Richard that they have killed a man while in one of their booze-and-pill-addled states. However, in order to keep their secret, they have to kill again, this time one of their own. Its after the last murder that the reader sees the effects of the murder on the college town and the morally spent members of the group.

Why It Made the List

Tartt is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist whose novels typical deal with crime and its aftermath. Each of her novels are worth picking up, but her first work is likely her most ambitious and well-worth the read.

Read It If You Like

college mysteries, literary mysteries, inverted mysteries

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DI George Bennett is tasked in 1963 with learning what happened to a missing girl. Given the setting of the crime in a small, closed community, everyone assumes that Alison Carter is dead, but no one wants to help Bennett in his quest to solve the case. Jump forward fifty years and a journalist is interested in writing about the missing girl and the aftermath. Bennett begins by helping her, and then mysteriously decides to stop, requesting instead that the book not be published. Served with a second mystery, the journalist decides to find out what happened to Carter and why Bennett has refused to help. The book has a rather shocking ending, something that McDermid is known for as an author.

Why It Made the List

The book was nominated for tons of awards both the Crime Writers Association in England and the Mystery Writers of America. A mini-series based on the book appeared as well, increasing interest in the book and the author. . McDermids work is always evocative and this book is no exception.

Read It If You Like

British mysteries, mysteries set in the past

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What can be said about this novel that hasnt been said already? The early chapters of the book are told by husband and wife, Nick and Amy, both of whom turn out to be unreliable narrators over the course of the book. The book shows the faade of a happy marriage. However, when the wife goes missing, the blame for her disappearance and possible murder falls squarely on the husband, Nick. He is forced into a grueling examination of his life and marriage, which does not hold up under the strain. Did he kill his wife, or did someone else? Nothing is what it appears to be in this novel, which was one of the best-selling novels of 2012. Flynn indicated that she wanted to take a look at a particular long-term relationship, and she does so in this dark novel of love and betrayal.

Why It Made the List

This was the it novel a few years ago, and in the interim this book has insprired an entire subgenre of Girl titled suspense novels. However, Gone Girl was the first and the best of its kind. The movie isnt as good as the book (what one is?) but its worth seeing.

'Read It If You Like'

domestic suspense, unreliable narrators

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Blanche White, who is appropriately, is an African American woman of a certain age who works as domestic help for a wealthy family. She has just been convicted of passing bad checks when a disturbance at the courtroom allows her to slip out. She goes the family she had been scheduled to work for prior to the check incident. They take her on and quickly leave town for a trip to the ocean. While there she witnesses a will and later learns of the suicide of the sheriff, which may or may not be related to the will or the family she now works for. As a result, she becomes a reluctant sleuth so that she will not be accused of any additional crimes.

Why It Made the List

This book was a paradigm shift for many readers as they began to see an unjust racist, sexist and ageist society through the eyes of the detective in the story. This book won the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards for best first novel. Though out of print today, its definitely worth finding a copy.

Read It If You Like

cozy mysteries, rich family mysteries, women of color as protagonists

Books in Blanche White Series (4)

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Lydia Chin and Bill Smith are partners in detection. They are both private eyes, working in New York City. Since they are of such dissimilar backgrounds, Rozan actually alternates perspectives by novel. This mystery, the ninth in the series, is told from Lydias point of view. Her mentor involves her in a case to find some famous jewels that were stolen from a Jewish refugee, Rosalie Gilder, during World War II. The refugees live in Shanghai, and parts of the story tell Gilders story of life in Shanghai during the war. Chin traces the jewels and finds a dead body instead. She enlists the help of Smith to solve a deadly case of jewels and legends.

Why It Made the List

This series is fascinating for the way in which it looks at the lives of two interconnected private eyes. In each case, the story is told by one or the other, meaning that the reader comes to understand each character intimately. The technique allows for a variety of cases that cover a gamut of crimes. Highly recommended.

Read It If You Like

Female Private eyes, foreign locales

Books in Lydia Chin & Bil... Series (11)

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A Ripper-like killer has struck in Boston. The killer breaks into homes, tortures women with medical precision and then kills them. His prowess with anatomy and surgery lead the press to dub him the Surgeon. Jane Rizzoli and her police partner are on the trail of this killer when they discover that Dr. Catherine Cordell was attacked in a similar fashion, but fought off the attacker and shot him dead or did she? The police find that this new killer is obsessed with Cordell and commits these new atrocities in the exact same manner as he did with Cordell. The similarities make Cordell doubt her own memories, at the same time she grows closer to Rizzolis partner.

Why It Made the List

The Rizzoli and Isles books have become wildly popular because of the television series, though the books have little in common with the TV series. In the books, Rizzoli is married with children, and Isles did not show up until later in the book series. Shes not a part of this first book. This is the first in the series and is a fascinating read.

Read It If You Like

mysteries with coroners, police procedurals, CSI material

Books in Rizzoli & Isles Series (12)

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VI Warshawski is one of the toughest female private eyes around. She has taken on some of the toughest folks in her hometown of Chicago. The books often cover issues in the media, and this one is no exception. The story looks at the purchase of the local Chicago paper by an entertainment conglomerate. Warshawski is tangentially involved with that through an old friend; however, it will be through her efforts to help a woman she finds prone in the street that Warshawski will come up against the world of private security and the privatization of the state jail system, which do not operate by the same laws as other jails. This is not a series for the faint of heart; Warshawski is often physical beaten, just like the guys.

Why It Made the List

In a world where books are expected one a year, Paretsky took five years on this title, and the effort shows. The pace is taut and the prose is crisp. This series has a ton of fans who were glad to see the private eyes return after so long. Its definitely worth checking out.

Read It If You Like

Private eye novels, female private eye novels, novels set in Chicago

Books in V.I. Warshawski Series (17)

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Edwin of the Iron Shoes by Marcia Muller Marcia Muller unwittingly started a new subgenre when she published this novel. The private eye novel had long been the domain of tough guys, where women were merely eye candy or villains wishing to undo the hero. However, Muller, along with Paretsky and Grafton, wrote of women who could solve the tough cases and take a beating. Sharon McCone is introduced in the first of 35 novels as an investigator of the All Souls Cooperative. In the novel, McCone has to investigate the removal of older businesses from downtown San Francisco in order to make space for the upscale buildings and apartments. McCone has to find out who has been targeting an antique store, and the case takes on an urgency after one of the owners is murdered at the store. 

Why It Made the List

This series has endured for more than 35 books at this point over more than 40 years. The first book in the series is a great place to start, since McCone accumulates friends, coworkers and lovers along the way. Muller also writes genre criticism with her husband (and fellow mystery author Bill Pronzini.)

Read It If You Like

private eye novels, books using San Francisco as the setting

Books in Sharon McCone Series (32)

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When a faded folksinger comes to Hamelin, Tennessee, the relative calm in the small town disappears. The singer has come to the town to write songs for a possible comeback album. She moves into a large home that belies the small town atmosphere. Peggy Muryan starts to receive threatening postcards. The threats seem to be tied the Vietnam War and the 1960s. Peggys dog is hung and eviscerated, and then a young girl disappears, and the most likely scenario is that she was mistaken for Peggy, since they share a marked resemblance. The mystery deepens as Sheriff Spencer Arrowood must determine if the crimes stem from the past or come from Peggys desire to stage a comeback now. The suspenseful storyline is told in contrast to the planned high school reunion of the class of 1966.

Why It Made the List

This was the first book in McCrumbs ballad series, a set of novels set in the Appalachian Mountains and covering the people who live there. Rather than the typical stereotypes of mountain folk, she captures the spirit and lives of a culture that is being subsumed by modern culture.

Read It If You Like

rural settings, crimes rooted in the past

Books in Ballad Series (12)

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