We love both great male and female detectives equally. However, thrillers featuring great female sleuths are still a little harder to find, which is why we decided to compile this list of truly great mysteries and thrillers featuring superstar female protagonists.
In compiling this first version of our female detective list, our definition of “detective” is wide-ranging.
We have included books featuring FBI agents, female police officers, women prosecutors, female hackers and amateur sleuths of all varieties.
In other words, any woman involved with investigating and solving a crime. Based on what we have seen over the past couple of years, there’s a noticeable uptick in women-led crime-solving, especially in the way of amateur sleuths who are by no means trained detectives, but are somehow pushed into a do-or-die quest for the truth. That makes for great reading.
We’ll update this list from time to time, so feel free to write us your favorites!
The Night Stalker: A Detective Erika Foster Novel
In the dead of a swelteringly hot summer’s night, Detective Erika Foster is called to a murder scene. The victim, a doctor, is found suffocated in bed. His wrists are bound and his eyes bulging through a clear plastic bag tied tight over his head.
A few days later, another victim is found dead, in exactly the same circumstances. As Erika and her team start digging deeper, they discover a calculated serial killer – stalking their victims before choosing the right moment to strike.
The victims are all single men, with very private lives. Why are their pasts shrouded in secrecy? And what links them to the killer?
As a heat wave descends upon London, Erika will do everything to stop the Night Stalker before the body count rises, even if it means risking her job.But the victims might not be the only ones being watched… Erika’s own life could be on the line.
It’s difficult to point to any one thing that makes Erika Foster is such a great literary detective. After all, there are plenty of smart, quirky female detectives in the genre. But Bryndza’s gift for deep characterization and vulnerability are the key, making her come fully to life on the page.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A Lisbeth Salander (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) Novel
Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist (the due that originated with The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo) return in the highly anticipated follow-up to Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.
In this adrenaline-charged thriller (written by David Lagercrantz, not the late Stieg Larsson), genius-hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist face a dangerous new threat and must again join forces.
Late one night, Blomkvist receives a phone call from a trusted source claiming to have information vital to the United States.
The source has been in contact with a young female super hacker–a hacker resembling someone Blomkvist knows all too well.
The implications are staggering.
Blomkvist, in desperate need of a scoop for Millennium, turns to Lisbeth for help.
She, as usual, has her own agenda.
It Ends With Her by Brianna Labuskes
Redheaded readers may be looking for a dye job after finishing Brianna Labuskes’ terrifying FBI thriller.
Troubled FBI special agent Clarke Sinclair knows that serial killer Simon Cross preys on redheads. She also knows that Cross likes to play mind games. The one he’s playing right now has taken Sinclair all over the United States. Sadly, no good deed goes unpunished. The moment Sinclair discovers a victim, Cross preys on a new one.
The twisted game changes when a blonde woman is kidnapped in upstate New York. As you might imagine from the title, Sinclair’s own life may soon be on the line.
Is It Ends with Her as predictable as its title might indicate? Sadly, yes. But fortunately, Labuskes is excellent at building suspense. She also does an excellent job of developing her protagonist, Clarke, who has more layers than an onion. Some readers may not be ready to embrace such an emotionally disturbed protagonist, but that was the x-factor for this reader.
The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter
Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy small-town family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father — Pikeville’s notorious defense attorney — devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.
Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself — the ideal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again — and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatized — Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case that unleashes the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime that destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried forever.
Or will it? Note that although attorneys feature prominently in the cast, this isn’t a legal thriller per se. That’s a good thing, as Slaughter delivers one of the most suspenseful novels of her career.
Exposure: A Crazy Amy Thriller
The second entry in Rose Edmunds’ Crazy Amy series has the former finance executive rising from the ashes of her wasted life. The novel opens at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Amy has found a high perch from which to release twenty thousand in cash, which floats down to a crowd of anti-capitalist protesters down on the street. Despite her contempt for the “dumb little peasants” below, the act is an important alcohol-fueled symbol of her break with the past.
After this manic episode, Amy enters rehab. Her stay is interrupted when the suspicious death of a former colleague, John Venner, hits the news. Amy is watching the report live as her own name is linked to the investigation, followed by these words: “To add to the mystery, Amy Robinson has disappeared.”
When Amy leaves rehab to attend the funeral, she quickly finds herself immersed in the quest for answers that could not only solve Venner’s murder, but eventually, save her own life.
After Edmunds’ breathless series debut, Concealment, we find an author writing at the top of her game. The loathing and vitriol that makes Amy so unique among contemporary sleuths is still here, but it’s all the more biting and delicious now that Amy is “done with capitalism.” At times, her struggle to leave her past behind is absolutely heartbreaking, but dark levity reigns as her investigation takes her from one “charmless moron” to another. Her journey finds herself decoding a complex web of deceit, but credit Edmunds for keeping us in Amy’s head – and even in her notes – as she deftly works her process.
Above all, readers will relish the fact that Crazy Amy will do anything – anything! – to solve the murder, and that is what makes Exposure a true page-turner.
Darkroom by Mary Maddox
What would you do if your best friend went missing? That’s the compelling question at the core of Darkroom, which puts Boulder resident Kelly Durrell in the role of anyone who has ever realized that they are all that stands between someone they care about and tragedy.
Day Randall, named after a 70s rock band, is a freelance photographer who has been living rent-free in Durrell’s condo. Given Day’s bohemian lifestyle, there’s little evidence that she hasn’t simply moved on. But after the cops show little progress in the investigation, Kelly – a museum employee with no formal investigative skills – tries to make sense of Day’s circle of associates, including the Helms, a family of wealthy business magnates. Kelly’s investigation takes a sudden turn when she’s given a fragment of a road map to a remote mountain estate. Soon after, she realizes that the trouble that found her friend may well find her as well.
In a genre full of heroines that seem entirely too clever and smug, Maddox’s Kelly is a hugely relatable breath of fresh air. Tenacious, but hardly reckless nor extraordinarily brave, Kelly simply does what we hope anyone would do for us, even as she finds herself faced with a nightmare underworld of predators and prey.
In terms of subject matter and tone, Darkroom is a close cousin to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or TV’s True Detective. A gifted wordsmith, Maddox uses the Colorado landscape to great effect in creating suspense (“Highway 119 tracked Boulder Creek upstream through bottlenecks and blasted rock, sudden curves and harrowing switchbacks, rising more than three thousand feet in sixteen miles.”) Even in a world where technology seems to have erased personal privacy, Maddox reminds us that we still live in a world where doing evil, and hiding it, is disturbingly easy. Highly recommended.
Swollen Identity by Rich Leder
Is it even possible to be too beautiful, seductive and rich? That’s what New York private detective Kate McCall thinks of her newest client, Brooke Barrington, who is suffering from a case of identity theft. With a net worth of four billion dollars and cover girl looks, it’s easy to see why her identity is a hot commodity.
And here’s the twist: Brooke Barrington has an identical twin sister. Kate’s reaction when she finds out: “Sorry, I just put my pepper-sprayed friend in a cab, and this margarita has enough tequila to kill a bear. Did you just say you had a twin sister named Bailey?”
The second installment in Rich Leder’s McCall & Company series finds Kate settling into the Private Investigation firm she inherited from her father, whose murder is yet unsolved. Fortunately, she hasn’t abandoned her career as a way-off-Broadway actress. She once again uses her considerable acting chops to go in disguise during the course of her investigations, as well as the unconventional tactics of her melodramatic acting troupe, the Schmidt and Parker Players.
Leder’s masterfully balanced plot has Kate pursuing both cases while also engaged in two highly entertaining romances. Just after writing a retainer check, Brooke – or was it Bailey? – stuns Kate by laying a seriously hot kiss on her. Kate doesn’t think of herself as a “girl-on-girl” kind of girl, but the attraction is undeniable. Meanwhile, she develops a mutual attraction with commercial-real-estate-broker Peter Mills. In another delicious twist, Kate and Peter fall for each other while Kate is in disguise. These explorations into her sexuality are filled with comedy, but they also serve as an effective character arc for Kate that series fans will appreciate.
Is Kate’s client really Brooke Barrington? Will she edge closer to solving her father’s murder? Which side of the team is Kate playing for, anyhow? We highly recommend that you read Swollen Identity to find out.