The major influx of women publishing mysteries and thrillers in the past 15 years has meant that we’ve gotten a lot more interesting, diverse crime novels that challenge the status quo and look at crime fiction a bit more broadly. That’s important, especially since the genre tends to get preoccupied with stereotypes about female characters and uses violence against women as set dressing rather than take the opportunity to dive deeper into issues of misogyny and feminism. These fifteen feminist mystery novels explore crime and feminist issues in new and exciting ways.
Uptown Thief by Aya de León
Marisol was once a woman abused with nowhere to turn to, so now she runs a high-end escort service to fund a clinic and refuge for women in need of help–and she also robs her corrupt clients to help bankroll her work. But when an ex-cop starts to get too close, it may jeopardize everything Marisol has worked for.
Barbed Wire Heart by Tess Sharpe
In this feminist thriller, Harley is the daughter of the biggest criminal in her rural county, and she’s been trained from a young age to take over his operation. But Harley, who secretly runs a motel for abused women, doesn’t intend to play by her father’s rules, and she must figure out a way to dismantle her father’s operation and his competitors, and get out alive.
Conviction by Denise Mina
Anna is obsessed with true crime podcasts, so when her husband leaves her, she tunes into a new podcast rather than deal with her problems. But when the subject of the podcast turns out to be someone she knows from her past, Anna is determined to set the record straight, which takes her on a trip throughout Europe and has her confronting her own secret past. This is one of those great feminist mystery novels that addresses the fallout of assault and how money and power can buy silence.
The Silence of Bones by June Hur
Seol is an indentured servant in 1800 Joseon (Korea), and she works for the police bureau in the capitol city, assisting police inspectors in investigations involving women, as men aren’t allowed to touch women unrelated to them. When a noblewoman is found murdered, Seol gets drawn into a complicated investigation involving women, religion, and a struggle between new ideas and old traditions.
The Escape Room by Megan Goldin
Four seemingly successful financiers are summoned to a Friday night meeting, and soon are trapped in an elevator in an empty building and are given clues to escape–but is this really a corporate bonding event, or something more sinister? This book tackles #MeToo, assault, what some people are willing to do in order to advance their careers, and a woman’s revenge.
The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
In 1982, Viv Delaney is running from her life when she lands in a small town in Upstate New York and begins working at a motel. When she begins to suspect a frequent guest could be preying on young women, she vanishes without a trace. In the present day, Carly travels to the town where her aunt Viv disappeared decades earlier, and tries to solve the mystery of her death, once and for all.
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
Perveen Mistry is the first female solicitor in 1920s Bombay, working in contracts at her father’s firm. When an odd will comes across her desk, she decides to investigate–and walks straight into a murder mystery. This is an excellent feminist book about a woman who fights to break into a male industry, and challenges patriarchal traditions and domestic abuse.
Out by Natsuo Kirino
This is the story of a young wife and mother who snaps one day and kills her husband–and then asks her female coworkers at the lunchbox factory she works in to help her cover up the crime. But that’s not the end of it for these women, who have drawn the attention of a killer and a police officer.
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
When Myriam wants to return to work after having kids, she hires Louise, who seems like the perfect nanny. While Myriam is grateful that Louise is able to look after her kids, she also begins to feel like everything is a competition with the nanny, even as she depends on her–leading to a shocking and terrible act.
The Roxane Weary series by Kristen Lepionka
Roxane Weary is a bisexual PI who investigates a wide range of cases, from decades-old murders to fraud to infidelity. Roxane herself is feminist and these books tackle homophobia, racism, and other intersectional issues in an intelligent and progressive way. Start with The Last Place You Look.
The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
Less of a mystery and more of a general crime novel, this book is about Alex, who is a teenage murderer. She killed the man responsible for her sister’s murder when the police couldn’t bring him to justice, and she got away with it, too. Now she’s dealing with the fallout of her darker urges as her senior year of high school brings new friendships and new injustices.
A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
You can’t just gender swap something and call it feminist, but Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series definitely goes above and beyond a mere gender-swapped version of the classic tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! In this version, Charlotte Holmes is a disgraced society lady who actively challenges conventions about society and women’s roles in order to solve the most twisting and delicious murder mysteries!
Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen
Lady Victoria is the second daughter of an earl, and she happily spends her time helping her father runt the estate without any pressure to marry anytime soon. But when her older sister abandons her husband because of his abusive nature, suddenly Victoria is pressured to marry and secure her family’s estate–and at the same time she must figure out who keeps trying to sabotage her and the estate.
Speaking of Summer by Kalisha Buckhanon
One night in December, Autumn’s twin sister Summer disappeared without a trace on the rooftop of their New York City apartment. It’s been months and Autumn can’t get anyone, especially the police, to take Summer’s disappearance seriously. This is a beautiful and heartbreaking book about how the disappearances of Black women are so often mishandled and overlooked.
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
Based off of the very real Constance Kopp, this book imagines Constance’s life in 1914, when her buggy was run off the road by a gangster and Constance decided she wasn’t going to put up with it. She teams up with the sheriff to take down the gangster, and along the way becomes one of the first female deputies in the United States.
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