4 Remarkable Women Mystery Authors You Need To Read

Dive into mystery fiction with iconic authors Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith, and more to uncover their captivating narratives.

Book Culture Classics Female Authors Recommendations Thriller & Mystery
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“Who did it?” This is the question that reigns over the minds of most readers as they embark on a mystery novel. Originating in the 19th century during the English Renaissance with the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins, the genre of mystery fiction has entranced people with its enigmatic plots and unexpected twists, giving rise to a multitude of diverse and unforgettable characters. In the realm of this literary landscape, women have undeniably made their mark by crafting stories that constantly challenge the genre’s boundaries and pave the way for new authors and subgenres.

Agatha Christie’s Legacy

Among these prolific women stands the queen of the genre herself, Agatha Christie, whose ingenious prose and clever twists continue to enchant readers today. Agatha Christie penned 66 novels and 14 short stories, among which one character reigns supreme: the Belgian detective, Hercules Poirot. The inspiration for this character stemmed from her time as a nurse in the dispensary hospital of Torquay during World War I, where she bore witness to refugees fleeing the conflict in Belgium. From then onwards, she proceeded to craft multiple iconic characters such as Miss Marple and the crime-solving duo Tommy and Tuppence.

In subsequent years of her life, Christie maintained a remarkable pace, producing two to three books annually, drawing inspiration from her extensive travels, particularly to the Middle East. Under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott, she delved more into her personal life.

Black and white photo from Agatha Christie with her hands crossed over her chin with a serious look.
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Throughout the later years of her life, Agatha Christie got more involved in playwriting, crafting the now-iconic play The Mousetrap, which continues to captivate audiences with its mystery and intrigue. As the years progressed, Christie gradually reduced her literary output to one book per year. Yet, even as her pace slowed, her storytelling prowess remained undiminished.

One remarkable aspect of Christie’s legacy is how her characters aged with her. Notably, Tommy and Tuppence, who evolved throughout their series, reflected the changing times and the author’s own growth. Christie’s ability to breathe life into her characters, allowing them to mature and adapt alongside her, adds a layer of depth and authenticity to her works.

Agatha Christie was a literary luminary, leaving an indelible mark on the mystery genre. Her work continues to resonate with readers worldwide, having sold more than a billion copies in the US and in translation, a testament to her enduring legacy.

The Unconventional Patricia Highsmith

Each fellow does the other fellow’s murder. Then there’s nothing to connect them. Each one has murdered a total stranger. Like you do my murder and I do yours.

Strangers on a Train (1951)

If this quote is familiar to you, then you have surely watched the movie classic Strangers on a Train, and this movie was based on the works of another prolific author on this list, Patricia Highsmith. Patricia Highsmith had a rough upbringing due to her parents’ separation and the poor relationship she had with her mother. She was often described as cruel, hard, unlovable, and unloving. However, it couldn’t be denied that she was a prolific author.

The most notable influence in her works comes from the existentialist literary movement, which is evident in The Talented Mr. Ripley, where certain scenes, like the murder of Greenleaf, appear to echo themes found in other works influenced by existentialism, such as The Outsider by Albert Camus. Furthermore, the journey of Tom Ripley’s journey can be seen as an existentialist statement about the human capacity to recreate and redefine oneself, often at the expense of others’ lives and moral codes.

Patricia Highsmith grinning while she smokes a cigarette.
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Moreover, the novel’s exploration of alienation, deception, and the tension between appearance and reality further aligns with existentialist themes of authenticity and the search for personal meaning in a seemingly indifferent universe. Thus, The Talented Mr. Ripley stands as a compelling example of existentialist literature, offering a nuanced portrayal of the complexities of human existence and the choices individuals make in navigating their own identity and destiny.

The absurdity of human existence is a theme intricately woven into existentialist philosophy, and in true existentialist fashion, Patricia Highsmith’s characters embody this concept, breathing life into their actions through an absence of reason. Much of her work portrays characters who defy conventional rationality to such an extent that it can be initially frustrating. However, it is precisely this departure from the norm and the profound isolation experienced by her characters that render them compelling and unique.

While most of Highsmith’s characters don’t experience conventional endings, there’s a notable exception in The Price of Salt. This novel centers around a lesbian couple facing the challenges of a judgmental and heteronormative society. In a departure from the norm, Highsmith chose to grant Therese and Carol, the main characters, a happy ending. Her reasoning for this ending was that homosexual characters in American literature were often destined for tragic fates or pressured to conform to heterosexuality. Thus, even in this novel, one can argue Highsmith gave her readers an unconventional ending.

“More Female Villains,” Said Gillian Flynn

Speaking of unconventional, the next prolific author on this list is the writer of the famous book-turned-movie Gone Girl, author Gillian Flynn. Gillian Flynn was born in Kansas, Missouri, and used to be “painfully shy,” which led her to find an escape in reading and writing. Later in life, she became a journalist, to which she attributes her craft. She has also written other critically acclaimed mystery novels called Dark Places and Sharp Objects. Furthermore, she has worked as a screenwriter and producer for the adaptations of her work.

Gillian Flynn wearing a silver sequined top and looking off to the side with a slight smile.
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Gillian Flynn has often been the subject of criticism and misogyny accusations due to her negative portrayal of women in her novels. However, Flynn considers herself a feminist and believes women should be allowed to be evil. She has stated that she has grown tired of spunky heroines and soul-searching fashionistas and wishes that the potential for real female villains was further explored and depicted. She has earned multiple awards for her work and is planning to release her fourth novel soon, so keep your eyes peeled for your next mystery read.

The Inspiration Behind CSI, Patricia Cornwell

Out here in the fields, I fight for my meals, I get my back into my living. I don’t need to fight to prove I’m right. I don’t need to be forgiven.

Baba O’Riley, The Who

If you know these lyrics, congratulations! You are most likely a fan of CSI: New York like me! But did you know that the development of the CSI series is considered to be influenced by the works of Patricia Cornwell and her book series surrounding the medical examiner Kay Scarpetta?

Cornwell, a former reporter who won several awards for her pieces, moved to Virginia in 1981 and wrote the first installment of her Scarpetta series, Postmortem, based on real-life stranglings that happened in Richmond. The Kay Scarpetta series captivated readers with its forensic detail and intricate plots; moreover, her background as a former reporter lent authenticity to her storytelling, and she garnered numerous awards for her contributions to the genre.

Patricia Cornwell wearing a button-up denim shirt, smiling, and looking ahead.
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Despite her success, Cornwell’s fascination with infamous cases, particularly the enigmatic figure of Jack the Ripper, became a notable aspect of her work. She meticulously researched the case and incorporated elements of it into her novels, adding layers of intrigue and suspense. However, Cornwell was quick to dismiss claims of obsession, stating that her interest stemmed from a desire to understand the psychology of criminal behavior rather than an unhealthy fixation.

Nevertheless, her exploration of forensic science and criminal psychology in the Kay Scarpetta series solidified her reputation as a master of the genre. With each installment, Cornwell delved deeper into the complexities of crime and human nature, earning her a dedicated following of readers eager to unravel the mysteries she crafted with precision and insight.

Mystery is a fascinating genre where female authors have undoubtedly left their mark. From the genius of Agatha Christie to the unconventional narratives of Patricia Highsmith and the gritty realism of Gillian Flynn, these authors have brought us amazing stories and memorable characters that will live on in their writings and our minds. As readers continue to delve into the pages of mystery novels, they will undoubtedly find themselves drawn into the rich tapestry of storytelling crafted by these talented women, each offering a unique perspective and a thrilling journey into the unknown.


Are you interested in reading more about prolific women in literature? Check out this article.

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