Whether it’s Lisbeth Salander’s righteous penchant for vengeance or Gillian Flynn’s perfectly imperfect female heroines, these thrilling mystery novels that feature badass female leads prove that mystery is a woman’s world. The immense popularity of these female detectives, whether amateur or professional, have resulted in epic series with book after book chronicling their thrilling exploits. Let’s go, girls.
Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series is the mystery series that keeps readers coming back for more, in particular due to the immense popularity of French’s detective Cassie Maddox. In this chilling novel, Maddox is ordered to impersonate her victim (a young woman who looks so much like her she could be her doppelgänger) in order to solve her murder. Though Cassie will go to any lengths to get the killer, this time she may have gone too far.
Even hardened detective Gabriella Versado is disgusted by her latest crime scene. In it, the dismembered body of her victim, a young boy, has been fused together with the remains of a deer. Versado knows she’s working a real doozy of a case, with a killer who is interested in more than just murder. To complicate matters, however, her own teenage daughter is playing a dangerous game online. Can Versado solve the case and keep her daughter safe at the same time?
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Steig Larsson tragically did not live to see the publication of his novel that catapulted him into international stardom. The first in the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, introduces his heroine Lisbeth Salander, who takes matters into her own hands when it comes to vengeance for her own rape and for other crimes committed against women. Salander is a deeply damaged but brilliant computer hacker. Her brutality and righteousness makes her one of the most popular badass female leads in any genre.
Soon to be an HBO series starring Amy Adams, Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects tells the story of Camille Parker, a journalist who returns to her hometown to cover a series of murders. There’s just one problem: Camille’s just out of the psych ward herself. Now the murder of one young woman in particular sparks reminders of Camille’s painful past, which she must confront if she hopes to solve the case and end her own suffering.
Smilla's Sense of Snow
Smilla’s expertise is snow. Since she was a child, she just “has a feeling for it.” Her knowledge comes in handy as she investigates the death of a neighbor child she’d become attached to. The police are satisfied that the fall that caused the boy’s death was an accident. But Smilla, with her knowledge of the snow that blanketed the ground, knows better. This fascinating thriller from Danish writer Peter Høeg is a rumination on trust, innocence, and the environment.
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Field of Blood
Known as Scotland’s “Princess of Crime,” Denise Mina introduces us to Patricia “Paddy” Meehan, a rookie journalist who gets her first big break investigating the disappearance of a toddler, in Field of Blood. But when the search leads to two 11-year-old boys, one who turns out to be the cousin of her fiancé, either Paddy’s got a major lead, or she’s in for something much larger, and more violent, then she could have imagined.
Patricia Cornwell’s epic Scarpetta series, a whopping 24 novels starring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, begins with 1990’s Post-Mortem. Scarpetta finds herself at the center of a bizarre crime scene with a wily serial killer who is just as desperate for attention as he is for carnage. Whip smart, no-nonsense, and tough as nails, Scarpetta is Dana Scully-level of awesome.
Trail of Echoes
Detective Elouise “Lou” Norton isn’t just a woman in a male-dominated profession as a detective. She’s a black woman in an all-white, all-male profession. When a 13-year-old murder victim turns out to have lived in the same apartment building where Lou grew up, she finds herself particularly drawn to this girl, and determined to solve her murder, all the while dealing with crises in her personal life. Trail of Echoes is the third in the Detective Lou series, with a fourth, City of Saviors, just published in 2017.
The Beekeeper's Apprentice
Fifteen-year-old Mary Russell has just been sent to live with her aunt in Sussex after losing her family in a car accident when she quite literally runs into a middle-aged Sherlock Holmes. This historical fiction/literary fiction mash-up with a fierce young heroine at its center is like crack for classic mystery fans. King obliged the young detective’s popularity with 17 more Mary Russell novels, the latest of which published this year.
Featured photo via comic book of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"