Gillian Flynn is known to readers and moviegoers alike for her vibrant, evil, female characters. In a 2015 piece entitled, “I was not a nice little girl…” she outlines her belief that women can be just as bad as men and goes on to explain the ways it manifests in real life and in her books.
Villains are important in stories to better define what the main character is up against and the nastier the villain, the better. This story dynamic is taught early on when our children watch Disney movies featuring some of the best of the baddies: the Evil Queen in Snow White (no name needed), Ursula, the sea witch in the Little Mermaid, Cruella de Vil in the Dalmation movies and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty.
Flynn refines the unreliable narrator into a fully realized person, sometimes repentant and often not which makes her novels fascinating to read. Below is her debut novel.
Katherine Hall Page, educated on the East Coast, became a teacher and developed a program for at-risk adolescents, affording her with deep insights into family relationships. Her first mystery novel was The Body in the Belfry which won an Agatha Award for Best First Mystery Novel. It was followed by fourteen more in that series while writing the Malice Domestic X books with many awards along the way. Check out her first novel below:
It is hard to find a more prolific and versatile author than Ruth Rendell who introduced the Inspector Wexford character and took him through an exhaustive series of cases. But then, she moved into the psychological thriller genre with more intense fare.
As an author, I appreciate that she wrote so many stand-alone novels, creating new universes and relationships in each one, a difficult feat. Under the pen name Barbara Vine, she wrote even more complex thrillers, my favorite being A Fatal Inversion (1987) which holds up well today.
You know that I always refer readers to the author’s first book but dig deeper into her vast reservoir. It is worth it.
This past year, I have made friends with many authors, some of who write in the mystery genre. One of them is Dineen Miller, who blends contemporary issues with mystery and mysticism for an exciting and thrilling read. She is an Amazon bestselling and award-winning author in both fiction and nonfiction books and believes in the transformative power of story and truth.
She loves just about everything creative especially making coloring books and devising alternate identities which is why you’ll find more of her books under the pen name Neena Roth. She considers herself uber blessed every day to love her rock star of a husband, her fantastically creative kids and two furry rescues who will answer to just about any name you use as long as it includes food. For more about her books and work go to www.dineenmiller.com
Tana French, author of the Dublin Murder Squad series, was educated at Trinity College, Ireland and lives in that country but is originally from the United States. That surprising fact made clear the sensation I had that she was writing to an American audience in her choice of language although the setting is clearly Irish. Her award-winning first book, In the Woods, is the quintessential psychological police procedural introducing Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox. With an evocative setting and mood, it proceeds deliberately building suspense towards its resolution.
P. D. James was an astonishing author for several reasons. First in my mind is that she wrote literary mysteries, second, her output was over 20 books, and third, she managed to write while holding a full-time, high-level government job for a large portion of her career.
Did I mention that she was the family breadwinner, had two children and a mentally disabled husband? This is where the rest of us whining about not having enough time to write should be humbled.
Adam Dalgliesh, the contemporary detective is also a poet, although he doesn’t spout verse while investigating. The pace of her novels is deliberate and cerebral like Dalgliesh himself, although there is gore for those who want it.
I met Ivy through an author’s group where we read and reviewed each other’s work. It was there that I became immersed in the thrilling “Overboard” that takes the main character across continents in search of identity and ultimately revenge.
Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. She has been writing since she could hold a pencil but turned serious after graduating from Middlesex University with MA in Writing. Here she won her first international competition, the 2005 Middlesex University Literary Press Prize out of almost 1500 entrants worldwide.
In 2016, she was awarded the International Proverse Prize in Hong Kong for her debut “Cry of the Flying Rhino “(2017). Author of four novels, among them “Heart of Glass” numerous short stories and several mini how-to lifestyle guides, she lives in London.
It is inspiring and humbling to know that Ann Cleeves had been writing steadily for 20 years before attaining recognition for her work. As a newlywed living on a remote island with her ornithologist husband, she wrote the first of the Vera Stanhope novels that have been made into a long-running television series.
While I enjoy both those books and the dramatic interpretations, I have been drawn into the Shetland Island series with Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez. You can almost hear the waves crashing against the shore and feel the wind as the melancholy Perez methodically peels back the layers of the mystery at hand. Deeply atmospheric with a good dose of the culture of living on an island, I highly recommend the Shetland series.
Ellis Peters, author of the BrotherCadfael mystery series, is one of my favorite writers. She has the ability to combine historical reality with memorable fictional people many of whom have a strong moral or religious character. Obviously one of them is the lead personage, Brother Cadfael, a Welsh-born former soldier who comes to his calling late in life at the Benedictine monastery of Shrewsbury. This English border town and castle are a perfect setting during the contested bid for monarchy in the 13th century where several battles actually occurred; it also highlights the Welsh/English cultural conflicts that exist to this day.
As Edith Pargeter she also wrote The Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet, a thoughtful reimagining of kingship of 13thcentury Wales again with strong characters, family conflict and competing alliances. It’s a terrific read.
The first in the Cadfael series, about a quarrel over the relocation of a saint’s relics, A Morbid Taste for Bones, has a twisty plot and a good dose of irony.