The best crime fiction that features powerful female characters

Why am I passionate about this?

I love crime fiction, but the genre can be very much a boys’ club where women are sometimes reduced to femmes fatales or victims who need to be saved. When I look at my bookshelves, I realize how many of the books I’ve read are written by men about men. There’s nothing wrong with stories about men, but I have a lot of strong women in my life, and I’ve learned so much from listening to their perspectives. As a writer, I like pushing myself to try and create strong female characters who find themselves ensnared in a crime and have to figure their way out.


I wrote...

Never Back Down

By Christopher Swann,

Book cover of Never Back Down

What is my book about?

Susannah Faulkner knows that even though she lives a dangerous and violent life, she will try her best to do some good in the world. She’s hunted down evil men before, but the one man that puts fear into her heart, the one man who could destroy everything she loves, is the one man she cannot track down. And worst of all…she doesn’t know what will happen when she finds him. Or if he finds her first.

Finn, an ex-soldier who served alongside Susannah’s father in Iraq, left Suzie with a simple choice a year ago: she could watch her family die one by one, or she could pursue him. The stubborn and skillful Suzie knows just how dangerous Finn is and how far he'll go to complete his vengeance.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of She Rides Shotgun

Christopher Swann Why did I love this book?

This book grabbed me by the throat and refused to let go.

Jordan Harper does more with suggestion and a few well-crafted sentences than some writers accomplish in an entire novel. When he needs to be brutal, he’s a monster. When he needs to be tender, your eyes sting.

Polly is both a badass and a little girl—I don’t know how Harper pulled that off. And I have never cared so much about a stuffed animal as I have Polly’s teddy bear.

By Jordan Harper,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked She Rides Shotgun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*WINNER OF A 2018 EDGAR AWARD FOR BEST DEBUT NOVEL*

*WINNER OF AN ALEX AWARD FROM THE ALA*

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2017 BY St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Booklist

A propulsive, gritty novel about a girl marked for death who must fight and steal to stay alive, learning from the most frightening man she knows—her father.

Eleven-year-old Polly McClusky is shy, too old for the teddy bear she carries with her everywhere, when she is unexpectedly reunited with her father, Nate, fresh out of jail and driving a stolen car. He takes her from the front of her school…


Book cover of Small Mercies

Christopher Swann Why did I love this book?

I’ve loved Lehane’s fiction ever since reading his Kenzie & Gennaro series, and Small Mercies is a small miracle.

It’s 1974, and the city of Boston is preparing to desegregate its public schools in the face of threats and violence. Mary Pat Fennessy, a tough Irish broad from Southie, is searching for her teenage daughter who failed to come home one night. Her questions irritate the local Irish mob. And when a young Black man is found dead under mysterious circumstances, the city is primed to explode.

As a Gen Xer, I found the 1970s setting on point and revelatory. Desperate and determined, Mary Pat is a force of nature. I loved the thrilling plot, the searing portrayal of racism and politics, and this fierce, flawed, and unflinching protagonist.

By Dennis Lehane,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Small Mercies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Instant New York Times Bestseller

“Small Mercies is thought provoking, engaging, enraging, and can’t-put-it-down entertainment.” — Stephen King

The acclaimed New York Times bestselling writer returns with a masterpiece to rival Mystic River—an all-consuming tale of revenge, family love, festering hate, and insidious power, set against one of the most tumultuous episodes in Boston’s history.

In the summer of 1974 a heatwave blankets Boston and Mary Pat Fennessy is trying to stay one step ahead of the bill collectors. Mary Pat has lived her entire life in the housing projects of “Southie,” the Irish American enclave that stubbornly adheres to…


Book cover of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Christopher Swann Why did I love this book?

I devoured Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which centers on Lisbeth Salander, an expert computer hacker and asocial private investigator who is especially hostile towards men who abuse women.

A victim of mental and sexual abuse, Salander delights in exposing and punishing abusers, often in humiliating ways. I found her fascinating, a character with several layers: willful, antisocial, bisexual, violent, intelligent, awkward, angry, and compassionate. She is the victim and the avenger, the freakish outcast and the moral judge, a feminist incarnation of the tough-guy detective, and a critic of corruption and moral bankruptcy.

The novel’s prose is workmanlike, the plot at times far-fetched, and Larsson is about as subtle as a chainsaw. But Lisbeth Salander transcended the novel to become an iconic figure in crime fiction.

By Stieg Larsson,

Why should I read it?

23 authors picked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder - and that the killer is a member of his own tightly-knit but dysfunctional family.

He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet's disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history.

But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and…


Book cover of Like Lions

Christopher Swann Why did I love this book?

Brian is a fellow Georgia author and a friend. I was gobsmacked by his first novel, Bull Mountain, so when he asked if I would blurb the sequel, Like Lions, I didn’t hesitate a nanosecond.

There are evildoings galore: violent criminals, drug-running, revenge killings, and a hunt for buried millions. But our hero Sheriff Clayton Burroughs is a damaged soul, dependent on alcohol and painkillers, so three powerful female characters step up to the plate.

I loved Clayton’s wife Kate, fiercely loyal and protective of her family. Vanessa is a shadowy outsider, both deadly and compassionate. And Twyla Viner is the aging matriarch of another criminal family that has a bone or two to pick with Clayton. The lions in this book are the women, and they rule this jungle.

By Brian Panowich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Like Lions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A book filled with unforgettable characters and a tension that heightens with every chapter." ―The Wall Street Journal

A powerful follow up to multiple award-winning debut Bull Mountain.

Brian Panowich burst onto the crime fiction scene in 2015, winning awards and accolades from readers and critics alike for his smoldering debut, Bull Mountain. Now with Like Lions, he cements his place as one of the outstanding new voices in crime fiction.

Clayton Burroughs is a small-town Georgia sheriff, a new father, and, improbably, the heir apparent of Bull Mountain’s most notorious criminal family.

As he tries to juggle fatherhood, his…


Book cover of Don't Talk to Strangers

Christopher Swann Why did I love this book?

Amanda Kyle Williams quit school at sixteen, was diagnosed with dyslexia at twenty-two, and read her first book at twenty-three. She overcame addiction and wrote while working odd jobs, becoming a best-seller with her Keye Street series.

My wife heard Amanda speak at a dyslexia conference and told her about her husband who wanted to write books; later when I met Amanda at the Decatur Book Festival, she smiled and said, “Oh, yeah, you’re the writer.”

I love her protagonist Keye, a private investigator in Atlanta and former FBI profiler. She’s funny and gutsy and wrestles with her own demons. Don’t Talk to Strangers, the third in the series, is as good as the first two. Amanda died of cancer in 2018, but she left behind a tremendously inspiring legacy in both Keye and her own incredible story.

By Amanda Kyle Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Don't Talk to Strangers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If you like Karin Slaughter you'll love Amanda Kyle Williams...Two girls tied in death. Found next to each other in shallow graves in the remote wilderness outside Whisper, Georgia. One has lain there for a decade. One for only sixty days. Now their bodies have been uncovered and there is only one person who can help the local law enforcement find their killer. Former FBI profiler, bond enforcement officer and private detective. Keye Street. Her experience lets her see clues others can't find and now she is going to have to use all her skills if she is to stop…


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The Blue Prussian

By Eve Penrose,

Book cover of The Blue Prussian

Eve Penrose

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The Blue Prussian is a spellbinding story told by Blake O’Brien, a beautiful, young executive with a globetrotting career. Blake returns to her native Manhattan from San Francisco after escaping—or so she thinks—her marriage to a dashing man who turned out to be a prince of darkness. She had been hoping for a fresh start but learns that she has been poisoned with thallium—a deadly neurotoxin referred to as the poisoner’s poison.

Blake is treated with the only known antidote—Prussian blue—the same synthetic pigment with the deeply saturated hue used in dazzling masterpieces like The Starry Night and The Great Wave. Almost unfathomably, the alchemist who invented Prussian blue was the rumored inspiration for Mary Shelley’s character, Dr. Frankenstein. The similarities to Blake’s financier ex are striking as his true nature is revealed—including the discovery of a secret room in the brooding Victorian home where they lived their married life together.

The stylish enclaves of Beekman Place in New York City, Nob Hill in San Francisco, and the Mayfair neighborhood in London provide the backdrop as this chilling tale of treachery and betrayal unfolds. Blake’s resolve triumphs, and the camaraderie of her loyal and charismatic friends fortifies her as she takes the reader on a tantalizing international pursuit to try to catch her poisoner, who is known to the FBI as The Blue Prussian.

The Blue Prussian

By Eve Penrose,

What is this book about?

"A modern-day Gaslight"

The Blue Prussian is a spellbinding story told by Blake O'Brien, a beautiful, young executive with a globetrotting career. Blake returns to her native Manhattan from San Francisco after escaping—or so she thinks—her marriage to a dashing man who turned out to be a prince of darkness. She had been hoping for a fresh start but learns that she has been poisoned with thallium—a deadly neurotoxin referred to as the poisoner's poison.

Blake is treated with the only known antidote—Prussian blue—the same synthetic pigment with the deeply saturated hue used in dazzling masterpieces like The Starry Night…


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