My favorite books of mystery/suspense by women authors

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been an avid reader of mysteries since I discovered Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden at age seven. I not only consume mysteries but I write about them: in 2002, my PhD dissertation discussed Victorian novels of suspense. Since then, I have published four Victorian mysteries with Random House, Harper Collins, and Crooked Lane. I am perpetually drawn to reading and writing books that trace the arc from confusion and chaos to clarity and order because I believe it is one of our deepest impulses as human beings—to understand our world. 


I wrote...

Down a Dark River

By Karen Odden,

Book cover of Down a Dark River

What is my book about?

Described as “a superbly written Victorian mystery, dark and atmospheric” by Mystery & Suspense Magazine, Down a Dark River, my fourth novel, is again set in 1870s London. 

Scotland Yard Inspector Michael Corravan is a former thief and bare-knuckles boxer raised in the Irish section of seedy Whitechapel (home of Jack the Ripper). Following a corruption scandal that destroyed public trust in Scotland Yard the previous year, Corravan is faced with the case of a beautiful young woman, daughter of a prominent judge, found murdered in a boat floating down the Thames. Her family has skeletons in the closet, which Corravan uncovers. But when a second young woman and then a third are found similarly murdered, he must discover the connection before the newspapers froth London into a panic. A case of injustice and revenge, the solution demands that Corravan delve into the darkest corners of his own heart.  

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Faithful Place

Karen Odden Why did I love this book?

All of Tana French’s books are characterized by intensity. Her protagonists have powerful backstories that generate the emotional drive to solve the mystery they face. In Faithful Place, set close to the present day, the protagonist Frank Mackey grew up working class in Dublin. Now he’s a detective, called home to Faithful Place when his family discovers a suitcase in an abandoned building—a suitcase that belonged to Frank’s girlfriend Rosie, who vanished years ago, the night she and Frank were to run away together to London. Frank always believed that Rosie abandoned him; but what if she was murdered? In solving this case, Frank must excavate his family’s history and his own emotionally wrenching past, which shapes both the mystery arc and the subplot of this book—Frank’s reconciliation with his ex-wife and his daughter. This book is poignant, painful, and suspenseful, with a powerful ending. 

By Tana French,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Faithful Place as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Tana French, author of the forthcoming novel The Searcher, “the most important crime novelist to emerge in the past 10 years” (The Washington Post), the bestseller called “the most stunning of her books” (The New York Times) and a finalist for the Edgar Award. 

Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was a nineteen-year-old kid with a dream of escaping hisi family's cramped flat on Faithful Place and running away to London with his girl, Rosie Daly. But on the night they were supposed to leave, Rosie didn't show. Frank took it for granted that she'd dumped him-probably because of his…


Book cover of The Tenderness of Wolves

Karen Odden Why did I love this book?

This heart-wrenching historical novel won the prestigious Costa Book of the Year award. Set in 1867 in Dove River, a tiny settlement in the Northern Territory, this tale is told by several narrators. Often, that technique is used ineffectively, but Penney has made each voice so distinct that the book transcends the genre of murder mystery to become a reflection upon how people perceive the same event very differently. When Mrs. Ross discovers the murdered body of the trapper Laurent Jammett, her worst nightmare comes true: her seventeen-year-old son Francis has disappeared and has been named the primary suspect. Searchers set out from Dove River, following his tracks across the snow, ultimately discovering the truth behind the murder. This tale compellingly explores themes of justice and redemption. 

By Stef Penney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Tenderness of Wolves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1867, Canada: as winter tightens its grip on the isolated settlement of Dove River, a man is brutally murdered and a 17-year old boy disappears. Tracks leaving the dead man's cabin head north towards the forest and the tundra beyond. In the wake of such violence, people are drawn to the township - journalists, Hudson's Bay Company men, trappers, traders - but do they want to solve the crime, or exploit it? One-by-one the assembled searchers set out from Dove River, pursuing the tracks across a desolate landscape home only to wild animals, madmen and fugitives, variously seeking a murderer,…


Book cover of Nine Coaches Waiting

Karen Odden Why did I love this book?

An oldie but goodie, first published in 1958, this beautifully written novel of suspense and romance is often compared to Daphne du Maurier’s masterpiece Rebecca. I actually prefer Nine Coaches Waiting, with its nod to Bronte’s Jane Eyre and the gorgeous setting of a French castle. In this book, the orphaned Englishwoman Linda Martin becomes the governess to young, orphaned Phillipe, of Chateau Valmy in France. At first, the situation seems perfect, and young Phillipe is a shy but engaging pupil. His aunt and uncle, however, raise Linda’s concerns, and the ensuing cat-and-mouse game lays bare the ways ambition and injury can twist a heart. Mary Stewart won the prestigious Edgar Award for mystery in 1965 for This Rough Magic, but Nine Coaches Waiting is my favorite of hers.

By Mary Stewart,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Nine Coaches Waiting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A tense thrillerabout an English girl who becomes governess to a young French heir to great estates in Savoy. Having deceived her employers about her ability to speak French, she discovers that they are trying to kill her young charge.


Book cover of The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Karen Odden Why did I love this book?

This is another oldie but goodie from 1958. The Young Adult genre is often overlooked, but I would recommend this Newbury Award Winner to the YA crowd as well as adults who love a strong historical novel of suspense tinged with romance. In 1687, sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler leaves gorgeous, sunny Barbados after her father dies, relocating to her uncle’s household in a small, bleak Puritan town in Connecticut. Lonely and ostracized by the stern villagers, Kit befriends a Quaker woman named Hannah, who is thought to be a witch. When a vicious neighbor accuses Kit of bewitching her child, Kit is put on trial for her life. With a nod to The Crucible and exploring themes surrounding trusting the Other, this book is still relevant today.

By Elizabeth George Speare,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Witch of Blackbird Pond as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

In this Newbery Medal-winning novel, a girl faces prejudice and accusations of witchcraft in seventeenth-century Connecticut. A classic of historical fiction that continues to resonate across the generations.

Sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the unfamiliar shores of colonial Connecticut in 1687. Alone and desperate, she has been forced to leave her beloved home on the island of Barbados and join a family she has never met.

Torn between her quest for belonging and her desire to be true to herself, Kit struggles to survive in a hostile place. Just when…


Book cover of Girl Waits with Gun

Karen Odden Why did I love this book?

Based on the real Constance Kopp, one of the first female deputies in the US, this book begins in 1914, when Charlotte and her two sisters, in a buggy, are run off the road by a gangster, and she teams up with the sheriff to do something about it. I recommend this book because the voice is utterly original and compelling. Here’s the opening: “Our troubles began in the summer of 1914, the year I turned thirty-five. The Archduke of Austria had just been assassinated, the Mexicans were revolting, and absolutely nothing was happening at our house, which explains why all three of us were riding to Paterson on the most trivial of errands.” Named one of 2015’s Best Books by NPR and a New York Times Editors’ Choice, it’s the first of a wonderful series.

By Amy Stewart,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Girl Waits with Gun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Drunken Botanist comes an enthralling novel based on the forgotten, true story of one of the US's first female deputy sheriffs.

Constance Kopp doesn't quite fit the mould. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters from the city to the country fifteen years before. When a powerful, ruthless factory owner runs down their buggy, a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he…


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The Circus Infinite

By Khan Wong,

Book cover of The Circus Infinite

Khan Wong Author Of The Circus Infinite

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Creative expression has been one of my most cherished values since childhood. I've always had a creative hobby of some kind since I was a kid. Not sure how that happened – my parents were tolerant of my interests at best. I made my day job career in the arts, fostering the creativity of community members and supporting the work of artists. Art (in the general sense of all forms of creative expression) is, to me, a defining characteristic of humanity, it makes life worth living, and the way it’s devalued under Capitalism both saddens and inspires me as a creator myself. I’m a writer of speculative fiction and I write about creative people.

Khan's book list on how art is more than art

What is my book about?

Hunted by those who want to study his gravity powers, Jes makes his way to the best place for a mixed-species fugitive to blend in: the pleasure moon where everyone just wants to be lost in the party. It doesn’t take long for him to catch the attention of the crime boss who owns the resort-casino where he lands a circus job, and when the boss gets wind of the bounty on Jes’ head, he makes an offer: do anything and everything asked of him or face vivisection.

With no other options, Jes fulfills the requests: espionage, torture, demolition. But when the boss sets the circus up to take the fall for his about-to-get-busted narcotics operation, Jes and his friends decide to bring the mobster down. And if Jes can also avoid going back to being the prize subject of a scientist who can’t wait to dissect him? Even better.

The Circus Infinite

By Khan Wong,

What is this book about?

Hunted by those who want to study his gravity powers, Jes makes his way to the best place for a mixed-species fugitive to blend in: the pleasure moon where everyone just wants to be lost in the party. It doesn't take long for him to catch the attention of the crime boss who owns the resort-casino where he lands a circus job, and when the boss gets wind of the bounty on Jes' head, he makes an offer: do anything and everything asked of him or face vivisection.

With no other options, Jes fulfills the requests: espionage, torture, demolition. But…


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