The best noir and psychological suspense novels by women

Why am I passionate about this?

Do you see the pattern in the five books I’ve recommended? In each of them, a woman writer explores the darker side of human nature and lures the law-abiding reader to explore it, too. I do not expect to ever commit a murder or to have to cover one up for the sake of a loved one. But could I? Could the person next to me in the grocery store line? Hmmm, I wonder. Traditional mystery stories and police procedurals reassure the reader that in the end, justice will be served and order restored. The women writers of noir/psychological suspense make us contemplate the world very differently.


I wrote...

The Worst Thing

By Nora Gaskin,

Book cover of The Worst Thing

What is my book about?

When Kellah Mace’s parents are killed in an accident. she overhears someone say, “She’ll go through life knowing the worst thing has already happened.” Kellah takes these words to mean she needs to fear nothing. Only one thing can hurt her again: the loss of someone else she loves. The Worst Thing begins with the intense friendship of Kellah and Angel, forged on the window ledge outside of their rooms at boarding school.

After graduation, Kellah and Angie move to an apartment in the city. They look out for each other until a stalker’s shadow falls across them. Albert Darwin was a frightened little boy, grown into a desperate man, and when he enters their lives, he brings a new meaning to “the worst thing.”

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Talented Mr. Ripley

Nora Gaskin Why did I love this book?

The Talented Mr. Ripley is Highsmith’s masterpiece. Tom Ripley is a deeply disturbed young man who operates in the world by imitating the people around him, but is missing any sense of moral responsibility for his actions. Somehow, Highsmith makes her readers care about him and hold their breath when circumstances close in on him. I recommend this book to any reader who wants an engrossing story that leaves her thinking about the mysteries of human nature, good and evil, playing out in quiet ways. 

By Patricia Highsmith,

Why should I read it?

22 authors picked The Talented Mr. Ripley as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's here, in the first volume of Patricia Highsmith's five-book Ripley series, that we are introduced to the suave Tom Ripley, a young striver seeking to leave behind his past as an orphan bullied for being a "sissy." Newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan, Ripley meets a wealthy industrialist who hires him to bring his playboy son, Dickie Greenleaf, back from gallivanting in Italy. Soon Ripley's fascination with Dickie's debonair lifestyle turns obsessive as he finds himself enraged by Dickie's ambivalent affections for Marge, a charming American dilettante, and Ripley begins a deadly game. "Sinister and strangely alluring"…


Book cover of A Sight for Sore Eyes

Nora Gaskin Why did I love this book?

In A Sight for Sore Eyes, the main character, Teddy is deeply flawed, damaged, and eventually damaging to people around him. Bad things happen and then he meets his end in a crazy accident that entombs him with the body of a woman he killed. He has created an elaborate pretense and the less imaginative and altogether normal people around him have bought into it, so no one realizes he is missing under mysterious circumstances. I recommend this book to any reader who believes human nature is the most mysterious and interesting thing in the world. 

By Ruth Rendell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Sight for Sore Eyes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A psychological thriller following Teddy Brex, a handsome, young autistic man who comes to the aid of Francine Hill, a beautiful young woman traumatised by the murder of her mother, and now stifled by the overprotectiveness of an obsessive stepmother; but Teddy has already committed two murders.


Book cover of The Vault

Nora Gaskin Why did I love this book?

The Vault is the sequel to A Sight for Sore Eyes. It is a police procedural with the detective trying to identify several dead bodies found in an abandoned coal cellar. The dead seem to have no connection to each other, so the detective must also puzzle out how each of them came to be there. I recommend it because the reader has some fun: She knows the answers to all those questions from having read the first book. It’s a great twist on mystery-as-riddle whodunits. 

By Ruth Rendell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

INCLUDES AN EXCERPT OF RENDELL’S FINAL NOVEL, DARK CORNERS

In the stunning climax to Rendell’s classic 1998 novel A Sight for Sore Eyes, three bodies—two dead, one living—are entombed in an underground chamber beneath a picturesque London house. Twelve years later, the house’s new owner pulls back a manhole cover, and discovers the vault—and its grisly contents. Only now, the number of bodies is four. How did somebody else end up in the chamber? And who knew of its existence?

With their own detectives at an impasse, London police call on former Kingsmarkham Chief Inspector Wexford, now retired and living…


Book cover of The Blank Wall

Nora Gaskin Why did I love this book?

The Blank Wall is a departure from my first three recommendations. It focuses on a woman who leads a frazzled but ordinary life during World War II. She must keep her family and home going while her husband is at war. She has to fight a source of evil that invades her home to preserve the norms that seem all-important to her. The fight means stepping outside of those very norms. I recommend this book as an exploration of what it means to do whatever it takes to protect a loved one. 

By Elisabeth Sanxay Holding,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In The Blank Wall (1947) ‘a suburban matron, harassed by wartime domestic problems – her husband is overseas – finds herself implicated in the murder of her young daughter’s extremely unattractive beau’ (The New Yorker). An outstanding example of the psychological thriller genre, ‘worthy of the great Patricia Highsmith herself,’ as Lady Antonia Fraser said in the Spectator, it was filmed as The Reckless Moment in 1949 and as The Deep End in 2001, starring Tilda Swinton. In 1950 Raymond Chandler asked his English publisher, ‘Does anybody in England publish Elisabeth Sanxay Holding? For my money she’s the top suspense…


Book cover of Rebecca

Nora Gaskin Why did I love this book?

Rebecca may be my favorite novel because I have read it and reread it over decades and it still intrigues me. The narrator is as plain and modest a person as ever made it onto the page. Boring. Annoyingly self-deprecating, and yet–from the beginning, we know there is a great secret she is keeping. She is another woman who must step outside her own limitations to protect the person dearest to her. I recommend this book to anyone who has never read it and to anyone who has, but not in the last few years. Revisit Manderley. 

By Daphne du Maurier,

Why should I read it?

41 authors picked Rebecca as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

* 'The greatest psychological thriller of all time' ERIN KELLY
* 'One of the most influential novels of the twentieth century' SARAH WATERS
* 'It's the book every writer wishes they'd written' CLARE MACKINTOSH

'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .'

Working as a lady's companion, our heroine's outlook is bleak until, on a trip to the south of France, she meets a handsome widower whose proposal takes her by surprise. She accepts but, whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory…


You might also like...

The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

By John Winn Miller,

Book cover of The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

John Winn Miller

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The Hunt for the Peggy C is best described as Casablanca meets Das Boot. It is about an American smuggler who struggles to rescue a Jewish family on his rusty cargo ship, outraging his mutinous crew of misfits and provoking a hair-raising chase by a brutal Nazi U-boat captain bent on revenge.

During the nerve-wracking 3,000-mile escape, Rogers falls in love with the family’s eldest daughter, Miriam, a sweet medical student with a militant streak. Everything seems hopeless when Jake is badly wounded, and Miriam must prove she’s as tough as her rhetoric to put down a mutiny by some of Jake’s fed-up crew–just as the U-boat closes in for the kill.

The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

By John Winn Miller,

What is this book about?

John Winn Miller's THE HUNT FOR THE PEGGY C, a semifinalist in the Clive Cussler Adventure Writers Competition, captures the breathless suspense of early World War II in the North Atlantic. Captain Jake Rogers, experienced in running his tramp steamer through U-boat-infested waters to transport vital supplies and contraband to the highest bidder, takes on his most dangerous cargo yet after witnessing the oppression of Jews in Amsterdam: a Jewish family fleeing Nazi persecution.

The normally aloof Rogers finds himself drawn in by the family's warmth and faith, but he can't afford to let his guard down when Oberleutnant Viktor…


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