Fear and danger are vital elements to great crime fiction. Anthropologists have theorized that we gravitate toward dangerous stories because of the deeper chemical need in our brains to feel the rush and exuberance of the chase. These stories allow us to access the primal parts of ourselves without actually -as civilized members of society- intentionally placing our bodies in danger.
As heart-pounding and frightening as it is to read about, or see characters in dire situations, it’s equally exhilarating when they win. The suspense is its own unique reward.
Women react, both as readers and characters, to this kind of fear differently than men. From a young age, women are warned to be more cautious, more aware, more afraid, and as we get older our life experiences compound this idea that obstacles and peril for women, are all around us. Some of it is real, some of it is overblown, but we can all agree that there is something unique and compelling about the danger of a fictional woman who has chosen (or chooses during the course of a narrative) to live beyond the constraints of that fear.
She goes, she fights, and she wins. And when she wins, it’s gratifying in a different way.
We asked our editors, some authors, and friends to name their favorite crime fiction series featuring this kind of woman, and here are the top results:
The Huntress FBI Thrillers, by Alexandra Sokoloff: FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is hunting, what criminologist say does not exists: a female serial killer. Cara Lindstrom isn’t your “everyday killer,” she is also on a mission, tracking down some of the scariest criminals around and dealing out her own justice.
The Tess Monaghan Series, by Laura Lippman: Reporter turned Private Investigator, Tess Monaghan, is a realistic and gritty crime fiction heroine. She isn’t some butt kicking superwoman, she is an honest grounded, woman solving crime and not held back by the stereotypes and social conventions.
The Lizzy Gardner Thrillers, by T.R. Ragan: Lizzy Gardner knows what fear is, when she was only seventeen, she was imprisoned and tormented for months by the maniac serial killer. Fourteen years later, she is a PI teaching girls self-defense and stopping at nothing to find justice.
The Bodyguard Series, by Leena Lehtolainen: Hilja Ilveskero is our heroine hired to protect Anita Nuutinen, who turns up dead setting Hilja on the path to solving the murder. Hilja is TOUGH but not a super-hero. Often in danger but never really in over her head, she’s on her way to being the next hot Nordic hero.
The Millennium Trilogy, by Steig Larsson: Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, is not to be messed with. Authority issues, misunderstood, and a bonfied genius, Larson originally penned this tale to be a cultural assessment of misogyny, but it’s also just fun to watch Lisbeth kick butt along the way.