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5 Killer Thrillers Written by Women

For a lot of people, when they hear the word “thriller” they associate the creative genre with men. This rapid fire mental process comes from our socialized and traditional gender roles. The same thing happens when we hear the words “doctor” or “scientist." It’s an internalized idea that a lot of us still have to work through.The image of a man with specific characteristics comes to mind before we even have the chance to pause and think that women can and do the same work. It’s a process that’s been engraved in our minds since childhood. We need to deconstruct this notion in order to broaden our worldview through the works of both men and women, alongside their independent experiences in their societies. 

 

With a genre as popular as thriller, we have classic novelists like John Grisham, James Patterson, and Dan Brown all male, all widely recognized, even if you haven’t read their books. However, the world of literature is full of female writers who defied their “roles” in society and wrote witty, bold, and daring masterpieces. Over the years, there’s been a massive wave of new female writers who have written thrillers that are exhilarating, sharp, dark, and clever. Think Gillian Flynn, Karin Slaughter, Tana French, Paula Hawkins, Abigail Haas, Tess Gerritsen, Megan Miranda, and Rachel Howzell Hall. Through their novels, these female writers have created new worlds, new perspectives, fresh ideas, and innovative storylines. 

 

As a thriller enthusiast and avid reader, I’ve made a list of five killer thrillers written by women for both the avid reader like myself and the person who wants to read thrillers, but doesn’t know where to begin. You’ll notice my slight obsession with everything Gillian Flynn and my not-so-weird fascination with dark themes and the macabre. 

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects may only have 252 pages, but it’s packed with twists, secrets, darkness, and psychological puzzles. It narrates the story of Camille Preaker, a reporter who’s been given the assignment to return to the hometown she left behind to write a story about the murders of two preteen girls. Based on that brief description, you may think that it’s a simple storyline: girl is obligated to return to the hometown she hates; girl will investigate the murders of other girls on the pretext of writing a story for her job; girl solves the mystery and the end. Well, this isn’t that kind of story. After all, it’s Gillian Flynn who we’re talking about. Nothing is ever that simple in her novels. 

 

This novel is more than just a whodunit. It links Camille’s past with her mother and sister, as well as her unstable psychological process throughout the story and her estranged relationship with her younger sister, to the murders. Everything is connected. Just when you think you have a complete understanding of the novel, it comes back with twist after twist, leaving your head spinning from the thrills and shock. 

 

With sharp writing, clever plot twists, and characters that feel real, Sharp Objects is a thriller you won’t want to miss. 

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

I’m in love with this novel. It’s one of my all-time favorites. It has everything I look for in a thriller— a psychological quest, an engaging mystery, sharp writing, a fresh storyline, deeply flawed characters, dark and nasty secrets, and suspenseful tension as it plays with both the characters’ and readers’ minds.

 

In Dangerous Girls, we’re in the mind of Ana, a high school senior who’s spending her spring break in Aruba with her group of friends. Their trip is supposed to be this perfect getaway to cherish the last couple of weeks of high school, but that all crumbles down when Ana’s best friend, Elise, is found brutally murdered in the beach house they were sharing during their vacation. The mystery is: who killed Elise? Everything points to Ana, from the general suspicion to the evidence. It’s up to Ana herself to prove her innocence and fight for her freedom in a country that’s not her own. 

 

More than a mystery, the book’s main focus is on the question of Ana’s innocence or guilt. The reader is in her mind and has to experience her psychological process to determine what is true and what is not. The novel is divided between the past and the present, in different moments of her life— Before, to present their time during the vacation; Then, to present how Ana became friends with Elise and their time in high school; Now, to present Ana during her incarceration and trial process. In between these, there’s newspaper reports, interrogations, transcripts, text messages, “the night” they found her body, three months later, and the different stages of a trial. 

 

With a page-turning mystery, sharp writing, dark portrayals of the human psyche, a heart-stopping revelation, and a perfectly constructed storyline, Dangerous Girls is a novel that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.  

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn 

When you read this novel, you feel like you’ve immersed yourself into a true crime frenzy of serial killer documentaries and articles about gruesome murders. The only difference is that you’re perceiving it through the victims’ eyes. The reason for this is because Flynn takes inspiration from real life murder cases and transforms them into a unique fiction story. In other words, the novel can feel familiar in certain aspects, but Flynn provides a fresh and innovative twist to it. 

 

Dark Places centers around Libby Day, the sole survivor of “The Satan Sacrifice” of Kinnakee, Kansas. “The Satan Sacrifice” is the name given to the night where her mother and two sisters were murdered. Since she was the sole survivor, Libby testified against her brother, Ben, condemning him to a life in prison. The novel takes place between the past and the present. The present is narrated by Libby herself, 25 years after the murders. The past alternates between Patty Day, her mother, and Ben Day, as there’s a third person narration of the events that led up to the gruesome murder. 

 

In the present, the Kill Club reaches Libby to regain information about that night that could prove Ben’s innocence. Although skeptical, Libby agrees because she’s in need of money. In the past, the reader learns the truth of what happened that night as it clashes with the present. 

 

With beautiful writing, a dark mystery, characters that feel real, a strong plot, and a mouth-hanging finale, Dark Places is a thriller that will keep you up at night. 

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda 

All the Missing Girls has something that other thrillers don’t: the story is told backwards, from Day 15 to Day 1. This is what immediately grabbed my attention. It’s clever, innovative, and different. These are all characteristics of a killer thriller. 

 

The novel centers around Nicolette Farrell, a woman who has to go back to her small town, Cooley Ridge, in order to take care of her ailing father. Once she’s back in Cooley Ridge, she has to confront old demons: Tyler, her first love; her father, the man she left behind to pick up her broken pieces; and the truth about what really happened to her best friend Corinne, who disappeared 10 years ago and was never heard from again. Upon her return, another girl goes missing, thus reviving Corinne’s case. As Nicolette searches for the missing girl’s whereabouts, truths come to the surface regarding everyone around her, including herself. 

 

With a page-turning mystery, dark characters, a psychological quest, sharp writing, and disturbingly flawed characters, All the Missing Girls is a must read! 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn 

No, I’m not talking about the movie version. I’m talking about the masterpiece of a novel that Gillian Flynn created. Although the movie is wonderful in itself and Flynn wrote its script, the novel is a hundred times better. It doesn’t matter if you already saw the film, reading the novel is a whole other experience. This novel is innovative, trend-setting, ingenious, dark, sneaky, and witty. 

 

Gone Girl is, first and foremost, a story about a dysfunctional marriage. Nick and Amy Dunne are deeply flawed people individually, but when they come together, they’re toxic. The novel centers around the disappearance of Amy during their fifth wedding anniversary. As the days pass, people all over the world begin to believe that Amy is dead; murdered and dumped somewhere. Nick, who’s endured a miserable marriage, becomes the prime suspect because of secrets, lies, and inappropriate behavior. The question is: did Nick kill his wife? 

 

The novel alternates between Nick’s perspective in the present as he tries to make sense of what happened to Amy, and Amy’s diary entries that narrate how they fell in love and how they fell unhealthily out of it. The mystery in the novel shines on its own, but what’s really amazing about the book is the deep exploration of marriage life, dysfunctional partners, and the psychological process in two sociopathic minds. The novel is not about who’s good and bad because both Nick and Amy are horrible people. It’s about a dark reality that’s often not explored. 

 

With “razor-sharp” writing, a clever plot, a page-turning mystery, nasty and dark characters, and a revelation that will stay in your mind for a long time, Gone Girl is a novel that calls to be read and analyzed.

If you’re a thriller enthusiast in search of another good read or an aspiring thriller author like myself, these books are perfect to transport you into dark worlds that will activate your creativity. These women are thriving in the genre and deserve the same recognition that male thriller authors receive. Warning: once you pick these books up, you’ll be unable to put them down. So make sure to sit comfortably because you’ll spend the whole day invested in them. It’s always fun to read them at night for the extra thrills and goosebumps. I hope you enjoy them!     

Abigail F. Boneta is a 23-year-old writer and editor recently graduated from the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras. She majored in English Literature and Modern Languages with emphasis on French and Francophone studies. As an undergraduate student, she was a writer and junior editor for Her Campus at UPR. She was also an editor for Tonguas Literary Magazine. She seeks to expand her portfolio with more feminist articles and articles that tackle contemporary social problems. Her dream is to write and publish novels about Latino/a characters in genres like Mystery, Psychological Thriller, and Contemporary Young Adult.
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