The top five female crime fiction writers

Some of the most refreshing plots of the contemporary crime fiction genre are to be found at the pen nibs of female authors. Here we select five of our favourites, and explain why their convention-busting characters have made them must-reads.

Patricia Cornwell
Cornwell’s Dr Kay Scarpetta is to the forensic science investigation genre what Marple is to the Golden Age – the original and most inventive. Her painstaking procedurals predate the new wave of post-mortem fiction that’s currently in such mainstream vogue, and that makes her a must-read.

The Scarpetta series blends a chilling degree of realism with pace and plot twists, and while her recent books have found the author experimenting with style and convention, her focus on detail and plot maintain her original voice and popularity.

Cornwell’s bestsellers include Book of the Dead and The Front, and for the latter she was awarded the 1993 Gold Dagger award.

Recommended reads
Book of the Dead
The Front


Val McDermid
As one of the most prolific and popular crime fiction writers today, McDermid has been at the forefront of the Tartan Noir genre of Scottish detective fiction for more than two decades.

Her three main characters include gay journalist Lindsay Gordon; troubled psychologist, Tony Hill; and a private investigator, Kate Brannigan.

McDermid is the British Crime Writers’ Association 1995 Gold Dagger Award winner for Best Crime Novel of the Year for The Mermaids Singing, a Tony Hill thriller, while The Torment of Others was awarded the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year in 2006.

The ex-journalist’s precise, plot-driven writing, rich character construction and broader explorations of politics and society have elevated her to a true giant of the crime fiction genre.

Recommended reads
The Mermaids Singing
A Place of Execution
Clean Break


PD James
This year’s recipient of the Theakston Old Peculiar Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award, James has been one of the UK’s foremost crime fiction writers since her 1962 debut, Cover Her Face. But that doesn’t mean that in a career spanning 50 years she’s lost any of her thirst for new and ever more inventive storylines.

The novelist, Baroness and Conservative peer who turns 91 later this year, is most famed for her character Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, a poetry-penning detective serialised for television by ITV. Her literary style never masks her rollicking plots, and her novels remain inventive and above all highly entertaining.

Recommended reads
Original Sin
A Certain Justice
Devices and Desires


Janet Evanovich
Evanovich’s series featuring the accidental bounty hunter Stephanie Plum has earned her multiple awards and a place on the world best-seller list.

Her style is a blend of crime fiction and romantic adventure, with feel-good charm and darkly comedic scenes offsetting the traditional analytical process. Plum’s debut, 1994’s One for the Money, was described by the Washington Post as breathing new life in to investigative fiction, and Evanovich is widely celebrated for creating a style and voice of her own.

With 23 novels now completed within the Stephanie Plum series, Evanovich’s witty pacing and cutting dialogue form a refreshing voice in the crime fiction genre.

Recommended reads
Ten Big Ones
Hot Six
Two for the Dough


Sue Grafton
The New York Times-bestselling mystery author Sue Grafton has been published in 28 countries and translated to 26 languages, the latter number fitting perfectly with her alphabet–themed Kinsey Millhone series. V is for Vengeance is due in November.

Relying on her Californian location as much as her female lead, Grafton’s Millhone series has flourished in the mainstream, due in no small part to the author’s previous career as a Hollywood scriptwriter.

Often compared to Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, Grafton’s hardboiled characters and eye for detail are mixed with sharp social observations, while her cunning plotlines and intricate storytelling have seen her named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America.

Recommended reads
G Is For Gumshoe (Pan Crime)
E Is For Evidence (Kinsey Millhone Mysteries)
U is for Undertow


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  1. Janette Reply

    I love Lisbeth Salander in the Millenium Trilogy by Steiger Larsson, Makaydee Vanderwall in the series by Tara Moss and Vanessa Michael Munroe by Taylor Stevens

  2. Stephanie Reply

    I started reading a short series so far of mystery books about a female..maybe archeologist/professor perhaps.. who lives on British coast near the kind of waters that recede quite far leaving soupy sand and quicksand in places. She lives alone in a cottage, gets called in by police to identify artifacts,etc and then in book two or three has an affair with the married chief of police and gets pregnant. Love the books and have forgotten their names as well as the name of the British author who I think is female. The side story is ongoing and want to read the next book. HELP! Oh and the author is relatively current I am sure.

    1. crimefictionlover Reply

      The author you are looking for is Elly Griffiths, and the character is called Ruth Galloway. The books are set on the Norfolk coastline. Hope that helps.

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