British women crime writers have been producing some of the best mystery and crime novels: So why not take a deeper look and handpick the best? Our list might not be exhaustive but one thing is for sure: The following authors all created a lot of buzz with their 2018 releases (beyond their peers), and more importantly have all mastered the art of crafting compelling stories which make readers constantly crave for more.
Ann Cleeves. Ann is the author of the books behind ITV’s VERA, and the BBC’s SHETLAND, which will be aired in December 2012. Ann’s DI Vera Stanhope series of books is set in Northumberland and features the well loved detective along with her partner Joe Ashworth. Ann’s Shetland series bring us DI Jimmy Perez, investigating in the mysterious, dark, and beautiful Shetland Islands.
Ann grew up in the country, first in Herefordshire, then in North Devon. Her father was a village school teacher. After dropping out of university she took a number of temporary jobs – child care officer, women’s refuge leader, bird observatory cook, auxiliary coastguard – before going back to college and training to be a probation officer.
While she was cooking in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle, she met her husband Tim, a visiting ornithologist. She was attracted less by the ornithology than the bottle of malt whisky she saw in his rucksack when she showed him his room. Soon after they married, Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. They were the only residents, there was no mains electricity or water and access to the mainland was at low tide across the shore. If a person’s not heavily into birds – and Ann isn’t – there’s not much to do on Hilbre and that was when she started writing. Her first series of crime novels features the elderly naturalist, George Palmer-Jones. A couple of these books are seriously dreadful.
In 1987 Tim, Ann and their two daughters moved to Northumberland and the north east provides the inspiration for many of her subsequent titles. The girls have both taken up with Geordie lads. In the autumn of 2006, Ann and Tim finally achieved their ambition of moving back to the North East.
For the National Year of Reading, Ann was made reader-in-residence for three library authorities. It came as a revelation that it was possible to get paid for talking to readers about books! She went on to set up reading groups in prisons as part of the Inside Books project, became Cheltenham Literature Festival’s first reader-in-residence and still enjoys working with libraries.
Ann Cleeves on stage at the Duncan Lawrie Dagger awards ceremony
Ann’s short film for Border TV, Catching Birds, won a Royal Television Society Award. She has twice been short listed for a CWA Dagger Award – once for her short story The Plater, and the following year for the Dagger in the Library award.
In 2006 Ann Cleeves was the first winner of the prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award of the Crime Writers’ Association for Raven Black, the first volume of her Shetland Quartet. The Duncan Lawrie Dagger replaces the CWA’s Gold Dagger award, and the winner receives £20,000, making it the world’s largest award for crime fiction.
Ann’s success was announced at the 2006 Dagger Awards ceremony at the Waldorf Hilton, in London’s Aldwych, on Thursday 29 June 2006. She said: “I have never won anything before in my life, so it was a complete shock – but lovely of course.. The evening was relatively relaxing because I’d lost my voice and knew that even if the unexpected happened there was physically no way I could utter a word. So I wouldn’t have to give a speech. My editor was deputed to do it!”
The judging panel consisted of Geoff Bradley (non-voting Chair), Lyn Brown MP (a committee member on the London Libraries service), Frances Gray (an academic who writes about and teaches courses on modern crime fiction), Heather O’Donoghue (academic, linguist, crime fiction reviewer for The Times Literary Supplement, and keen reader of all crime fiction) and Barry Forshaw (reviewer and editor of Crime Time magazine).
Ann’s books have been translated into sixteen languages. She’s a bestseller in Scandinavia and Germany. Her novels sell widely and to critical acclaim in the United States. Raven Black was shortlisted for the Martin Beck award for best translated crime novel in Sweden.
C. J. Tudor. C. J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham, where she still lives with her partner and young daughter. She left school at sixteen and has had a variety of jobs over the years, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, shop assistant, ad agency copywriter and voiceover.
In the early nineties, she fell into a job as a television presenter for a show on Channel 4 called Moviewatch. Although a terrible presenter, she got to interview acting legends such as Sigourney Weaver, Michael Douglas, Emma Thompson and Robin Williams. She also annoyed Tim Robbins by asking a question about Susan Sarandon’s breasts and was extremely flattered when Robert Downey Junior showed her his chest.
While writing her debut work The Chalk Man she ran a dog-walking business, walking over twenty dogs a week as well as looking after her little girl.
She’s been writing since she was a child but only knuckled down to it properly in her thirties. Her English teacher once told her that if she ‘did not become Prime Minister or a best-selling author’ he would be ‘very disappointed.’
The Chalk Man was inspired by a tub of chalks a friend bought for her daughter’s second birthday. One afternoon they drew chalk figures all over the driveway. Later that night she opened the back door to be confronted by weird stick men everywhere. In the dark, they looked incredibly sinister. She called to her partner: ‘These chalk men look really creepy in the dark . . .’
She is never knowingly over-dressed. She has never owned a handbag and the last time she wore heels (twelve years ago) she broke a tooth. She loves The Killers, Foo Fighters and Frank Turner. Her favorite venue is Rock City.
Emma Kavanagh. The acclaimed UK bestselling author of Falling and Hidden, Emma was born and raised in South Wales and she is a former police and military psychologist. After completing her PhD, Emma began her own consultancy business, providing training to police and military across the UK and Europe.
She taught police officers and NATO personnel about the psychology of critical incidents, terrorism, body recovery and hostage negotiation. She has run around muddy fields taking part in tactical exercises, has designed live fire training events, has been a VIP under bodyguard protection and has fired more than her fair share of weapons. She is married with two small sons and considers herself incredibly privileged to get to make up stories for a living.
Val McDermid. A veteran of the genre, Val is a Scottish crime writer, best known for a series of suspense novels featuring Dr. Tony Hill. McDermid comes from a working-class family in Fife. She studied English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, where she was the first student to be admitted from a Scottish state school.
After graduation she became a journalist and worked briefly as a dramatist. Her first success as a novelist, Report for Murder: The First Lindsay Gordon Mysteryoccurred in 1987. McDermid was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sunderland in 2011. She is co-founder of the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, part of the Harrogate International Festivals.
In 2016 she captained a team of St Hilda’s alumni to win the Christmas University Challenge. In 2017, McDermid was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, as well as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
McDermid’s works fall into four series: Lindsay Gordon, Kate Brannigan, Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, and Inspector Karen Pirie. Her characters include a journalist, Lindsay Gordon; a private investigator, Kate Brannigan; a clinical psychologist, Tony Hill; and DCI Karen Pirie working out of Fife, Scotland.
The Mermaids Singing, the first book in the Hill/Jordan series, won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year. The Hill/Jordan series has been adapted for television under the name Wire in the Blood, starring Robson Green.
McDermid considers her work to be part of the “Tartan Noir” Scottish crime fiction genre. In addition to writing novels, McDermid contributes to several British newspapers and often broadcasts on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland. Her novels, in particular the Tony Hill series, are known for their graphic depictions of violence and torture.
Sarah Ward. She is the author of DC Childs novels including In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw, and A Patient Fury set in the Derbyshire Peak District where she lives. Sarah is a judge for the Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels.
In her latest work, The shrouded Path, it is November, 1957: Six teenage girls walk in the churning Derbyshire mists, the first chills of winter in the air. Their voices carrying across the fields, they follow the old train tracks into the dark tunnel of the Cutting. Only five appear on the other side.
October, 2014: a dying mother, feverishly fixated on a friend from her childhood, makes a plea: ‘Find Valerie.’ Mina’s elderly mother had never discussed her childhood with her daughter before. So who was Valerie? Where does her obsession spring from?
DC Connie Childs, off balance after her last big case, is partnered up with new arrival to Bampton, Peter Dahl. Following up on what seems like a simple natural death, DC Childs’ old instincts kick in, pointing her right back to one cold evening in 1957. As Connie starts to broaden her enquiries, the investigation begins to spiral increasingly close to home.
Lynne Truss. She is arguably best known for her championing of correctness and aesthetics in the English language, which is the subject of her popular and widely discussed 2003 book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. The book was inspired by a BBC Radio 4 show about punctuation, Cutting a Dash, which she presented.
A Shot in the Dark: A Constable Twitten Mystery is her recent work in the genre of mystery. It’s 1957, and the famed theater critic A. S. Crystal has come to the British seaside resort of Brighton with something other than the local production of A Shilling in the Meter on his mind. Sitting in the Brighton Royal Theater with Constable Twitten, Crystal intends to tell the detective the secret he knows about the still-unsolved Aldersgate Stick-Up case of 1945. And yet, just before Crystal names the criminal mastermind involved, he’s shot dead in his seat.
With a new murder case on his hands and a fatuous, lazy captain at the helm of the police department, the keen and clever Constable Twitten and his colleague Sargent Jim Brunswick set out to solve the decade-old mystery of the Aldersgate Stick-Up. As the partners venture deep into the criminal underworld that lies beneath Brighton’s holiday-happy veneer, they begin to discover a criminal conspiracy that dates back decades. But will Brunswick and Twitten be able to foil the mastermind, or will Crystal’s death become just another unsolved crime in this seemingly peaceful seaside city?
Belinda Bauer. Born in 1962, Belinda grew up in England and South Africa, and her debut novel Blacklands earned her the British Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger award for the best crime novel of 2010. Both Blacklands and her second novel Darkside (2011) are set in the village of Shipcott, on Exmoor, in north Devon, England. Both have been translated into several languages.
Finders Keepers is Belinda Bauer’s third novel, also set in Shipcott. The book was released in the UK on 5 January 2012, and in the United States on 28 February 2012. In 2014, her book Rubbernecker won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award.
Bauer is a former journalist and screenwriter; she won the Carl Foreman BAFTA for her screenplay The Locker Room. She now lives in Wales. In July 2018 Bauer’s novel, Snap, was longlisted for that year’s Man Booker Prize.