Gabino Iglesias writes “Brass Ovaries: Reading Women” column for Mystery Tribune. He is the author of Coyote Songs, Zero Saints, and Gutmouth and his nonfiction has appeared in places like The New York Times and the Los Angeles Review of Books.
When it comes to celebrating the women who make crime, mystery, thrillers, and noir amazing, I don’t want to be the only one talking. To make sure other voices were heard, I asked some of my favorite male crime writers to talk about their three favorite female crime/noir/mystery/thriller writers.
The results were amazing. Everyone wanted to talk about more than three. David Joy named nine. Erik Storey wrote a small essay. They talked about classics but focused on their contemporaries. They wrote about the women who influenced and inspired them. It was so great I didn’t even alter their responses much because they reflect who they are and how their brains work. Anyway, I’ll stop now. This was a lot of fun. Here, read it for yourself.
David Joy, author of The Line that Held Us
Let me preface what I’m about to say by stating firmly that Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, and Meg Gardiner are at the top of the heap. But I’d lay a bet that one of the other writers you asked to take part in this little experiment will name them (and if not who the hell did you ask?!?!), so I’m going to list a few who need to be on more radars.
First and foremost, I’m going with Steph Post. I write Southern grit. I love Southern grit. And she’s flat out one of the best doing it. Her Judah Cannon series set in Florida reminds me of a cross between Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage and Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson. I binge on her books and lucky for me there’s a new one coming next January from Polis called Holding Smoke.
Now, I don’t know what the odds of naming two Stephs in a row would be, but nevertheless I’m going to say Steph Cha. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of her latest novel, Your House Will Pay, due out this October, and it’s flat out one of the best novels I’ve read this year.
Her prose is lithe but overwhelmingly rich, and she has an incredible eye for time and place. If you don’t know her work already, let this new one be your first foray. Something tells me you’ll go digging into her backlist after that.
Last but certainly not least, I’m going to name a tie for two writers that aren’t named nearly enough, and that’s Ingrid Thoft and Chevy Stevens. These are two of the best doing it. Period.
What I love about Ingrid Thoft’s work in particular is her ear for dialogue. It’s reminiscent of Robert Parker…
What I love about Ingrid’s work in particular is her ear for dialogue. It’s reminiscent of Robert Parker who I think was a master in that sense. As for Chevy, her plotting is surgical, reminding me of Laura Lippman and Gillian Flynn. Bottom line, Ingrid and Chevy both need to be in your TBR stack and they need to be brought up in this conversation more often.
And that’s that. Somehow I managed to slip nine names into your request for three.
Rob Hart, author of The Warehouse
Kristen Lepionka – The Roxane Weary books are probably my favorite currently-running PI series. Lepionka breathes new life into the genre and proves that ‘hardboiled’ and ‘feminine’ aren’t mutually exclusive.
Lauren Wilkinson – American Spy, Wilkonson’s first novel, is an espionage all-timer. Just an utter knockout of a book. It’ll likely remain the best novel I read in 2019 and made her a must-read for me, with whatever she does next.
If you’re into Mindhunter on Netflix you need to be reading [UNSUB] series.
Meg Gardiner – I am in love with Gardiner’s UNSUB books. So well-constructed, so creepy, and Caitlin Hendrix is such a great character. If you’re into Mindhunter on Netflix you need to be reading this series.
Angel Luis Colón, author of Hell Chose Me
Hilary Davidson – she’s got one of the best voices of anyone writing on the crime scene now. A perfect balance of what the mainstream loves and a deeply black comedic soul that marries well.
She’s also hands down one of the best short story writers I’ve ever read in the past ten years. No contest – seriously – when Hilary drops a new short, I buy/read/reread without hesitation. She’s also one of the best live readers on the scene as well. Triple threat right there.
SJ Rozan – As if the awards weren’t enough to tell you how goddamned GOOD SJ is, she’s also one of the only writers to throw me down an emotional well in a short live reading—like, literally make me need to take a short walk outside to collect myself. SJ’s writing is the kind of writing it’s OK to be jealous of. It SHOULD make you jealous and it should make you want to raise your bar.
SJ’s writing is the kind of writing it’s OK to be jealous of.
Carmen Jaramillo – A little selfish of me (as she appears in an anthology I’ve edited and has made appearances in Shotgun Honey), but Carmen is one of my favorite new crime writers on the scene. She’s got a sharp voice, a great sense of word economy, and mountains of potential. She’s the kind of writer I want to see more of in the crime/noir scene.
Gotta shout out other recent favorites of mine like Layne Fargo, Marrieta Miles, Nikki Dolson, and Jen Conley!
Shawn A. Cosby, author of My Darkest Prayer
Megan Abbot writes crime fiction like lightning called down from the heavens and burned onto the page. It cuts deep to the core of what makes us tick and what makes us twist.
Marietta Miles has an innate ability to mine the depths of human experience, filter it through a moonshine-soaked prism and weave tales that pull back the raw festering wound that still bleeds in the heart of the South as it spills over her characters.
Dharma Kelleher’s Jinx Ballou novels are not only tightly written and intricately plotted but incredibly timely. Jinx is a transgender woman who plies her trade as a bounty hunter with humor and gravitas that pulls you into her world and refuses to let you go.
John Vercher, author of Three-Fifths
Jesmyn Ward: I’ve said it before, but I would read her grocery list. Her books read to me like novel-length poems. She has a master of sentence structure and rhythm that feel like music in my head, no matter how intense the subject matter. Salvage the Bones was a book that stayed with me long after the last page. I can return to just about any section of it as an example of something to aspire to in my own writing.
R.O. Kwon: Kwon’s writing in The Incendiaries I can only describe as dream like. Reading her created this sensation almost of a separation of self.
I felt truly lost in her pages, and not in the sense that I didn’t know where she was leading me, but that I was unaware of just about anything else around me. While completely different books, it reminded me of the same feeling I had while reading the excellent The Vegetarian; she writes with beauty while instilling a sense of dread.
Celeste Ng: Everything I Never Told You is a book I hold up as a terrific literary crime novel. Ng’s shifting, weaving, braiding perspectives make you feel as you never quite have your feet under you as each character’s narrative propels the story forward, yet you never lose trust that she’s going lead you safely to the end, whether the ending is happy or not. Here, too the writing and storytelling have a rhythmic nature that compels you to turn page after page until you realize that it’s all over too quickly.
Erik Storey, author of Nothing Short of Dying
Gabino Iglesias—who I guarantee will never need an introduction in the near future—asked me recently to talk about my three favorite women crime or mystery writers.
Well, it’s damned near impossible to narrow it down to three. Can I name my three favorite musicians, or songs? No, and to narrow down something I love more than music is even harder.
But, for the king of brutally honest barrio noir, I’ll give it a shot.
I could go with the classic writers whose books shaped my early ideas of fiction, women like Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith, and Shirley Jackson.
Or, I could throw in Sue Grafton for obvious reasons, or Gillian Flynn, because I honestly liked Gone Girl and her other books even more, or I could talk about Natsuo Kirino because her books shocked me, or Attica Lock, Kellye Garrett and Val McDermid who I turn to for different viewpoints.
I could discuss contemporaries whom I admire to no end—Megan Abbott, I’m looking at you—or I could talk about the great works of those wonderful writers I’ve been lucky enough to meet, like the esteemed Meg Gardiner and the illustrious Christa Faust.
Any of these people would easily appear on a list of my favorites. For this assignment, though, I will focus first on the woman of whose work I’ve read the most, and then the two others whose settings are both familiar to me and beautiful.
Sara Paretsky. I’ve read all but two of her V I Warshawski novels and am always amazed at how well she turned the hardboiled P I trope on its head.
I grew up reading Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane. I thought (especially after Spillane) that those types of detective stories were on their way out, and then I found a copy of Deadlock collecting dust in a ranch house bookshelf. I was shocked by how refreshing it was. Familiar, but different in a new and exciting way. She never ceases to entertain, and I’ll keep reading the series for as long as she keeps writing.
Nevada Barr. Anna Pigeon is more than the “plucky protagonist,” as she’s often described. She is a full on badass. Truth be told, I’ve had a literary crush on this character from the beginning. Not only does she solve mysteries in National Parks, she’s tough, resourceful, dogged, wily, and cares just as much for the land and animals she’s charged to protect as she does for her own safety.
Sometimes more. Barr’s books always pair Anna with a beautiful setting, wherein something happens to threaten the natural order. Having worked as a Park’s ranger herself, Barr knows what she’s talking about and it would behoove us all to listen.
As far as I’m aware, she’s the only mystery author out there who has been awarded the Robin W. Winks Award for Enhancing Public Understanding of National Parks. Also, if she’s reading this, The Rope still gives me nightmares.
Lori Armstrong. Like Paretsky, Lori turns the tough-guy trope upside down in a fun and enjoyable way. Her Mercy Gunderson character is as tough, if not more so, than any other hero in the genre.
The Rope by Nevada Barr still gives me nightmares…
An ex-Special Forces sniper, she knows her guns and how to use them, showing readers that a woman can do any damned thing a man can in fiction. The small town chatter, the ranches, and the weather are all so well done in the series that they seem to be supporting characters.
If you haven’t read her books yet, the Mercy series is a wonderful place to start. As an aside, Mercy Kill opens in a way I have yet to see in any other book, but reminds me of my childhood. Well done.
William Boyle, author of A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself
Man, there’s so many crime writers I want to talk about–from the old masters like Patricia Highsmith, Dorothy B. Hughes, Margaret Millar, Helen Nielsen, Dolores Hitchens, and Charlotte Carter to newer writers who I’ve only read a book or two by like Amy Gentry, Kellye Garrett, Melissa Ginsburg, and Laura Sims.
I feel like I could also make a case for the book that I consider to be the Great American Novel, Ann Petry’s The Street, as the greatest of all crime novels. Then there’s other contemporary geniuses like Attica Locke and Steph Cha.
But I’d feel remiss if I didn’t talk about the three writers who have had the greatest impact on me, the writers I’ve learned the most from: Megan Abbott, Sara Gran, and Vicki Hendricks. Abbott and Gran are my two favorite writers, period. I don’t miss a word from them.
As a fan, there’s nothing I look forward to more than new work from them. As for Vicki Hendricks, Miami Purity is a book I feel the need to return to yearly. I read it when I need to feel inspired or when I need to remember what I most love about reading. For my money, one of the great noir novels ever. I love her other books too, but that’s an all-timer for me.
Alex Segura, author of Miami Midnight
It’s hard to boil it down to three Gabino, but here goes:
Megan Abbott – Her prose is just masterful – lush, textured, and vibrant, with plots that seep with noir no matter the setting. Her writing is a dream, and she pulls her characters through their worst nightmares with a deft, savvy touch.
Kellye Garrett – Funny, sharp, and compulsively readable – Kellye’s two crime novels are a crash course in how to write a great cozy. Hell, a great crime novel. A name to watch, for sure.
Erica Wright – Erica’s the perfect blend of standout characterization, surgical plotting, and poetic, spot-on descriptions. Her Kat Stone series is next-level PI goodness, and her latest standalone, Famous in Cedarville, is a leap forward.
Gabino Iglesias, author of Coyote Songs
What, you thought I was going to pass up a chance to talk about some of my favorites? Hah. I echo everyone on this list. I’ll also throw in Jeniffer Hillier, Wendy Heard, Shannon Kirk, and Tori Eldridge. You know, for now. Why? Because Brass Ovaries is here to stay and we have a LOT of writers to talk about…
To read the collection of other essays by Gabino Iglesias on Mystery Tribune, please visit here.