A couple of years ago I wrote an article called My Top Ten Noirs of the Last Ten Years (or so) over at the Mulholland Books site. I love all of the books I chose but it was a total sausage party. So this will be an attempt to rectify that especially since one of the foundational modern noir books, Miami Purity by Vicki Hendricks, was written by a woman.
So what is "female noir" (as it has sometimes been called)? Well, for starters it's no one thing. Some of these books take a look at uniquely female issues, others offer a female take on more universal issues. Some of them, in that great crime fiction way, just put a gun in a female character's hands. Regardless of the approach these books are all worth your time.
Megan Abbott has said female crime writers are often "made to justify their interest in
the genre -- to explain it away, or to somehow make it seem like play,
or a dalliance". Hopefully in the wake of books like Tampa and Gone Girl this will change.
J David Osborne had a post on Facebook yesterday about crime fiction and some its long standing issues with female characters. This post is, partially, in response to that.
The usual concession needs to be made. My definition of noir may be loose here. But who cares. This isn't about noir, just about helping readers find books.
Out by Natsuo Kirino (1997) - Kirino gets compared sometimes to Jim Thompson. It's been said that Out is "a taut and unforgiving thriller that unfolds as darkly as
anything from Jim Thompson, if Jim Thompson was a cold-eyed feminist."
Come Closer (2003) - Dope deserves a mention here also but I've always been partial to Come Closer, which is darker and more complex.
Billie Morgan by Joolz Denby (2004) - No less then Sarah Weinman said that Bille Morgan was "pretty much female noir 101"
The Singer by Cathi Unsworth (2007) - What I appreciate most about Cathi Unsworth is that she sets up a dark story and then follows through with it.
Money Shot by Christa Faust (2008) - Yes, Faust may be more hardboiled then noir but of course Angel Dare deserves a place here.
I-5 by Summer Brenner (2009) -
Bloody Women by Helen Fitzgerald (2009) - Fitzgerald sometimes gets forgotten about in these noir discussions, but when she goes dark, she goes full dark (think an Allan Guthrie novel with ovaries). Often with a dark sense of humor and a twist. Also check out The Devil's Staircase.
Driving Through the Desert by Dona Lynch (2012) - A mournful and elegaic dark night of the soul.
Die, You Bastard! Die! by Jan Kozlowski (2012) - A very grind house/exploitation type story. Yes, its violent. But you want it to be because it totally fits the story.
Megan Abbott - How can I just pick one book? I will confess to liking her later works more then her earlier works, where she, at times, seemed constrained by her influences. But as far as noir written by women goes you can't go wrong with Megan Abbott.