Books That Go Bump In The Night: 12 Thriller & Mystery Novels By Women
Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You
Since Gillian Flynn’s 2012 hit “Gone Girl,” thrillers and mysteries from and for women have been on the rise. And with Halloween around the corner, there’s no better time to pick up a creepy, spine-tingling novel that will leave you guessing (or maybe gasping). For the spooky season, here are a dozen of our favorite thriller novels by women authors around the world, including from Korea, India, and the Caribbean.
If you find yourself needing to sleep with the light on or with one eye open? Well, don’t say we didn’t warn you…
(Prefer the thrill of a film? Be sure to check out these horror movies directed by women!)
1. No Going Back
Author | Sheena Kamal
Sheena Kamal, a Caribbean-born author from Canada, is back with her third book in the Nora Watts series, “No Going Back.” Using her personal experience as a crime and investigative researcher, Kamal has created a page-turner. The narrative follows Nora as she tries to protect her teenage daughter from a mysteriously dark enemy from her past. Named a Best New Book pick in 2020 by People Magazine, this is a fast-paced thriller rounding out a brilliant trilogy. (Don’t worry, you can also read this standalone if you’re not caught up!)
Review | “If you’re looking for a dark, moody, complex thriller with a complex woman protagonist this is your series. I love love love these books.” – Roxane Gay, Author via Twitter
Price | $27.99, or find secondhand
2. Last Ones Left Alive
Author | Sarah Davis-Goff
A thriller centered around a zombie apocalypse, a feminist lead who goes in search of other strong women, and the exploration of identity? Yes, please. “Last Ones Left Alive” check all of those boxes—and so much more. Sarah Davis-Goff’s debut novel subverts typical tropes and instead opts for riveting and powerful prose that will keep you immersed in this apocalyptic world long after the book ends. A remarkable read for any fan of “The Walking Dead” or “Birdbox.”
Review | “I always enjoy a good zombie thriller and this one didn’t disappoint. Last Ones Left Alive is so creepy, scary good! The tension in this story is palpable. It is a fast-paced, easy read that will leave you wanting more!” – Michelle T., Goodreads Review
Price | $26.99, or find secondhand
3. And Now She’s Gone
Author | Rachel Howzell Hall
How do you find someone who doesn’t want to be found? That’s the challenge for PI Grayson Sikes, the central figure in “And Now She’s Gone.” When a woman goes missing, it’s hardly an open-and-shut case, and Grayson must figure out why she’s missing… or if she even is. Well-paced, unpredictable, and substantive, this is a riveting new read from Rachel Howzell Hall, who also authored the Elouise Norton series and the popular thriller “They All Fall Down.”
Review | “If you somehow combined the writing brains of Janet Evanovich and James Patterson, you would get Rachel Howzell-Hall. She keeps the action moving in this story about a rookie PI searching for a missing woman while also running from her own past. [And] she does it with pitch-perfect wit.” – Wendy W., Goodreads Review
Price | $27.99, or find secondhand
4. My Sister, the Serial Killer
Author | Oyinkan Braithwaite
“My Sister, the Serial Killer” is a refreshing take on the common slasher novel, this time from Nigerian author Oyinkan Braithwaite. When her sister Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row dies from Ayoola’s knife, the main character Korede must grapple with the reality of who her sister is—before her new crush ends up dead, too. Nominated for the 2019 Booker Prize and the winner of the 2019 LA Times’ Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller, there’s a reason this bestseller has almost 150,000 reviews; it’s that good.
Review | “At 240 pages, it’s a quick read, and the dark humor and subtle commentary keeps this tale from becoming grim… The book also led me to the internet to explore the Nigerian culture. I love it when a book inspires me to do my own little bit of research on a topic.” – Jan B., Goodreads Review
Price | $14.95, or find secondhand
Author | Megan Giddings
Drawing inspiration from the real-life case of Henrietta Lacks and the more fictional world of “Get Out” by Jordan Peele, “Lakewood” follows a Black millennial woman as she participates in a secret medical research program whose outcomes are all hidden from her loved ones. Megan Giddings’ debut novel deftly explores the history of using Black women’s bodies in medical experimentation, working-class families, and psychological trauma in this fascinating thriller.
Review | “Lakewood is a haunting, disturbing look at the way our society continues to dehumanize, use, and abuse people of color, as well as the brutality that has been forced on black bodies in the name of ‘science.’ [T]his is an impressive, astonishing debut.” – Megan C., Goodreads Review
Price | $26.99, or less secondhand
6. Still Lives
Author | Maria Hummel
In “Still Lives,” Kim Lord, a well-respected artist in LA’s art scene, created a series of still life portraits depicting herself as famous murdered women. But on the evening of her opening exhibit, she’s missing, and it’s up to staff member Maggie to follow the clues. A perfect slow burn noir, Maria Hummel has struck gold again after her earlier debut of “Motherland.” It’s easy to see why “Still Lives” in all its complicated feminist glory was a Reese Witherspoon book club pick.
Review | “A suspenseful, splashy story about fame, sex, and how our culture views women’s bodies… It also tackled the sticky subject of how women are portrayed in art, culture, and the media—and the consequences of those portrayals. This is a thrilling book, and a much-needed one.” – Sarah B., Book of the Month Editor
Price | $16.95, or find secondhand
7. Seven Years of Darkness
Author | You-Jeong Jeong
Published in nearly 20 countries, Korean author You-Jeong Jeong has cemented herself as a winning author of fictional crime and psychological suspense. And in “Seven Years of Darkness,” the momentum continues. The premise? When a young girl is found dead, a security guard is sent to prison even though there are other potential suspects. Seven years later, the guard’s son receives a package challenging everything he thought he knew. This dark read leads up to a gripping (and gratifying) finale.
Review | “A lovely entrant into South Korean crime fiction. [R]ather than looking at this as mere ‘crime,’ this novel can be an exploration of the inescapable consequences of our choices, and by extension, our mistakes… It’s not a whodunit. It’s a whydowedoit.” – Smitha M., Goodreads Review
Price | $17, or find secondhand
8. The Wife Between Us
Authors | Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Co-authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen have taken the crime fiction world by storm, including “You Are Not Alone,” “An Anonymous Girl,” and our favorite, “The Wife Between Us.” Alternating between two women who you’ll believe to be trapped in a love triangle, nothing is what they make it seem, and it’s best not to assume. This cat-and-mouse thriller is so engrossing, twisted, and brilliantly written that it joins the ranks of “The Girl on the Train.”
Review | “I am just speechless! There are so many twists, I was seeing double. My head was spinning and I went back to re-read several parts to ‘make sure’ I read what I thought I read… Even if your detective skills are top-notch, you will be hoodwinked.” – Holly B., Goodreads Review
Price | $16.99, or find secondhand
9. Mexican Gothic
Author | Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Set in 1950s Mexico with a super-spooky ambiance, “Mexican Gothic” begins with Noemí receiving a frantic letter from her cousin. Determined to help, Noemí travels to the High Place, a mysterious and menacing house far from her home. Once there, she starts to encounter demons, both human and otherwise, and the story truly begins to unfold. A New York Times bestseller, it’s a spine-chilling slow burn that will leave you speechless.
Review | “You think you’re walking into a traditional haunted house story, and then everything shifts to pull you under like a riptide that doesn’t loosen until you turn the final page. I love to feel completely absorbed into the narrative in horror novels. And yes friends, this is most definitely a horror novel.” – Chelsea H., Goodreads Review
Price | $27, or find secondhand
10. Jane: A Murder
Author | Maggie Nelson
If you’ve ever read the bestselling “Argonauts,” you’re already familiar with author Maggie Nelson’s work. But this part-memoir, part-investigative read is much more personal, focusing on Nelson’s Aunt Jane, who was brutally murdered in the ’60s. The MacArthur Genius grantee masterfully weaves together poems, old news articles, and excerpts from Jane’s diary to draw a fuller picture of who Jane actually was, leading up to her horrific demise (which is still officially unsolved today).
Review | “Beautiful, haunting little book. Sometimes I forget how much I like poetry, particularly poetry that functions sort of like prose. Maggie Nelson seems like a master of both.” – Susan H., Goodreads Review
Price | $15.95, or find secondhand
11. Her Body and Other Parties
Author | Carmen Maria Machado
Short story fans will love Carmen Maria Machado’s “Her Body and Other Parties,” mixing feminist prose with magical and experimental realism. Some quick reads revolve around a husband’s control over his wife, while another focuses on a Hitchcock-esque retreat. Most of all, it’s written around the embodied experiences of women (a la the title!). Creepy, captivating, and curious, these stories are perfect for the nights leading up to Halloween.
Review | “A unique, experimental book with lovely writing and provocative content. Each story in this collection forces you to think about its themes and come up with your own interpretation for its message.” – Cindy P., Goodreads Review
Price | $16, or find secondhand
12. A Burning
Author | Megha Majumdar
Megha Majumdar’s debut book, “A Burning,” brilliantly tackles the Indian caste system from three different people’s perspectives. While not a traditional thriller, this suspenseful novel begins with a terrorist attack at a city train station. As fingers are pointed, each of the three narrators has their own alibis but little to prove it. For readers interested more in sociology and race, this new read will keep you fired up.
Review | “This all-consuming story rages along, bright and scalding… Majumdar demonstrates an uncanny ability to capture the vast scope of a tumultuous society by attending to the hopes and fears of people living on the margins. The effect is transporting, often thrilling, finally harrowing.” – Ron C., Goodreads Review
Price | $25.95, or find secondhand
What are some of your favorite thriller, mystery, and horror books written by women? Share in the comments below!