A New Golden Age of Female Crime Writers?

Posted: July 21, 2012 in Agatha Christie, Book Awards, Denmark, England, Golden Age of detective fiction

When at the request of Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise I listed my ten best reads of 2012 I chose books by only three women authors. 

Icelight, Aly Monroe; The Potter’s Field, Andrea Camilleri; Prague Fatale, Philip Kerr; Outrage, Arnaldur Indridason; Another Time, Another Life, Leif GW Persson; Last Will, Liza Marklund; On Beulah Height, Reginald Hill; Hour of the Wolf, Hakan Nesser; Summon up The Blood, R.N.Morris; The Blind Goddess, Anne Holt. 

But I could easily have chosen any of these fine books by female writers in that selection.

Until Thy Wrath Be Past, Asa Larsson

The Boy in the Suitcase, Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis

Exposed, Liza Marklund

A City of Broken Glass, Rebecca Cantrell

And if I had managed in that time period to read any book by Fred Vargas, Karin Fossum, or Donna Leon they would probably have been included as well.

Interestingly in the last few days the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year was won by Scottish author Denise Mina for The End of the Wasp Season.

So have we entered a new Golden Age of Female Crime Writers?  Will in fifty years the current crop of writers be considered to be anywhere near the same class as Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham, Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, or P.D.James.


  1. Maxine says:

    I agree that the writers you mention are excellent, together with others such as Karin Altvegen (who has not had a newly translated book out for a while) and Val McDermid. Other women are very high on the bestseller lists even if not my cup of tea, eg P Cornwell, K Reichs, K Slaughter.

    However, there are probably as many “as good as these” male authors (and beselling ones that aren’t so good)* as there are females, so it is hard to see how history will judge this time.

    *as good as these – Theorin, Indridason, M Connelly, Camilleri, Rankin …..

    Bestsellers – J Patterson, H Coben…..

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – It is good to see that there are so many women whose work is getting the recognition it deserves (well in my opinion at any rate). We may look back and see this as a Golden Age of Women Writers. I don’t know if that will happen, but I agree that these very talented authors are making it easier for future women writers to get there work “out there,” just as Christie, Sayers, Marsh and James made it easier for today’s women writers to do so.

  3. Norman Price says:

    Maxine, I still puzzle whether my taste changed or Cornwell, Reichs and Slaughter went after a different market. It is possible that Karin Alvtegen believes in quality over quantity and does not want to pump out books every year of varying quality. I think that Vargas, Fossum and Marklund will still be rated very highly in the future. As of course the male writers you mentioned.

    Margot, you are probably right after all one popular Swedish writer opened the floodgates for many others.

  4. kathy d. says:

    I hope we’ve entered said Golden Age of Women Crime Writers. Certainly there are many terrific women crime writers. I agree with your recommendations above.. I do agree on the women writers but include Fred Vargas. I must read more Val McDermid I see.
    I am very glad that Denise Mina won this award. The End of the Wasp Season is a brilliant book, part whodunnit, whydunnit, police procedural and psychological suspense novel. She deserves the recognition for this book and her prior body of work.
    Kaaberbal and Friis have a new book coming out in October: Invisible Murder.
    And Fred Vargas has a new one out next spring, about which I’m thrilled.

  5. […] more: A New Golden Age of Female Crime Writers? « CRIME SCRAPS … Tags: christie, crime, female, informação, margery, marsh, ngaio, […]

  6. Philip says:

    Hello Norman. I can, perhaps, help with one question to which you allude. I think Cornwell simply went into steep decline, while Reichs was much influenced in her writing by the success of ‘Bones’, the TV series based on her novels (and not exactly truthfully, on her), and none to the good. An oddity that those two writers both have what I shall here just call unusual psychological profiles, not identical though overlapping, and I think that too has much to do with it. But in the case of Slaughter, whom I once rated very highly indeed, she has on her website/blog written openly about giving her readers what they have asked for, and I think Maxine will agree with me here that the changes thus wrought have not been happy ones. And she did literally ask her readers what they wanted.

    And I do agree with Maxine that there are likely as many male authors as good as the female writers you justly mention. But I do think it best in discussions of this sort to leave the best-seller lists out of it. That Cornwell tanked is no secret and Patterson needs no comment, but they still shoot up the NY Times Bestseller List — meaningless in a discussion of the great crime writers of today or any other day. Will the female writers of today in a future time be deemed in the same class as the Golden Agers and still-active writers such as Rendell and James? I think your list, Norman, itself contains part of the answer to that. I’m having a struggle to resist trying to recall my schoolboy knowledge of biological taxonomy to explain, but not with dear Maxine nearby I’m not! But this is a matter of evolution, is it not? Highsmith and Rendell in non-Wexford mode broke dramatically with the Golden Age approach, and I see now, with Rendell and James still on the go, yet another approach, though not as dramatically different, in the wonderful Alvtegen, in Mina, Larsson, Cantrell, et al. I cannot conceive of the latter as not being considered in the same ‘class’, but — oh, hell, I might as well do this — I don’t think this is any longer just a matter or sub-genre, but rather, as the differences become greater, of a sub-species of crime novel (comparing, say, Sayers and Rendell) that may, indeed, be leading, or have already led, to a new species altogether (comparing in this case, e.g., Marsh and Alvtegen), though in the same family of writers.

    • Norman Price says:

      Thanks Philip.
      I find myself pleased that Cornwell, Reichs, Slaughter and co are up at the top of the best sellers. I am clearly a crime fiction snob 😉 and like to be on the outside with excellent authors that others haven’t discovered yet.

      I think I could survive quite comfortably on a diet of Alvtegen, Asa Larsson, Anne Holt, Kristina Ohlsson, Karin Fossum, Liza Marklund and Fred Vargas……..
      I am now going to immerse myself in all things Olympic and hope and pray it will be peaceful, and that there are no embarrassing disasters, apart from Boris Johnson that is.

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