05/18/2024

Some Crim

Track the Untold Stories

Six Books Featuring Killer Women

Six Books Featuring Killer Women

I love feminism, and I love serial killer novel, but for many years I could never find enough novels featuring feminist female killers. (Aside from Sweetpea by CJ Skuse, the evergreen classic series of this genre.) So I decided to write one.

My novel Bad Men is the story of heiress Saffy Huntley-Oliver, whose hobby is killing bad men—murderers, rapists, sex pests, abusers. She’s on a one-woman crusade to take down the patriarchy. The problem is, that it’s hard to have a love life as a straight woman when you’re busy murdering men. So Saffy sets out to get a boyfriend, leaving way too many severed heads in her wake.

Years ago, when I first tried to pitch Bad Men to my agent, she didn’t think there was a market for it. But then My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite happened. And then, How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie.

Right now, there’s a wealth of female killer novels to choose from, written by feminist authors. Many novels, like mine, explore the vital real-life question of a female response to male violence, but others addressing female friendship, female aspiration, and gender-based systems of power, among other issues such as class, race and climate change.

What a wonderful time to be alive!

Here are a few of my choices.

The Best Way to Bury Your Husband by Alexia Casale

Calls to domestic abuse hotlines rose 65% during the Covid19 lockdowns, and this book takes this very grim statistic and turns it into a buddy novel about female solidarity and friendship. Sally, after years of coercive control, brains her husband with a skillet. While searching for the best way to dispose of his corpse, she encounters three other neighborhood women who are looking to do the exact same thing. Even though the murders are tongue in cheek, and I learned some new uses for cat litter, this book doesn’t gloss over the realities of domestic violence.

Wahala by Nikki May

In Nigeria, ‘Wahala’ means ‘trouble’, and that’s what friends Ronke, Boo and Simi get when they welcome glamorous and rich Isobel into their group. Issues about friendship and culture take the star places in this novel but there’s murder, too, all set in the Anglo-Nigerian community of London. Unlike the killer protagonists of the other novels on this list, Ronke is totally sympathetic—a food-loving dentist on the lookout for love—and the violence in the book is an expression of the toxic unspoken jealousy that can simmer beneath some female friendships.

How to Kill Men and Get Away With It by Katy Brent

Katy’s book is probably the most similar to my own on this list—they’re both about rich, glamorous female serial killers who target terrible men as a hobby—so if you enjoy one, you’re bound to like the other. Protagonist Kitty is an influencer who enjoys killing rapists, and as heiress to a meat-packing empire, she’s got a perfect way of disposing of the bodies. The problem is, once you start killing, when do you stop? Set in the socialite party-girl world of London, with lots of fashion, glamour and aspirational settings, this is breezy and bloodthirsty and very funny.

She’s A Killer by Kirsten McDougall

In near-future New Zealand, a rapidly worsening climate crisis has brought an influx of rich ‘wealthugees’, hogging resources and building gated communities to keep out the less fortunate. Alice, an unhappy office worker who hates everything and everyone except for her imaginary friend, finds herself entangled with a group of violent activists, including Erika, a teenage assassin with perfect eye makeup. This is compulsively readable and deeply weird, while at the same time being a chillingly plausible glimpse into a world made more desperate by climate change.

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff

Everyone in Geeta’s small Indian village believes that she killed her husband. Geeta didn’t kill him, but she doesn’t mind the reputation—it means they leave her alone, and she’s rid of an abusive man. But when other women in the village start approaching her for help getting rid of their own terrible husbands, Geeta’s quiet life is over. But she styles herself after Phoolan Devi, the legendary Bandit Queen, who smashed the caste system and fought against her abusers. A spirited, funny, touching book that, like most of these killer novels, is really about female community.

As a reader, I enjoy the violence in the above books because it’s fictional. Even when the books address social issues, no real people have been harmed in their pages. But what about my more guilty obsession with true crime—which I also used as a plot point in Bad Men? So as a bonus book, here’s one nonfiction account:

Savage Appetites by Rachel Monroe

This book is true crime rather than a novel, but it speaks to some of the ways that real-life women are drawn to violence—in one case, to the extent of planning a mass murder. Monroe examines the female attraction to true crime, by giving accounts of individual women who have, in some way, inserted themselves into crimes that they did not commit. It’s different from many classic true crime accounts because it looks at how the crime has affected people who are neither victims or perpetrators, but uninvolved spectators. From meticulous crime scene dioramas to true crime conferences to murder houses to fans of school shooters—Monroe asks how much of our obsession with crime is innocent pleasure, and how much is complicit in further harming victims.

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