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The Damsel in the Mirror: Thrillers Where the Heroine Saves Herself 

The Damsel in the Mirror: Thrillers Where the Heroine Saves Herself 

Genre fiction is my jam, so I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes my favorite books tick. Growing up, I read a lot of macho thrillers: spies and submarines, combatants and operatives. These battles were mostly fought by well-trained experts. It’s fun to learn to pilot a submarine or stop a terrorist plot in Times Square. 

But the recent wave of heroine-centric thrillers is exciting in a whole new way. Many of these new titles are shelved as “domestic suspense,” aka “ordinary woman with a big, scary problem.” In these books, the heroine has to save herself. And she’s usually unprepared for the challenge ahead. 

On the one hand, there aren’t any Bourne-like superpowers to admire. But on the flip side, these novels ask a different question—what if it’s you in the hot seat? How fast can a nice girl from the suburbs find her dark side if the situation calls for extraordinary measures? 

It turns out that watching an amateur get up to speed is just as exciting as looking over the shoulder of a trained professional. There’s so much more at stake. That’s the zeitgeist I gave to The Five Year Lie. When her dead boyfriend suddenly sends her a confounding text, single mom Ariel Cafferty has a deep dark problem. The more questions she asks, the scarier it gets.

Before I even wrote the prologue, I was inspired by these other domestic thrillers by female authors: 

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

This inventive story actually has two heroines trying to save themselves via a fateful ticket swap—and identity swap—at the airport. Their stories unfold via two competing timelines and through absolutely flawless writing. I couldn’t put it down.

With My Little Eye by Joshilyn Jackson 

The heroine of this thriller is an actress who’s being stalked by a shadowy figure who seems to know her awfully well. The police don’t seem to be doing much about it, which leaves her fighting for her own safety, and questioning every interaction with the men in her life. The writing is exquisite, and you’ll keep turning the pages, trying to figure out which of Meribel’s male acquaintances can be trusted. And which one can’t…

On a Quiet Street by Seraphina Nova Glass 

The medley of women at the center of this drama are so well drawn that you’ll be hooked from chapter one. One woman believes her husband is cheating on her. And her neighbor, who’s trying and failing to recover from her own tragedy, offers up her services as an amateur sleuth. What could go wrong? A lot, as it turns out. This book’s power is in the way you’re rooting for everyone, even when you’re not sure they deserve it. And you won’t see the ending coming.  

The First Lie Wins by Ashley Elston

This is one of those rare story concepts where you don’t quite know what’s going on, but you don’t mind all that much. The protagonist, Evie Porter, tells you right off the bat that she’s a con artist, willfully enmeshing her life with a certain Ryan Summer on orders from her shadowy boss. But things get wild all too soon, and you’ll be turning pages at warp speed to see if Evie can make it out of this mess alive. 

Girl Forgotten by Karin Slaughter

This pick is cheating a little because Andrea Oliver, the heroine, is a US Marshall. But it’s literally her first day on the job! This setup proves to be brilliant and often hilarious. Thrown into the deep end of a big case, Andrea has to set aside her inexperience as well as her imposter syndrome to find the killer before he finds her.