Male crime writers seem never to have fully recovered from the loss of the private eye as a viable protagonist, and men, for whatever reason sports? The female writers, for whatever reason men? Their books are light on gunplay, heavy on emotional violence.
Murder is de rigueur in the genre, so people die at the hands of others—lovers, neighbors, obsessive strangers—but the body counts tend to be on the low side. Most of them kill you from the inside out. The awareness of that inside-out sort of violence sets the women writers apart, these days, from even the best of the men. Sayers were usually more plausible—and nastier—than they were in Carr or Rex Stout or Ellery Queen a low bar, but still. Later, while male pulp writers were playing with guns and fighting off those wily femmes fatales, women like Highsmith and Dorothy B.
Hughes and Margaret Millar were burrowing into the enigmas of identity and the killing stresses of everyday life. Women have been writing books like those ever since, but until Gone Girl , publishers tended to look askance at stand-alone crime novels and instead encourage their writers to develop series characters, which could be marketed more easily.
Women Are Writing the Best Crime Novels
For a while, putting a feminist spin on the old, fading male-empowerment fantasies seemed reason enough for them to write crime stories. Some of those novelists did solid work in the traditional forms, and many still do. Karin Slaughter, for example, specializes in muscular, action-packed police procedurals; Alafair Burke does expertly plotted legal mysteries; Val McDermid has invented more than her rightful share of homicidal sociopaths for her psychologist-cop team, Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, to run to ground.
Donna Leon and Karin Fossum have made significant contributions to the humane-inspector bloodline, and Alison Gaylin and Laura Lippman have managed to create plausible contemporary private eyes. But they chafe at the limitations; all of those writers have produced books outside their main series.
For half a century, the prolific Rendell who died last year took frequent breaks from her melancholy, low-key Wexford mysteries to write seriously twisted one-off psychological thrillers, in which the profoundly disturbed and the blithely clueless cross paths fatefully: ignorant armies clashing by night, with no victors. The outcomes are comically, almost surreally, awful. In her most powerful works— A Judgment in Stone , say, or The Bridesmaid —fate is inexorable, an onrushing train with no one at the controls.
In the Gone Girl era, that sort of novel is having its moment. Traditional mysteries are still with us, but tortuous, doomy domestic thrillers are what readers seem to want now, and dozens of women are ready, willing, and able to oblige. Unlike Highsmith and Rendell, who preferred to ply their sinister craft in a dry, deadpan third person, writers of the current school tend to favor a volatile mixture of higher-pitched first-person tones: hectoring, accusatory, self-justifying, a little desperate.
Reading these tricky 21st-century thrillers can be like scrolling through an especially heated comments thread on a Web site, or wandering unawares into a Twitter feud.
Down these mean tweets a woman must go …. These kids are stressed , looking down at their phones as they navigate from locker to classroom to mall to home, leaning into a blizzard of words and images as they try to fight their way to something like adulthood. The teenage mind is a strange and lonely place, and these women know a crime scene when they see one. Angry and nasty. She never goes away. That girl is forever. They post photos and clippings and drawings, small confessions and small aggressions, all these traces of their secret selves—jumbled, overlapping, out there for everyone to see.
And in The Secret Place , as in real life, that state can be perilous. People revealing their secrets and being secretive often simultaneously is a fair working definition of social-media culture, and of the post— Gone Girl crime novel, too. In book after book, characters share , compulsively but selectively, until revelation and artful concealment become nearly indistinguishable.
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Now the effect is managed with language alone. In the dizzying verbal performances of the new-style thrillers, every sentence can be a clue or a red herring. To paraphrase T. Eliot, who was a lifelong mystery fan, this new wave of women writers do the police—and the murderers and the victims and the innocent bystanders—in different voices. The line between high modernism and 21st-century entertainment is getting blurry. In general, readers of mysteries and thrillers have an impressive tolerance for complication.
We enjoy the feeling of being overwhelmed by masses of contradictory-seeming data, because the promised resolution, the daylight when the fog lifts, is so pleasurable. No wonder Eliot and W. Auden loved detective stories. At our bewildering moment in history, the Internet-generated fog is thick, practically impenetrable: a pea-souper as the Brits say whose main component is talk, too much of it viscous with ulterior motive. Every voice in the new crime novels by women raises suspicions instantly. The verbal gamesmanship can be enjoyable, particularly when practiced by a wit like Sophie Hannah, who specializes in the apologias of middle-class women with incurable cases of the existential jitters.
Her chief narrator in Woman With a Secret published in the U. Naughty Nicki is clearly involved, somehow; the precise nature of her connection takes a while to emerge, though, because in her panicky monologues she doles out actual truth as grudgingly as a Watergate conspirator. In a way, Woman With a Secret is the portrait of someone stuck in a sort of permanent adolescence, lying for the pointless thrill of it, for the drama it brings into her insufficiently awesome life.
The only problem is that this technique is already, a mere four years after Gone Girl , beginning to harden into a convention. Fortunately, the best of the women now writing in the genre have more on their minds than bamboozling credulous readers. Thanks perhaps to the current cultural emphasis on youth—on girls in particular—many of these writers have turned their attention to the mysteries of growing up.
Frequently their books are as much about old crimes, imperfectly understood, that date from childhood or adolescence as they are about new ones. Brenna is a living metaphor for the persistence of memory. Random recollections flicker through her brain as she tries to find missing persons in the present and track her vanished sister down the dark passages of time. As a photographer, she, too, is a sort of metaphor for the recovery of memories. All of these women seem to know that feeling. In Sunset City , a striking first novel by Melissa Ginsburg another poet , the murder of a high-school friend sends the young heroine into a self-destructive spin.
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Its main character, who was convicted of murder at 17 and spent the next 25 years in prison, knows that not enough does. These are terribly sad books, about the confusions of youth and the nagging emptiness beyond, and what enables these novelists to address these subjects excitingly is the crime genre itself—a form that can turn inchoate disaffections into bodies, into dire acts to be investigated. Genre aficionados—inquisitive women and melancholy guys like me—fall for it every time. The best of these novels are pure noir, velvety and pitiless.
Writers like French and Abbott seem to have looked at the history of crime fiction the way Gloria Grahame looked at Humphrey Bogart in the film of In a Lonely Place : attracted but wary. They see the darkness in there, and in themselves. They know better. The girl did it, and she had her reasons. Flint Lockwood energetically voiced by Bill Hader creates a satellite that can turn water into food, transforming his forgotten fishing island into a gourmet destination and a tourist hot spot.
But when the portions start to mutate into oversized super-foods, Flint has to find the courage to finish what he started. Anna Farris, James Caan, Mr.
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Director Barry Jenkins adapting a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney creates a world so dense with detail and rich with humanity that every character gets a chance to shine; the themes and ideas are all above board, but conveyed with subtlety and understatement. The director Alan J. Pakula meticulously details the early days of Watergate — the crime, the cover-up and the scandal that ultimately brought down the Nixon presidency.
The reporting of that story was unpacked by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their book ; aside from casting Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman to play them, Pakula and the screenwriter William Goldman steadfastly refused to glam up this decidedly un-Hollywood story, focusing not on the dramatic fall of the president but on the grunt work of shoe-leather reporting.
Riffing on the Saturday afternoon serials that thrilled them as children, director Spielberg and producer George Lucas packed a full series of heroes, villains, cliffhangers and fisticuffs into a single crowd-pleasing feature. This unsettling, unforgettable snapshot of urban decay and toxic masculinity from Martin Scorsese hauntingly captured the rotting core of post-Watergate American society when it was released in , and it has remained nestled in our collective unconscious ever since.
Robert De Niro crafted one of his most indelible performances as Travis Bickle, the haunted Vietnam vet who drives New York City at a night like a coiled snake ready to strike. The British comedy troupe Monty Python created its funniest, wildest and cult-friendliest feature-length comedy with this send-up of the legend of King Arthur — and of medieval literature in general, and of big-screen epics. Graham Chapman is the ostensible lead as Arthur, leading his Knights of the Round Table on a quest for the Grail, but the plot is merely a clothesline on which to hang blackout sketches and self-aware gags, and there are many.
His scenes are occasionally stressful, often heart-wrenching, and they unfailingly burst with life and emotion. Watching Coltrane age is a uniquely powerful experience by itself, but Linklater keeps the frame open to larger developments in culture and politics, too, as well as to the particulars of family life in Texas. A Puritan family, banished to the woods of New England by its community, encounters a frightening force of true evil in this potent mixture of art-house drama and supernatural thriller from the writer and director Robert Eggers.
Resisting jump-scares and cheap thrills in favor of slow burns and discomforting dread, Eggers builds his story to a climax that seems both terrifying and inevitable. He writes the kind of tasty, self-aware dialogue that actors love to devour, and he puts together an enviable ensemble cast of big names, fallen stars and rising talents to deliver it. Brie Larson won an Oscar for her powerful leading performance in this moving adaptation of the novel by Emma Donoghue, in which a woman held for years in captivity tries to escape from her kidnapper with the help of her young son.
Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti shine as two New York creative types whose attempts to start a family — by adoption, by fertilization, by whatever it takes — test the mettle of their relationships and sanity. The wise script by the director Tamara Jenkins is not only funny and truthful but also sharply tuned to their specific world: Few films have better captured the very public nature of marital trouble in New York, when every meltdown is interrupted by passers-by and looky-loos. A year-old Georgian woman shocks her family, and her entire community, when she decides to move out of the cramped family apartment — leaving her husband, children and parents behind in order to finally begin a life of her own.
The Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won a richly deserved Academy Award for best foreign film for this story of a man, his wife, their child and the family they disastrously intersect with. In dramatizing the moral, social and legal fallout of a domestic episode that was either a misunderstanding or an assault, Farhadi displays his gift for telling stories that hinge on the tiniest events. I'm Clyde Barrow.
The Most Anticipated Crime, Mystery, and Thriller Titles of | CrimeReads
We rob banks. Every performance is a gem, but Beatty and Faye Dunaway rarely rose to this level in their other work, mixing sexuality, danger, restlessness and ennui.
Love music documentaries? The brutal, muscular novel by James Dickey gets an appropriately unsettling big-screen treatment in this film adaptation from the director John Boorman. Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox play Atlanta businessmen who head to the Georgia backwoods for a canoeing trip and get a bit more local color than they planned for.
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The scorching stage favorite from Edward Albee came to the screen like a clap of thunder in this searing adaptation from the director Mike Nichols his feature directorial debut. After almost 20 years of popcorn moviemaking, Steven Spielberg proved himself to be not only a serious dramatist but also one of our most gifted historical chroniclers with this film. In it, he tells the true story of Oskar Schindler Liam Neeson , a German businessman and member of the Nazi party who became the unlikely savior of more than 1, Jewish workers in his factories.
This historical drama from writer-director Julie Dash proved something of a challenge for general audiences when it was originally released in But it is: Using Dustin Hoffman as his marvelously dry-witted vessel, Nichols dramatizes youthful ennui with a skill rarely seen in American cinema.