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There is Nothing Like a Dame: Thrillers Starring Female Sleuths

Women prove they’re just as tough as their male counterparts

In some of our favorite thrillers, women prove they’re just as tough as their male counterparts. These novels feature strong, intelligent, independent women who go up against ruthless killers. Nora Ephron once wisely said, “above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” These women are anything but the victim, however lethal their opponent’s intentions . . .

Be prepared to get blood on your dancing shoes. John Lutz’s riveting mystery Dancing with the Dead revolves around Mary Arlington, an amateur ballroom dancer in Ohio, who loves nothing more than the tango. The prospect of going to a national competition is a welcome distraction from a life burdened by an abusive boyfriend and an alcoholic mother. Then reports appear about ballroom dancers whose throats have been cut—women who have an uncanny resemblance to Mary. She begins to wonder if the only place she feels alive is also where her death awaits.

Jack O’Connell prefers the gritty streets of a decaying New England factory town called Quinsigamond for the setting of his thriller Wireless, staring detective Hannah Shaw. Publishers Weekly called Wireless a “masterful and hallucinatory debut . . . of neon-splattered darkness with the weirdest collection of dysfunctional oddballs this side of TV’s Twin Peaks,” referring to David Lynch’s bizarre and wonderful cult classic. Shaw must track down and stop a crazy ex-FBI agent on a murderous, racist rampage before it’s too late.

In Stuart M. Kaminsky’s creepy thriller When the Dark Man Calls, ten-year-old Jean Kaiser lies dozing on a hot night, when her parents were brutally murdered in their beds, just feet away. More than two decades later, Jean is the host of a radio show and has a daughter of her own. One night at work, she takes a call from an anonymous man who talks menacingly about unfinished business. When she gets home, she finds her pet parakeet smashed to death in her bed. To protect herself, as well as her daughter, she must come to terms with her parents’ death and unmask the killer, or her next phone call may be her last.

Gray Matter, by Shirley Kennett, stars PJ Gray, a police psychologist who uses virtual reality forensics to get into the minds of the serial killers she tracks. This time, she’s looking for someone called “Dog,” a murderer who believes that eating the brains of his victims will give him the victim’s skills. Dog’s latest victim is a talented pianist, but he must also learn to play against his determined pursuers.

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