Ten Great Women Crime Writers In Translation

Article published on August 15, 2018.

Did you know that August is Women in Translation month? And did you know that less than one third of all literature translated into English is by women authors? In honour of this celebration, here are some of the top women crime writers. The problem was who to leave out because it would have been easy to pick 30 or 40 off the top of my head. To help narrow it down I have excluded some writers who have been profiled in other features or just had a review published on nudge-book. So, no Sophie Hénaff, Virginie Despentes, Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett, Teresa Solana, Fred Vargas, Dominique Manotti or Natsuo Kirino. I also excluded partnerships between female and male writers (usually couples teams) and that means no Sjowall and Wahloo, Lotte and Soren Hammer, Monaldi and Sorti, Michael Gregorio, Lars Kepler et al.

The Ten:

Simone Buchholz is a German author, her first novel Blue Night was published in English earlier this year. It was reviewed on Book-Noir last month (sorry this breaks my rule but I loved this novel). Off the back of this first outing I am sure Buchholz will become a favourite with noir fans. Accomplished and assured, she writes tight hard-boiled fiction set in Hamburg but with that cosmopolitan Mediterranean feel. Her second novel is due out in February. Translated by Rachel Ward. Place to start (PTS): Blue Night.

Helene Tursten (Sweden) writes the superb, long running Detective Irene Huss series. Televised, but only available on DVD in the UK. Essentially these are intelligent police procedurals with a fully rounded female lead character. Her themes include gangs, Neo-Nazis, the marginalised, drugs, immigrant issues, class divide, social break down. Translator Steven T. Murray (with multiple works the author may have other translators at various times). PTS: Detective Inspector Huss.

Andrea Maria Schenkel (Germany) mines real cases for the inspiration for some of her novels. Her novels are brief, imaginatively structured and surprising. A mix of third person narrative and more unusual forms such as witness testimony. Her themes are social critique and often feature dark brutal family murders, serial killers or kidnappers. Translator Anthea Bell. PTS: The Dark Meadow.

Simone Van Der Vlugt (Netherlands) writes gripping psychological thrillers, dark pasts come back to haunt the present. Manages to create a real sense of danger in the present. Translator Michelle Hutchinson. PTS: Reunion

Inger Frimansson (Sweden) has produced two of the most interesting psychological thrillers out there. Intelligent, and tense. Her themes include domestic abuse, child abuse, the terrors of the past, revenge, memory and psychopathy. Truly dark and dangerous. Translator Laura A. Wideberg. PTS: Good Night, My Darling and The Shadow in the Water (a diptych).

Patricia Melo (Brazil). First started to attract attention with The Killer, an amoral tale of a street punk come hitman/killer in Sao Paulo (told from the killer’s perspective). Her themes include organised crime, street kids, poverty, and nature or nurture. Satirical and often blackly funny. Translator Clifford E. Landers. PTS: The Body Snatcher.

Kjersti Scheen (Norway) only one novel in English that I know of but the creation of Margaret Moss, a unique kind of PI, is fantastic (there are follow-up novels in Norwegian). Dark noirish tones, delves into the murky side of theatre life and Neo-Nazis. Translated by Louis A. Muinzer. PTS: Final Curtain.

Karin Fossum (Norway) another prolific and consistently good writer of crime noir, often compared to Ruth Rendell. Mines the depths of human misbehaviour, psychologically dark. Themes include the nature of evil, things not being what they seem, and social critique. The Inspector Sejer series is tense and suspenseful. Translated by Charlotte Barslund. PTS: The Indian Bride.

Petra Hammesfahr (Germany) may be familiar to you because of the Netflix series The Sinner based on the novel of the same name. An apparently placid housewife suddenly stabs a man to death in public, slam-dunk for the police and the prosecutor but why?? Another psychological genius, taut and scary, it’s always about the Why? Translator Mike Mitchell. PTS: The Lie.

Saskia Noort (Netherlands) another writer of psychological novels. The Dinner Club is a group of suburban housewives who get together regularly for meals and drinks. One of the husbands, they are all friends, is murdered. What would you do to protect what you have? Translated by Paul Vincent. PTS: The Dinner Party.

And – an honourable mention for all the following who could easily have made the list, some new, some established: Johana Gustawsson, Lilja Sigurdardottir, Roxane Bouchard, Maria Lang, Anne Holt, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Oana Stoica-Mujea, Camilla Lackberg, Pernilla Rygg, Mari Jungstedt, Camilla Ceder, Agnete Friis, Sara Blaedel, Delores Redondo and Esther Verhoef. I could go on.

Paul Burke
August 2018

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