The Girl in the title is a publishing phenomenon. Whether you think it’s a great way to give visibility to women in suspense or find that it’s patronizing and infantilizing, the fact is, for the last five years, you can’t walk into a bookstore without running into one of these Girls. The Girl in the title has come to symbolize the fresh crop of voices in crime fiction: domestic thrillers often written by women, about women. Not just women who are cops or PIs or fearless reporters (or vigilante hackers with improbable fighting skills): ordinary people solving their way out of extraordinary situations. I’m hopelessly addicted to these books and see no problem having ten books with GIRL on the spine sitting next to each other on my shelf.
These are the standouts, starting from the less-known books to the big Girls:
9. The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund
The Crow Girl is a hit Swedish thriller trilogy published in English as one book. And the similarities with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo don’t end there: both series deal with trauma, the deadly consequences of misogyny, and the dark side of one of the most peaceful and progressive societies in the world. The choice of title and English-language cover are spot-on perfect for this chilling and brutal book. Without spoilers, let me just say that the Crow Girl is the alter (alternate personality) of one of the characters, and she makes Sadako from The Ring look like Mother Teresa.
8. The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Don’t be put off by the speculative elements—this is a thriller lover’s thriller. What connects a series of grisly murders spanning a century with the brutal attack Kirby Mazrachi barely survived? Could the murder in the 1930s and one in 1993 be the work of the same serial killer? The sheer amount of research that went into each and every one of the titular Girls’ stories will impress even the biggest skeptic. And Kirby, the protagonist, is tough, resourceful, and overall a worthy successor to Lisbeth Salander—with a speculative twist.
7. The Girl Without a Name, by Sandra Block
The Girl Without a Name is the second book of a trilogy but can be read as a standalone. We follow psychiatrist Zoe Goldman on a quest to untangle the chilling story of a catatonic young girl in her care, and the twists keep coming at you faster than you can turn the pages. Add to that an author with hands-on experience in the field, and you have a remarkable book
6. Boring Girls by Sara Taylor
Rachel and Fern, the heavy-metal-playing, revenge-questing, axe-wielding Girls in the title, are anything but boring. Sara Taylor (who also happens to front the goth/industrial band The Birthday Massacre) gives us a gore-soaked coming-of-age story set to a rocking metal soundtrack. The characters are so well-written they feel alive. (And while I don’t love perpetuating the stereotype that metalheads and goths are psycho murderers waiting to happen… it’s just so much fun to read that I can’t complain.)
5. Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
Be warned; there’s nothing pretty about this book. It’s gory, violent, brutal, often verging on too much. It’s also addictive, compulsive, and never stops surprising you. It’s the story of two sisters whose family fell apart after the elder girl disappeared without a trace twenty years earlier, yet every time you think you’ve read this story before and know where all this is going, it finds a new way to turn everything on its head. Which is what you’d expect from crime fiction queen Karin Slaughter.
4. Cemetery Girl by David Bell
A twelve-year-old girl goes missing, the search finds nothing, her family breaks apart. Four years later, the girl is back, but she refuses to talk to the police, the psychologists, and especially to her desperate father, who will stop at nothing to find out what really happened in the four years she was gone. It was one of the first books I read that focused not on the search or the investigation, but on the aftermath of the crime—and the devastating effect on everyone involved.
3. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
A young woman is kidnapped, then returned home—except she suffers from amnesia and only answers to the wrong name. But what’s really going on? The Good Girl is one of the books that codified both Girl books and psychological thrillers as we know them now—twisty, mysterious tales that happen to perfectly ordinary people… or are they?
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
I couldn’t write this list without mentioning Lisbeth Salander, of course. Lisbeth has now reached archetypal status, and with good reason: she is what sets this Swedish thriller apart from a thousand others, combining psychological aspects with a dark, serial-killer mystery.
1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
It is the book that pops into your head whenever you see a Girl title. The book that arguably started it all. By now, unless you live in a cave, you probably know what the big twist is, but if you haven’t read it, you should—I promise it’s just as good. Nobody does psych thrillers like Gillian Flynn. She deconstructs her characters to the bone and beyond. Not a single thought, tic, or dark impulse escapes her sharp writerly eye. Gone Girl is a book that transcends trends.