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A Guide to… Forgotten Female Crime Writers

Posted 3rd Oct 2019

When The Sunday Times published their now-notorious 100 Best Crime Novels and Thrillers Since 1945 list earlier this year, it was immediately criticised for the lack of female representation. Of the 100 novels featured, all but 28 were written by men, and this for a genre that was pioneered and continues to be led by women.

One female author who did make the Sunday Times list was Margaret Millar, the Canadian-American master of the psychological thriller, three of whose titles we have recently reissued under our Pushkin Vertigo imprint.

From the 1940s to the 80s Millar wrote dozens of sophisticated suspense novels that combined a wry literary style and brilliant characterisation with twisty, captivating plots. Her books were written with an intelligence and flair that won her much admiration outside of the crime genre, and yet she had a genius for good-old-fashioned mystery too – indeed, her contemporary Julian Symons claimed she had “no superior in the art of bamboozlement”.

Julian Symons claimed [Millar] had “no superior in the art of bamboozlement”

By her death in 1994 she was a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, had won the Edgar Award for Best Novel, and been named a Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year. And yet, until we brought out Vanish in an Instant last year, all but one of her books were out of print in the UK. We’ve since published A Stranger in My Grave (my personal favourite Millar) and The Listening Walls. The reception so far has been fantastic.

Contrast Millar’s literary fortunes with those of her crime-writing husband, Kenneth Millar, who is better known by his pseudonym Ross Macdonald. Macdonald’s books are widely available in British bookshops, with some even published as Penguin Modern Classics.

That’s not to say Kenneth Millar’s status is undeserved, he was also a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, and, like Margaret, won the acclaim of literary and genre critics alike. Nonetheless, Kenneth reportedly envied his wife’s abilities, and of the two he was the one who took on a pseudonym – as he put it, “for obvious reasons.”

Unjustly neglected for decades, Margaret Millar is now back. But how many other great female crime writers are being ignored?

Daniel Seton, Editor

We encourage you to seek out these forgotten geniuses of crime writing. To start you off, we have pulled together a list of unjustly overlooked women in crime for you to discover.

Margaret Millar

Vanish in an Instant, A Stranger in My Grave, The Listening Walls

Millar is our recently revived master of suspense. Her psychological thrillers have garnered the admiration of Agatha Christie, Val McDermid and Laura Lippman throughout the years, yet she was almost entirely out of print in the UK – until now. The Listening Walls, Millar’s third book with Pushkin Vertigo, is out today.

Celia Fremlin

The Hours Before the Dawn (1958): A brilliant psychological thriller about a sleep-deprived young mother losing grip on what is going on under her own roof, and whether or not any of it is real.

Helen Eustis

The Horizontal Man (1946): The murder of a faculty member sends panic through the halls of an Ivy League school. A confession is made, but something doesn’t add up.

Pat Flower

Vanishing Point (1975): A sharply characterised story of a couple living on the brink of violence.

Jean Spender

The Charge is Murder! (1933): The debut of a racy Australian crime author, centred around Sydney gang culture.

If you want to share your suggestions with us, head over to Twitter and tag us @pushkinpress with your favourite female crime writers that you think deserve to be revisited.