Strong, Smart Women

I’ll admit, I read a lot more nonfiction than fiction, a lot more young adult books than adult ones. But lately I’ve been drawn to intense thrillers with strong, complex, and flawed female protagonists. These women are not perfect, but they’re interesting, and have unique voices which made all of these books good reads for me.

Once I finished Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects, I immediately got her second book, Dark Places—even though these books are not in a series. In both, there were interesting characters, twists and turns, and good writing. Sharp Objects follows journalist and recovering cutter Camille Preaker, on assignment to her hometown of Gap, MO, where her Chicago editor has sent her to investigate the possibility of a serial killer. Preaker must deal with her less than welcoming family, a small town that doesn’t welcome strangers—even former residents, and a sense of dread that the mysterious killings may be close to home. In Dark Places, Flynn moves the setting to Kansas for the story of Libby Day, the only survivor of her family’s massacre, for which her brother has been in prison for 15 years. As the money that flooded in to 9-year-old Libby runs out when she is in her 30s, she turns to a “Kill Club” group that is obsessed with true crime in order to try to make money from her story and the few artifacts she has from her family. She finds that many of these folks believe her brother is innocent, and her need for money and her interest in the possible truth set her to talking to people from her past and trying to uncover the truth of the murders. This time shifting novel with multiple narrators was particularly intriguing in the audio version. Flynn's next novel, Gone Girl, will be released this June.

In The Informationist by Taylor Stevens, we meet Vanessa Michael Munroe, a woman with a violent past who has learned to turn her survival skills into a lucrative business gathering information for people, the kind of information not readily available on the internet or in a personnel file. Her chameleon like ways and skill with languages have let her blend in across the globe (and stand out when necessary, too). When she’s hired by a father searching for his daughter—missing in Africa for 4 years—she returns to the countries of her past, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. Many reviews compare Munroe to Lisbeth Salander of Stieg Larsson’s novels, and if you enjoyed those, you will likely also want to follow the adventures of Munroe—smart, strong, and always on the edge of curbing her violent impulses. The second book in the series, The Innocent, was recently released.

Anne Holt’s book 1222 introduces U.S. readers to Hanne Wilhelmsen, former Oslo police investigator who was shot in the spine and is now retired and using a wheelchair. She is on a train that derails in the mountains, leaving almost 200 passengers trapped in a high altitude hotel, snow and wind raging. When one of the passengers is found murdered, Wilhelmsen is pressed into service in this Agatha Christie-esque locked room mystery. Wilhelmsen mostly wants to be left alone, but also wants to know the truth, wants everyone to be safe. Take this one to the mountains this winter to hear the wind whipping around you while you read it, or save it for your summer vacation & feel the chill under the hot sun! I hope to see more Holt books featuring this interesting character translated soon.

So, what’s next? There is no shortage of intelligent, interesting, and strong female characters out there! I’m looking forward to reading The Chalk Girl by Carol O’Connell, featuring feral child turned detective Kathleen Mallory, this weekend!

Who are your favorite female characters with both smarts and strength?

Written by Becker on January 20, 2012


Cori J. on January 20, 2012


Park Ranger Anna Pigeon, of course!

Shelly b on January 31, 2012


Adelia from the Mistress of the Art of Death series by Ariana Franklin, takes place in England at the time of Henry I when women were not allowed to do just about anything, so she has to pretend she is not a brilliant and talented forensic scientist while she helps solve midieval mysteries. Great character, great books!


Thanks for the suggestion, Shelly! I've seen these around, but have never picked one up!

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