This list of mystery books where the victim isn’t a woman for the 2020 Read Harder Challenge is sponsored by TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations.
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Before we get into this great (if I do say so myself) list of books, a note on gender binary and a little discussion about the crime genre—this is Read Harder, after all! First, an apology to nonbinary folx because this is going to be a binary conversation; the crime genre has a few glaring faults, and leaving out your voice is currently one. Another fault is the disproportionate way violence against women vs men is written. There is some fantastic writing being published that tackles very real women’s issues head-on, with nuance, and sometimes with massive spotlights. It’s necessary and excellent work being done. There is, however, a disgusting amount of sexism, misogyny, and violence against women that feels written for sport. Disposable, romanticized, fetishized “girls.”
I could write many lists on dead women characters splayed out naked with narrators having noted how nice their bodies—especially tits—are. I cannot recall a dead naked male character sexualized in this manner—not a single comment on front or back junk. Even comparing characters within the same book, I’ve come across stark differences: A dark serial killer novel that spared not a single graphic detail in the many girls and women murdered and violated, and yet the one boy victim was noted having been murdered and instead of giving graphic details it literally did “…”. Dot dot dot! I could go on forever with these kinds of examples which is part of the reason for this Read Harder challenge. Not because books with women victims need to —again, there’s great writing coming out that gives voice to women’s issues—but rather, 1) There’s a difference between exploring an issue and exploiting it, 2) sometimes you need a break from the issues you face 24/7 living in your skin, and 3) how many “dead girls” does it take before we’re desensitized?
So we challenge you to read a mystery where the victim(s) aren’t women—I initially aimed for no violence against women but LOLsob this is Read Harder not Mission Impossible. Because the crime genre is so vast I aimed to hit as many sub-genres as possible for all the different reading tastes in the books I chose below, which along with the victim of the case not being a woman do not contain rape or graphically violent scenes against any of the girls/women characters.
Hopefully this challenge will make you think about gendered violence, if you don’t already, and the difference between writing violence against women for entertainment vs exploring the ills of our society in order for change.
Goldie Vance Vol. 1 (Goldie Vance #1–4) by Hope Larson, Brittney Williams
For graphic novel and Nancy Drew fans, here is a wonderful start to a series about a teen girl working as a valet in a Florida hotel who really is constantly meddling and solving cases for the hotel. Yes, there’s an onsite detective already at the hotel, but Goldie Vance is obviously better. Or at least willing to do things like race a “borrowed” car from valet to win stolen property back. You get great characters and art, performing mermaids, mystery cases and even some action and adventure. All things to love. Plus, the only violence towards women is a bop to the head à la Nancy Drew style.
Iced in Paradise: A Leilani Santiago Hawai’i Mystery by Naomi Hirahara
If you’re looking to read more books set outside of the continental U.S. and like your mysteries closer to the cozy line, this one is for you. After living in San Francisco for years, Leilani Santiago returns home to Hawai’i because her mom is sick, and to help run the family business, their shave ice shack. It is in this business where a dead man is found, and while Santiago didn’t have investigating on her to-do list, she starts poking around when her father becomes the #1 suspect. Not necessarily to clear his name, she has a complicated relationship with him, but to know if he did or didn’t do it. Family, food, history, and murder-mystery come together for a super enjoyable read. There is a past stalking incident discussed.
A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder (Countess of Harleigh Mystery #1) by Dianne Freeman
If you’re looking to start a delightful new historical mystery, look no further. Frances Wynn, a wealthy American in Victorian England, has finally passed the grieving time society set for widows. She probably would have spent less time grieving, considering her husband died in his lover’s arms and only married Wynn for her money. Anyhoo, now it’s time for her to move on, except her mom unloads her sister on her so she’ll be introduced to society, and the police think she murdered her husband. Then also orchestrated jewelry thefts. Talk about not catching a break! Obviously, the only thing left for her to do is figure out the person who’s really responsible to clear her name. And maybe find her sister a decent man.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Translation)
This is a great crime novel for fans of character driven novels, literary fiction, and works in translation. Janina lives in a remote Polish village where her neighbor Big Foot (human not furry beast) was recently found dead. Then more suspicious deaths follow. She tries to go to the police numerous times over issues she sees in the community, but as an elderly single lady who waxes on about astrology and philosophical views on various topics they pay her no mind. Will she solve the whodunnit puzzle in time?…And if you’re looking to read more award winning authors, Tokarczuk has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, Man Booker International Prize, and Nike.
Fake ID by Lamar Giles
For fans of YA mysteries, witness protection, and Chidi Anagonye (The Good Place actor narrates the audiobook!). Nick Pearson is in witness protection with his parents and once again they had to move. Seems his dad can’t stay away from crime, and this time they’ve been warned this will be the last time the program moves them and keeps helping if he doesn’t behave. And so Pearson starts a new school and makes a new friend…a new friend working on a conspiracy theory for the school newspaper who turns up dead. Pearson is certain his friend did not die by suicide, but uncovering the truth may blow the cover on his, and his family’s, identity…
Secrets, Lies, & Crawfish Pies (Romaine Wilder #1) by Abby L. Vandiver
If you like a good zany character and small town mysteries, here’s an enjoyable start to a cozy series. Medical examiner Romaine Wilder is begrudgingly saying goodbye to big city life and moving back to her small East Texas hometown where her Auntie Zanne owns a funeral home. And that funeral home is where they find a dead body—yes, funeral homes are where dead bodies belong, but not this one. Now, since Auntie Zanne doesn’t have any faith in the sheriff solving the crime, and honestly just sticks her nose in everything, she’s gonna make her and Romaine solve this case, no matter how much Romaine may protest.
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
This is one of those novels that does a lot of things, all well. At the core is the fallout of a crime: a hit and run that kills a Moroccan immigrant. We follow as his daughter Nora and wife Maryam remember their relationship with him, wait for the police to solve the case, and grieve. We watch as the witness to the crime, Efraín, battles with whether to come forward or not. And we see the work a detective is putting in to solve the case, along with a former cop who grew up with Nora but is not technically on the case. This is a great crime novel that explores the impact a crime has on family and community.
Find all the Read Harder 2020 content here.