Since 1842, when Edgar Allan Poe used the notorious unsolved murder of Mary Rogers, a New York City tobacco shop employee dubbed “the beautiful cigar girl,” as the basis for one of the earliest works of detective fiction, real-life cases have been fodder for novelists. But while Poe and his disciples were mostly interested in whodunit, today’s leading practitioners of crime fiction, many of them women, are more intrigued by the larger issues pulsing beneath the headlines. For one: Are we accountable for the sins of those close to us? Five of my favorite writers wrestle with that question, among others, in their latest books.

give me your hand

1. Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
The spark for Abbott’s ingenious novel was a 1996 Texas Monthly article (“Poisoning Daddy”) about high school student Marie Robards, who stunned her best friend by confiding this secret: She killed her own father by lacing his takeout food with barium acetate she’d stolen from chemistry lab. Abbott’s story line hews closely to the original, except here the friend stays mum until years later, when the two, now professional scientists, vie for the same coveted research post—a study exploring mood swings and female rage.

a double life

2. A Double Life by Flynn Berry
A nanny is found brutally murdered, and the mother of a young girl and boy is beaten nearly to death. The prime suspect is the father, a British aristocrat, who vanishes, leaving his kids to grapple with his legacy of violence. That’s the setup of Edgar winner Berry’s thrilling second novel, which takes its central premise from a 1970s scandal involving the 7th Earl of Lucan, who disappeared after supposedly killing the family babysitter, believing the victim to have been his wife. In Berry’s hands, Lucan-like crimes are a jumping-off point for the fictional story of Claire, the accused’s now-34-year-old daughter, who sets out to learn once and for all what really happened and why.

perfect nanny

3. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
Flip the Lord Lucan case and you’ve got Slimani’s controversial, Prix Goncourt–winning domestic thriller. The French Moroccan writer based her novel on Yoselyn Ortega, the caregiver who horrified Manhattan in 2012 when she fatally stabbed two children in her charge, then attempted suicide. Slimani’s version has an unstable Paris nanny in the employ of Myriam, a mother who no longer wants to be a stay-at-home. The reimagining is fascinating, not least because we know so little about Ortega’s mindset leading up to the crime. Myriam’s ambivalence about being a parent—and how this seems to implicate her—makes the fictional portrayal all the more harrowing.

the disappearing

4. The Disappearing by Lori Roy
In Roy’s gripping fourth novel, a serial killer à la Ted Bundy is suspected when protagonist Lane’s older daughter goes missing from their Florida Panhandle town. But Lane soon fears that the girl’s fate may be linked to the role her father played at a reformatory where boys were routinely abused and even killed. Rising star Roy, also an Edgar winner, came up with the idea for the transfixing tale after reading about the infamous Arthur G. Dozier School, which operated for more than 100 years until it was finally shut down in 2011.

the wife alafair burke

5. The Wife by Alafair Burke
Camille Cosby was a touchstone for this startlingly timely novel by a former prosecutor. In Burke’s fictional take, Angela, the devoted spouse of a socially conscious talking head charged with sexual assault, brings dark new meaning to the word loyalty. Sensational and sly, The Wife is the perfect literary companion for the #MeToo moment.


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