6 Thriller Books That Prove Women Are A Force To Be Reckoned With

When it comes to fictional characters, there's nothing like a villain. There's just something appealing about a twisted personality doing things on their own terms, good or bad. If that character is a woman, smashing what's usually a male-driven genre, then even better. For far too long male characters have cornered the diabolical market, and it's time for them to step aside. Although Dickens was kind enough to give us Havisham and her wicked ways, making that a step in the right direction and a wonderful addition to the literary canon, she was certainly in the minority regarding how female characters were portrayed in literature.


As human beings, we're ultimately flawed. Because of this, we can delight in morally gray antagonists and protagonists who have the backbone to do the things we only think about. We enjoy their journey of righting what they believe is wrong, finding them relatable through their imperfections. Sometimes, we even root for these anti-heroes no matter how much blood is shed in their wake. There's an undeniable thrill in watching a character, especially a woman, prove page after page that she's a force to be reckoned with.

While we'll always need the likes of Jane March and Lizzy Bennett to feed our souls with love and poetry, we also need doses of Harley Quinn and Marquise de Merteuil from time to time to keep things well-rounded. If you want a conniving woman in your life for a few days, look no further than these thrillers.


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

What's there to say about Amy Dunne that hasn't already been said? Not much. Even before "Gone Girl" was made into the 2014 film by David Fincher, the media had a field day with the protagonist — which is exactly what Gillian Flynn wanted.


"Women are just as violently minded as men are, but with men it's taken for granted," Flynn told TimeOut Chicago in 2013. "It's something to be gotten out of the system or something to be put up with or dealt with, whereas women, it's still considered this very surprising thing. And that's because of this, to me, constantly enraging notion that women are supposed to be natural nurturers, we're naturally good." As Flynn further explained, this thinking simplifies women, taking from them the autonomy to be just as angry and complicated as men. Which, frankly, is unfair. 

Amy Dunne is the perfect example of what women are capable of when they've been put in a box by those around them for so long — first by her parents as the beloved children's book character "Amazing Amy," then by the men in her life. So to find out that she's been cheated on by her husband Nick after years of playing the "cool girl," as she calls it, she's out for revenge, and rightfully so. As much as Amy is evil, it's genuinely hard not to find yourself rooting for this woman and siding with her for much, if not all of the story.


Sadie by Courtney Summers

While there's no shortage of thrillers in the YA genre, there aren't many characters like Sadie in Courtney Summers' book "Sadie." From the start, Sadie's life is a difficult one, but after the murder of her sister Mattie, it gets infinitely harder. After finding out about her sister's death Sadie says, "But she's dead is the reason I'm still alive. She's dead is the reason I'm going to kill a man." And so begins the journey of this 19-year-old who's trying to solve the murder of her sister.


It's a dark ride and Sadie isn't exactly likable, but she evokes empathy from the reader. Every morally questionable thing she does can easily be justified because of where she's been, what she's going through, and where she wants this story to end. But Sadie isn't alone in trying to find the man who murdered her sister. At the same time, a local radio host named West McCray becomes obsessed with the story and sets up a podcast to trace Sadie's steps in the hopes of also solving the murder, as well as Sadie's disappearance. A lot is going on within these two narratives and Sadie is definitely up against it, but the readers have her back every step of the way.

He Started It by Samantha Downing

Although one should never judge a book by its cover, it's hard not to do that when the book is titled, "He Started It" and a woman is walking toward a fiery blaze while holding a shovel. Told through the anti-hero Beth, the story revolves around three siblings on a road trip to collect their inheritance. While none of the siblings are people that anyone would want to know IRL, it's Beth who's the biggest liar and cheater of the group. She not only knows it, but delights in it. As she tries to scheme her siblings and even her husband out of things, or at least beat them to the punch, there's an urge to high-five her for some reason. 


In the book, Downing plays with the idea of what a heroine should be while the character Beth declares that she's definitely not one. The secrets go really deep with this one, including a fake diary à la "Gone Girl." But unlike Amy Dunne, Beth doesn't get the ending that she was hoping for — even though she played the role of utter deceitfulness to pure perfection.

Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone

Another woman out for revenge? You better believe it. Along the same vein as the film "Promising Young Woman," in "Jane Doe" we have Jane who's only concern in life is avenging the suicide of her best friend. As a self-diagnosed sociopath, Jane has flipped her entire life on its side just so she can get close to Stephen, the man behind her best friend's suicide, and destroy him. What's best is she's not doing so half-heartedly, as if over a weekend or a few days, but through full immersion into his life in every way possible. 


Whereas some male characters evoke a bit of sympathy during such a total takeover, you won't feel any of that for Stephen. He's the worst of the worst, making Jane's quest to ruin him, as she feigns defeat and weakness under his abusive ways, super exciting to watch. You can't help from applauding at every conniving, deceitful move she makes all in the name of her best friend's memory.

Let Me Go by Chelsea Cain

Known as the Beauty Killer, Gretchen Lowell is Chelsea Cain's female answer to Hannibal Lecter in some ways. But she actually might be a bit worse. With a long history of murders up and down the West Coast (Cain has said she was originally inspired by the Green River Killer), having her antagonist working professionally in the medical and mental health fields, and centering much of the excitement around a game of cat-and-mouse with Detective Archie Sheridan over a series of six books, there's definitely some Lecter overlap with Lowell (in a good way). 


While "Let Me Go" is the book in which everything comes to an end, because Lowell has evolved so much as a serial killer and antagonist, there's no shortage of manipulation in this final installment. We so rarely see women portrayed in such a way that even though Lowell is undeniably a psychopath and isn't avenging anyone's death or even her pride, you're still hooked — and just might be hoping she comes out on top.

Bad Habits by Amy Gentry

Let's be honest: does anyone want to pick up a book entitled, "Good Habits?" Probably not, so Amy Gentry has us from the get-go. In "Bad Habits," we have Claire "Mac" Woods who's now enjoying her successful adulthood after a childhood of poverty and a night from decades ago that still haunts her. Just when she thinks everything is copacetic, someone from her past comes into the picture, jeopardizing everything that Claire worked for, forcing her into a dilemma: should she do whatever it takes to maintain her status?


Again, we have a female character who's doing some bad, but ultimately for good, so it's hard to hate her. There's justification for so much of Claire's behavior, and because of this, it's near-impossible not to side with Claire and her attempt to do what needs to be done to keep her life intact.

Of course, these six books are just a handful of stories centering around female characters that will give anyone who messes with them a run for their money. While male authors have also written some fierce women, sometimes it's just knowing that a woman is behind the words and actions of an anti-hero that makes the story that much more delicious.