Many people have tried to figure out why this happens. Elizabeth George, for instance, recently wrote an article on the subject suggesting that this occurs simply because readers don't care enough about male victims. Describe the murder of a man in your novel, she says, and it is guaranteed not to sell. I feel, however, that female writers create mystery novels that are so much angrier than male mysteries because they experience a degree of frustration in their daily lives and creative endeavors that is unknown to their male colleagues.
Not all female mystery writers cultivate the excessively gruesome variation of the genre. The amazingly talented Tana French and Laura Lippman write really great fiction that masquerades as mystery through a half-hearted addition of a couple of dead bodies here and there. While Tana French seems to be moving to a stage in her writing where dead bodies become more perfunctory than ever with every new novel, Laura Lippman still isn't ready to quit pretending she is a lot less talented than she is. Hardly Knew Her is a collection of Laura Lippman's short stories that are so good they could almost be compared to Joyce Carol Oates's. There is some sort of a crime in each of them but this collection is so much more than that.
Lippman's stories explore various ways in which women sell sex for money. The stories are very different, they are narrated in very distinctive voices and are set in extremely different social surroundings. Still, each of them addresses the relationship between sex and money in a way that is always insightful and fresh. Cheap didacticism is alien to Lippman. Among her female characters who sell their bodies in a variety of inventive ways, the only one who has character and integrity is a career prostitute. She is, of course, despised by housewives who believe that selling themselves just to one man is somehow better. Lippman makes it very clear that her sympathies lie with the honest, resourceful prostitute and not with the spoiled housewives who go to great lengths to convince themselves of their non-existent superiority:
“Is there anyone who works harder than a stay-at-home mom?” Ditchdiggers, she thought. Janitresses and custodians. Gardeners. Meter readers. The girl who stands on her feet all day next to a fryer, all for the glory of minimum wage. Day laborers, men who line up on street corners and take whatever is offered. Hundreds of people you stare past every day, barely recognizing them as human. Prostitutes.This kind of honesty is not easy to find in a genre that is addressed to an overwhelmingly female audience. The desire to keep the housewives happy and cater to their tastes has been the downfall of many an entertainer. Thankfully, Lippman is not one of them.
Laura Lippman lives in Baltimore, and most of her stories are set in this city. The few times that she ventures to other settings, her stories lose in quality. The only part of Hardly Knew Her: Stories that I didn't enjoy too much was a story set in New Orleans. On home turf, however, Lippman is brilliant. Her love of Baltimore and her profound understanding of its history make her stories fascinating to those of us who have an emotional attachment to this beautiful city.