“Tart noir, the loose conglomerate of like-minded women writers, is now an anthology. For this collection Lauren Henderson and I commissioned original stories from 20 women writers, half US-based and half in the UK. We asked the authors to ‘push themselves’ – to go for something nastier or sexier or funnier or darker. We wanted them to write a story that perhaps their own editor wouldn’t usually let them get away with, just as long as it fell into the tart noir remit: maybe comedic, maybe violent, maybe sexual, definitely new-woman, neo-feminist, strong, smart and sharp. With not a dippy heroine walking into a dark cellar in sight. Not a lot of brave bloke heroes saving the day on the final page either. And so, my top 10 tart noir novels…”
1. Strawberry Tattoo by Lauren Henderson
Impossible not to have my co-editor in here, this is my personal favourite of Lauren’s Sam Jones series. Maybe it’s the New York setting, maybe it’s the best-girlfriend bonding, maybe the strawberry tattoo itself – certainly it’s also the cocktail quotient – but this is an ideal taster of the tart noir type.
2. Trixie Belden and the Mystery of the Emeralds by ‘Kathryn Kenny’ (the many books of this series were mostly ghost-written)
I was eight, bored senseless by the dull girls-following-boys of the Famous Five and Secret Seven, desperately searching for something with a real girl hero – and found it in Trixie Belden. She’s the anti-Nancy Drew. More than a little too loud-mouthed, unlikely to get through a chapter without falling into a pond, running into trouble, or being helped out by her crew of useful friends, Trixie was the my first girl hero. (And in retrospect, possibly the template for my own Saz Martin series!)
3. Hell’s Kitchen by Chris Niles
More New York, even weirder goings-on, Chris Nile’s usual slew of fantastic one-liners, and some strange stuff in the fridge. ‘Psycho’ for psychotics.
4. The Wire in the Blood by Val McDermid
Val calls herself the ‘old slapper of tart noir’ – she says this is because she’s been doing it the longest. I’d say it’s because she’s so good at it. The Wire in the Blood has all the tense toughness we expect from Val. And it’s really scary too.
5. Legwork by Katy Munger
Another of the core tarts noir, Katy Munger’s Casey Jones series stars a big woman in every sense of the word. Cynical, classic wise-cracking and very smart. Pretty damn funny too.
6. ReBecca by Vicki Hendricks (in Vox n’ Roll Fiction for the 21st Century, ed. Richard Thomas)
Not a novel, but a truly brilliant story, deservedly award-winning, and the perfect introduction to Vicki Hendricks’s wonderfully warped style.
7. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Suspense, passion and a quite shocking plot twist – if it’s possible to have the Victoriana version of tart noir, this is it.
8. Bucket Nut by Liza Cody
A gorgeously tough, hard, uncompromising heroine, in mean streets, with a fine sense of humour and impressive fists as well. Blessedly NOT a pretty, lithe, cute heroine.
9. Garnethill by Denise Mina
Denise Mina won the John Creasy Prize for best first crime novel with this debut, the beginning of an increasingly noir trilogy.
10. Manchester Slingback by Nicholas Blincoe
Because boys can be tarts too – especially dressed like that.