by | Oct 2, 2020 | Jenny Milchman | 7 comments

by Jenny Milchman

It’s a cruel world out there and unfair things happen in it. It used to be that you couldn’t read the news without being made aware of that reality—now we can hardly step outside our homes without being faced with the masked evidence of a potentially lethal combatant.

I believe this is one reason why thrillers and suspense fiction have such great appeal. In a thriller, the enemy can be opposed and often conquered. Thrillers are justice plays at heart—and we can all use a dose of justice in our lives, especially now.

When a woman is the one to mete out justice, I get particularly enthralled. Maybe it’s because the deck has historically been stacked against women taking on their opponents, or maybe it’s because those are the stories we get told less often because the voices have been silenced.

I get as psyched as the next thriller fan when Reacher stalks into town and lays waste to all the bad guys. But when he has a female partner beside him, as he did in his 2019 release, Blue Moon, my interest perks up just a bit extra. 

Here are a few heroines who encountered monsters in different forms, and left justice in their wake.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Clarice Starling has physical strength (the film version opens with her completing a trail run), guts and bravery (picture her in the monster’s den at the end). But it’s her mind that is able to churn Lecter’s knowledge of sociopaths in such a way that she beats Buffalo Bill and saves the senator’s daughter. A thinking heroine (or hero—see above: Reacher) is always more fun than one who wields brawn alone.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

Trisha MacFarland is only nine years old, but when she lags behind on a family hike and gets lost in the Maine wilderness, she will have to become a heroine at her tender age, facing down brutal terrain, hunger, fatigue, terror…and ultimately a real life monster. Every parent would want their daughter to have a heart and mind as tough as Tricia’s.

But what about heroines created by female authors? I’m so glad you asked! I have a couple of favorites to share with you.

Room by Emma Donoghue

I know women whose worst fear is being abducted and held captive. The idea of such helplessness is terrifying. That’s why Ma is such a kick butt heroine. Having raised her son his whole life in captivity, Ma figures out what to do—no spoilers—to finally get him the life he deserves.

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

The scenario in this novel may be a little less familiar—getting trapped in a zoo isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when you’re asked your worst fear—but Joan has to become a heroine to her young son, Lincoln, as well. The way she gets them out of the zoo—her response to the monster that keeps them from leaving—demonstrates the best qualities in a heroine, especially one who’s a mother. Resourcefulness, quick instincts, and a refusal to deny just how bad things may get. 

Let’s not forget the movies! Hollywood has been terribly impacted by the pandemic, but there are some great new ones coming out—and they feature heroines who left me hoping I would be that smart and powerful.

“Alone” directed by John Hyams and starring Jules Wilcox. Another abduction/captivity scenario but with whoa, what a twist. Let’s just say the whole held captive part doesn’t last long. This heroine thinks of something to do that is almost beyond comprehension—well, I never would’ve thought of it anyway, which admittedly may not be the same thing—and it sets her on a brutal, bloody path the heartiest warrior might flinch at. I always believed women would be the more successful in battle.

“Centigrade” directed by Brendan Walsh and starring Genesis Rodriguez. The scenario seems farfetched until you learn that it’s based on a true story. The role of being a mother comes into play in this survivor thriller again—right down to her giving birth in a car. And that’s not the hardest thing this heroine does to save the life of her child. 

As long as there is life, there will be monsters, only some of them human. When women face them down, they do so with a unique blend of strengths. I hope one or more these will have you cheering.

Readers, what kind of monster do you find the scariest? 
Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Rogue Women Writers

    What a great list of thrillers featuring women as the heroines who save the day!!! Thanks, Jenny, for joining us Rogues and for giving us such insights into all of these stories!…Karna Small Bodman

  2. Jenny Milchman

    Karma, I love those kinds of stories–as I suspect all the Rogues do! So happy to be a part 🙂

  3. Valerie

    Great blog, Jenny, and I agree. I love reading about women who defeat monsters and mete out their own justice! Sometimes the monster I find the scariest is the one in my head, the one that tells me something is impossible, the one that tells me I'm not up to the task. That might be one of the hardest monsters to kill, but it's surely one of the most paramount to defeat.

  4. Lisa Black

    I did like Abby in Blue Moon a lot! And I have to check out those movies, I had not heard of either one.

  5. Chris Goff

    I absolutely loved Silence of the Lambs. Scared the crap out of me. Now I have a few more books for my stack, and a few more movies to check out. I have to laugh, it made me think of a commercial I recently saw for Geico. The kids running in the dark looking for a place to hide. The headline is "People in scary movies often make bad decisions." I like it when smart heriones are forced to do incredibly dangerous things in order to save innocent people. Welcome to Rogues, Jenny!

  6. Steve Avery

    Thank you for recommendations, placed in Amazon wish list
    The movie that struck me this year was a Quiet zplace.
    Spring Training ritual to reread Tom Gordon.

  7. Gayle Lynds

    Wow, what a terrific analysis and description for each. Thanks, Jenny, & welcome aboard. Love to have these recommendations!