Women take on bad men in a new wave of black comedy crime fiction

In crime fiction, funny is rare. (Yes, I hear you shouting ‘Elmore Leonard’, but who else am I thinking?) Comedy and violence have a complicated relationship: we know violence shouldn’t be funny, but banana peels and Coen brothers films prove otherwise. When writers want to make fun of violent behavior in romantic relationships, there is a pervasive sense that men killing women is shameful, while women killing men can be funny in the right hands. Faced with the terrible things men routinely do—physical abuse, gaslighting, calculating behavior, and cruel words—a woman and her trusty frying pan fighting against patriarchy can elicit a silent cheer. As more and more authors write them – and more and more readers gobble them up – the stories of female protagonists/perpetrators on messianic missions to rid the world of bad men (not all men) are a genre that has legs.

Alexia Casale’s “The Best Way to Bury Your Husband” (Penguin, $18) gets the general idea right into the title. The book follows four women in an abusive relationship pushed over the edge by the pandemic lockdown: each kills her husband and is then faced with the riddle of how to dispose of the body of someone who would only go outside to do some pick up. essentials. After accidentally meeting, these women form the Lockdown Ladies’ Burial Club – Garden Club, for outsiders – and help each other clean up the evidence and unpack the baggage they’ve acquired through years of abuse. Casale, who has worked as an advocate for victims of domestic violence for more than a decade, was inspired to write the book when abuse statistics skyrocketed during the lockdown. Although these were extraordinary circumstances, Casale’s book goes beyond the statistics and tells four very human stories: morbid, funny and sadly relevant.

Casale’s book follows other recent successes in the genre. In Ren DeStefano’s “How I’ll Kill You” (Berkley, $17), we meet Sissy and her sisters, Iris and Moody, identical triplets raised in different varieties in foster care. Since most foster families aren’t looking for a three-for-one deal, the sisters learn as children to be stealthy and present a normal front to the world. Now in their 20s, they’ve reunited and created a female-owned business that you won’t find on Etsy: They use their tricks to lure and kill angry and abusive men. Sissy’s job consists mainly of planning and cleaning up, while Iris and Moody deliver the killing blows, but does it really matter who does what? Because they are identical, they often trick their victims into having a pair of sisters go out at the same time. But when Sissy develops real feelings for one of their targets, a charming loser named Edison, it may be game over. Is this the end of the family business or the beginning of a real romance?

There’s a cheerful satire in Katy Brent’s “How to Kill Men and Get Away with It” (HQ Digital, $16.99). Kitty Collins, our anti-heroine, “fights the patriarchy one murder at a time.” She is a rich, beautiful and very smart young woman, an online influencer who lives and hunts in London. The backstory of what turned Kitty into a serial killer is nothing out of the ordinary: a cheating boyfriend sets her up for failure, and once she’s thrown away one man, she realizes she enjoys exploring the world – or just the tony neighborhoods of London – free from harassment. catcalls and other forms of male aggression.

Kitty has a code to keep herself grounded: no women, as women are victims all their lives; no innocents, although she admits this could get tricky; no homeless or unhappy men, as they have plenty to contend with; and no police officers, for obvious reasons. Most importantly, she strives to remember that killing must serve a higher purpose. As she says, “I don’t want to go around London hacking people to death, because that’s the way it is just now an angry woman. The men I kill deserve it. Every last bit of it. So if you look at it that way, it’s not actually murder.’ This means, according to Kitty, that she has the freedom to kill a menacing man who follows her home from a bar, a dirty Tinder date (Tinder has been a real boon to her business), and an old-fashioned womanizer who path crosses. Kitty hates those traditional types the most: the ones who pretend to love women but just want to own and control them.

Brent’s book is quite funny, which helps subvert the violence and strengthen Kitty’s worldview. The introduction of a stalker who may be in love with her doesn’t seem entirely believable, but the small joys and petty concerns about Kitty and her friends’ dating, relationship, and mating life keep the book fresh and alive.

All these novels walk the line between laughter and moral ambiguity. Their protagonists are unmatched, but the anger they display in an entertaining way is a response to the flood of lies, insults and blows that men dish out to the women closest to them. These books offer both cathartic levity and insight into the fear of being alone as a woman in a dangerous world.

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