Sunday Times thriller list criticised for 'bias against women'

Sunday Times thriller list criticised for 'bias against women'

The Sunday Times Top 100 Crime List has come under fire after women made up just a third of the authors of the listed novels. 

Authors including Marian Keyes and Sheila O’Flanagan criticised 'The 100 Best Crime Novels and Thrillers since 1945', published in the Sunday Times on 12th May and compiled by 15 contributors, including seven women. Although it featured novelists such as Agatha Christie and Donna Tartt, less than a third of the listed novels were by women.

Keyes tweeted: “Today's Sunday Times has '100 Crime Novels and Thrillers to Love.' Only 28 are by women. Seeing the chronic conscious and unconscious bias against work by women is enraging."

She went on to recommend a string of female crime authors with her original tweet endorsed by around 3,000 ‘likes’ within two days. 

“Any list that isn’t dominated by female writers in the way that the genre currently is - and has been for more than a century!- makes no sense at all,” Robin Stephens said in response to Keyes' statement. Meanwhile O’Flanagan also agreed. “Am away so didn’t see @thesundaytimes So many classic crime/thrillers by women, like fab PD James and Ruth Randell paved the way for current brilliance of writers you mention & so many more."

Ed Wood, editorial director for Sphere fiction, also backed up Keyes’ statement. “This is insane as crime is the one genre where men and women have long been critically and commercially equal: for Conan Doyle, you have Christie (the biggest-selling author of all time); for Colin Dexter, PD James; for Michael Connelly, Sara Paretsky,” he tweeted. “Let alone whole swathes of subgenres where women rule: forensic (Cornwell, Reichs, Slaughter), suspense (Du Maurier, Highsmith, Vine, Flynn, too many others).”

David Headley, owner of Goldsboro Books and the DHH Agency, disagreed with the criticism over the gender split of the list. He told The Bookseller: "Of course when I choose books I don’t think about the gender of the author. If you started insisting that we have to choose books on that basis, I would worry about that. That would concern me. That is my view as a bookseller."

However, he felt that the list itself was not representative of great thrillers of the genre. "I think that list is very subjective. I wonder if some of those reviewers have read widely in the genre, there are some gaps and some questionable choices."

Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate told The Bookseller the list was mostly compiled by female journalists. "The list was put together largely through the efforts of three people, Crime Club newsletter editor Karen Robinson, thriller reviewer John Dugdale and crime fiction reviewer Joan Smith. They were the ones who did the bulk of the heavy lifting on it. Two out of three of those critics are women, and as was pointed out online, seven out of the total of 15 who contributed were women."

Keyes is a vocal proponent of inclusivity and equality in publishing: she criticised the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize last year and is now a judge on the Women’s Comedy Writing Prize with the inagural winner to be announced on 10th July. 

Earlier this year, a research project found that new books by men were found to receive 12% more broadsheet review coverage than those of their female counterparts. ‘Are You Serious? The Emelia Report into the Gender Gap for Authors’ showed marked discrepancies between how male and female authors’ books were treated. The 18-page report, written by journalist Danuta Kean, analysed publicity for 10 writers as well as interviewing established women authors.