One of the greatest appeals of genre fiction, from romance to sci-fi to thrillers, is the way the narratives can hold up a magnifying glass to the fault lines in our societies, and shine light into the deep dark crevasses where untold stories of social injustice and discord are dumped like bodies.
Crime fiction can be an especially useful genre for this kind of exploration—the main focus of most books is the unearthing of secrets, the finding of bodies, and the attempt to right wrongs (like reality, those attempts don’t always work out, either).
Some books that explore social issues, and the effects that ripple out from them in ways large and small, are listed below.
And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall
Howzell Hall’s fantastic Detective Lou Norton series followed a Black female detective in LA through the underbelly of the glitz and glamor so often associated with the city. Her newest thriller takes readers back to LA with a taut, twisty tale about Grayson Sikes, an amateur private detective on her first case. Grayson, who’s not doing so hot herself, has to find a missing woman for a jerky client who claims to have been a caring boyfriend. As the parallels between the woman’s story and her own begin to stack up, a story unfolds of what women do to survive in a society that often looks the other way when they most need help.
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
In the first book of Locke’s compelling Highway 59 series, Black Texas Ranger Darren Matthews returns to his East Texas hometown, where two bodies have been found: one of a Black man and one of a white woman. The discovery stirs up old resentments and simmering tensions in the small town, and Darren’s attempts to save the town, and himself, in the aftermath provide a searing look at race in America.
Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha
Cha’s taut thriller follows two families, one Korean American, one Black American, and the two timelines that link them in the past and present—a bond forged through violence then and now. Inspired by the real life killing of Latasha Harlins by store owner Soon Ja Du, the story delves into the aftermath of trauma, death, and resentment for the families and communities affected by it, and how the pain of the past injustice still resonates today.
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson
In this YA mystery, rising teenage singer Enchanted Jones is taken under the increasingly restrictive wing of legendary R&B star Korey Fields. What starts off as a dream begins to turn into a nightmare, and then one day she wakes up covered in blood with no memory of the night before, and Korey is dead. The story is inspired by the R. Kelly story—which was mostly ignored by mainstream media despite countless witness accounts and deep-dive coverage by respected investigative journalists. Jackson takes on a hugely important issue, which is also the why behind why the R. Kelly story was ignored: the mistreatment of young Black women. A riveting and necessary read.
The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim
This debut novel is both a mystery and a moving mother-daughter tale. The story is told from two perspectives: Mina, a Korean woman journeying to the US to make a better life for herself, and Margot, her American daughter who barely speaks Korean and is far removed from both her mother and her culture. When Margot doesn’t hear from her mother, she returns home to LA’s Koreatown to find her dead. The story jumps backwards and forwards in time to reveal all the things lost in the valley of silence between mother and daughter, which neither is able to bridge but the reader is able to see across. A moving look at what immigrants to America go through before their journey and what they lose upon arrival, and how their American children can be caught between worlds.