The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, Ripley's Game
“I’ve always loved old-fashioned spy thrillers,” Codename Villanelle author Luke Jennings said in a 2018 Reddit Ask Me Anything thread. “I’m a huge fan of Patricia Highsmith and the Ripley stories.” While he claims that Villanelle existed in his imagination for so long, there’s no doubt her chameleon-like demented charm and flagrant disregard for any moral compass are callbacks to this suave and ruthless psychopath.
Alias Grace (Movie Tie-In Edition)
If it takes your breath away to watch Villanelle move fluidly through birthday parties and catered events in borrowed clothes to fulfill her contracts through fatal applications of mundane objects—a wickedly sharp hairpin, a poisoned perfume bottle—then you will be obsessed with figuring out how Grace Marks, a demure servant, got away with the murders of her employers despite living and working in their very home.
Every angle of this modern classic deserves repeated scrutiny. The delicious frustration of obfuscating narrator Nick Dunne putting his foot in it ticks every true-crime box as the less-than-doting husband during the early days of his darling wife’s disappearance. The incredible, meticulous detail that Amy puts into planning… her fifth anniversary treasure hunt. The way a disappointing marriage devolves (one might argue evolves) into a thrilling competition of wits to regain that spark, that sweetness, from their first meeting.
Tara Isabella Burton
The first party that Lavinia brings Louise to, she insists that Louise wear one of her flapper dresses, a frock that she found on the streets of New York City. “You could fall in love,” Lavinia says, “wearing a dress like that.” For this ethereal, fabulous creature, clothing is her love language—not unlike Villanelle sending Eve her suitcase filled with designer couture and even the namesake perfume from her assassin sweetheart. If only Lavinia recognized the danger that comes with teaching a stranger how to act just like you.
While Villanelle is the one who nonchalantly climbs out of a bed sprawled with two lovers after a decadent night, the eponymous Adèle has more in common with Eve. Slimani’s debut novel, The Perfect Nanny, follows the French journalist and wife through the motions of her seemingly fulfilling but actually stultifying life—enlivened only by her sex addiction and illicit encounters with nearly every man who crosses her path. However, maintaining this secret double life becomes a matter of high-stakes spycraft, as Adèle struggles to compartmentalize her vows and her thrills.
The New Me
Few Millennials can relate to Villanelle’s criminally chic wardrobe or ability to jet-set anywhere at a moment’s notice; trudging through empty day jobs and bleak career prospects, their monotonous lives more reflect Eve’s unfulfilled existence at the start of the series… or the tribulations of Millie, a thirty-year-old too exhausted by the drudgery of her temp job that she can’t muster up the energy to alter her situation. Despite envisioning every detail on how she could change herself, from yoga classes to standing up to her work nemesis Karen, Millie lacks that one external factor that will transform her into the eponymous “new me”—unlike Eve, who requires only a clever murder.
French’s second Dublin Murder Squad novel is an engrossing thriller about the risks of going undercover. Cassie Maddox is ready to leave the Murder Squad behind after the events of In the Woods, but when a murder victim turns up with her face and the name of one of her aliases, there is no better way to solve the case than for Cassie to re-assume the identity of “Lexie Madison” and return to the house in which she lives with a tightknit—perhaps sinisterly so—foursome. As Cassie slips deeper into the Lexie persona, even going rogue with her police wire more than once, it becomes more difficult for her to separate the danger of her precarious subterfuge from the unexpected home she’s found.
Just as Killing Eve genderswaps the typical spy drama cat-and-mouse dynamic, Waters takes the Dickensian orphan and not only makes her female, but places her within a network of other cunning women. Instead of Fagin it’s Grace Sucksby who runs a house of “fingersmiths,” or tiny thieves. One is 17-year-old Sue, who teams up with con man Richard Rivers (a.k.a. “Gentleman”) in his scheme to marry a naïve young heiress, Maud Lilly, and then steal her fortune. But when Sue poses as Maud’s maid in an attempt to gain her trust, the two become unexpectedly close—enough so that when a new angle of the con comes to light, it ratchets up the stakes of this sensual, twisty thriller.
Something that made Killing Eve stand out, from the very first moments of the pilot, was showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ability to weave shocking laugh-out-loud moments in with the psychopathy and gore. Manchette’s 1970s novel, inspired by American noir fiction of the 1930s and ‘40s, brings a similar dark wit to hired gun Aimée, who goes undercover in a new town in order to stir tensions among the locals. But when Aimée underestimates her marks, the cool contract killer is caught in the spiral of a small town satire.
East of Eden
Waller-Bridge once cited Steinbeck’s magnum opus as a direct influence on her work—in particular, a single sentence and how it tragically reshapes the plot by disposing of a character. If a moment that small stuck with the woman who dreamed up Fleabag and who transformed Jennings’ novellas into that unforgettable first season, then it’s well-worth revisiting Steinbeck’s multi-generational tale of feuding brothers and the freedom of forgiveness.
From its first introductions of sociopathic assassin Villanelle and empathetic, neurotic MI5 agent Eve, Killing Eve established itself as both bloody and bloody good fun. The leads’ chemistry—whether they’re chasing each other across Europe, having the most surreal dinner date, or leaving corpses or couture as gifts—electrifies every moment of this brilliant, grisly series.
Alas, like Eve and Villanelle’s ill-fated hangout at the end of season 1, it’s over too soon—sorry, baby. But you can keep that high going with these 10 thrillers that are full of brutal masterminds who let nothing stand between them and what they want. There’s killer tension, fatal fashion, and cutting examinations into the eternal female question, “Do I want to be her, or be with her?”
Featured image: Sandra Oh in Killing Eve (2018) © 2018 BBC America