Top Ten Tuesday: Frequently Used Words in Crime/Thriller/Mystery Titles


Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This is my first time taking part in Top Ten Tuesday and I’m really excited to get involved. I hope you enjoy my first TTT post on the top ten frequently used words in Crime/Thriller/Mystery titles. I chose this genre simply because it is the one that I read the most books from. I love psychological thrillers in particular and I love when a book can shock me as the ones in this genre often do.

1. Woman

Examples: The Woman in the Window, The Woman In Black, The Woman in Cabin Ten, The Other Woman, The Kept Woman, The Woman In White.

For some reason, in crime fiction it seems to be women who are often the central character or the focus of the story. This is not to say that there is never the word ‘man’ in the title but at least in my experience it appears that ‘woman’ is the preferred gender for the title.

2. Girl

Examples: The Girl on the Train, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, The Girl With All The Gifts, All The Wicked Girls, Girls on Fire, The Roanoke Girls, The Liar’s Girl, All The Missing Girls.

This seems to be a similar trend to the idea of using ‘woman’ instead of ‘man’. I could find literally hundreds of titles that have the word ‘girl’ in them, especially recently. An interesting point to make though, is that despite using the word ‘girl’, a lot of the characters that these titles are referring to are actually not girls, they are women. In Girl on the Train, Rachel, the titular ‘Girl’ is 32 years old – I would therefore describe her as a woman. I wonder if using the word ‘girl’ is more marketable perhaps? Who knows!

3. Dead

Examples: Dead Woman Walking, Dead Man’s Blues, Not Dead Enough, The Dead Zone, Dead Man’s Folly, The Dead Ex, Dead Lions.

I suppose this one makes total sense! Most crime and thriller books are at least in part about the crime of murder. There is usually at least one death in these books, sometimes a lot more than one.

4. Wicked

Examples: All The Wicked Girls, The Wicked Cometh, Wicked Game, Something Wicked, Among the Wicked, Wicked Prey, A Wicked Snow.

Shakespeare said in Macbeth “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” and a great deal of thrillers involve a sense of foreboding, of something or someone terrible about to appear or of a wicked secret that is about to be uncovered. Plus I think the word ‘wicked’ is just simply very evocative, it makes the reader think of something horrifying or even otherworldly/supernatural, like a wicked witch.

5. Pretty

Examples: Pretty Girls, Dead Pretty, Pretty Baby, Little Pretty Things, Pretty Is, All The Pretty Girls, The Pretty Ones, Pretty Little Liars, Tiny Pretty Things.

I think this one stems from that fact that more often than not, in this genre, when the murder victim is a woman or girl, she is unbelievably beautiful or pretty. I find this a little strange as its almost as if the author thinks it will make the crime seem even more horrifying or noteworthy because the woman is beautiful. Surely the crime is equally terrible whether the victim is pretty or not?!

6. Marriage

Examples: The Marriage Pact, The Stolen Marriage, The Marriage Lie, The Marriage Mender, Marriage is Murder, A Good Marriage, The Marriage Artist.
I’m not sure it’s a good sign that so many books about crimes and murder involve the word marriage but it is certainly true that hundreds of these novels are about bad marriages or the breaking down of a marriage. I think its probably because there is so much scope for passion within a marriage and therefore scope for a crime of passion which murder often is.

7. Husband/Wife

Examples: The Husband’s Secret, My Husband’s Wife, The Loving Husban, My Husband’s Lies, Its Always The Husband, The Perfect Husband, Another Woman’s Husband, The Wife Between Us, The Spinster Wife, The Guilty Wife, The Silent Wife, The Innocent Wife.

This is along the same lines as using the word ‘marriage’ I think. These types of books are often about secrets and the secrets kept within a marital relationship. Although, it is not always the character’s own husband or wife that the title refers to, in fact it is quite often someone else’s husband or wife that the story revolves around.

8. Sleep

Examples: Before I Go To Sleep, While You Sleep, The Big Sleep, Sleep Tight, Doctor Sleep, Dead Sleep, Praying for Sleep, Sleep Sister, Sleepwalker.

I think that this one is probably because sleeping is, even now with so many scientific developments, quite a mysterious thing. Also, when we are asleep, we are at our most vulnerable and that is why it is a word connected to the crime genre.There is also dreams to consider, which can scare us when they turn into nightmares and nightmares are often filled with the sort of events that take place in this genre.

9. Missing

Examples: The Missing, The Missing Girl, Missing Presumed, Where The Missing Go, Local Girl Missing, Elizabeth Is Missing, All The Missing Girls, Missing You, The Moores Are Missing, The Missing One.

A great deal of mysteries are about a missing person so this one makes perfect sense to me. It is a plot tool that is an effective one because the writer can either focus on the investigation to find the missing person or on the person that is missing themselves. A lot of my favourite books in this genre are the ones that have involved missing people.

10. Lie/Lies

Example: Lies, Let Me Lie, All The Beautiful Lies, Big Little Lies, Everything is Lies, Sweet Little Lies, The Lie, Sometimes I Lie, The White Lie, Between The Lies, The Marriage Lie, Silent Lies.

This one is pretty easy to understand, if everyone in a crime or thriller book was telling the complete unadulterated truth then there would most likely be no story to tell. Some of the best books in this genre are about either the lies people tell each other or the lies they tell themselves.

Thank you so much for reading and please comment below if you can think of other words commonly used in this genre’s titles or let me know what your favourite book in the Crime/Thriller/Mystery genre is! Mine is All The Wicked Girls by Chris Whitaker.

12 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Frequently Used Words in Crime/Thriller/Mystery Titles

    • lifewithallthebooks says:

      Thank you so much! I agree that ‘wicked’ definitely isn’t as common as some of the others – it might just be because I’ve seen quite a few thrillers recently with it in the title that it’s in my head! 😊


  1. S.E. White says:

    Welcome to the Top Tuesday posts! A lot of the words on the list that generally have happy/innocent/sweet meanings (like girl, pretty, marriage) might be so popular because the book is going to turn around and change that meaning, messing with your expectations? Or it makes it sadder, to see that innocence be taken advantage of? And the darker ones (like wicked, dead, missing, lie) are more what you’d typically expect. Interesting list!

    Liked by 1 person

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