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The 10 Best Female Detectives in Fiction Written by Women

Female Detectives

Photo © Shutterstock

by Keith Rice, 

There’s nothing like a good mystery novel when the need for a bit of page-turning escapism arises. Detective work is often (mistakenly) attributed to the old boy’s club; indeed, Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade, and of course Mr. Sherlock Holmes take up a fair chunk of pop-culture fiction real estate. These good and wily gentlemen, however, do have quite a bit of competition from their female counterparts. The mystery genre has long benefited from the solid woman’s footprint in the genre, both on the character side and the author side – and many of these female detectives are repeat investigators. The recurring sleuths below are just a few of our favorites.

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton’s long-running Kinsey Millhone novels, also known as the “alphabet mysteries,” introduced mystery fans to Ms. Millhone, a hard-boiled private detective from fictional Santa Teresa, California, in 1982. With Grafton’s latest, Y Is for Yesterday, now available, there’s no better time to dive into Santa Teresa’s decidedly sordid criminal underworld.

Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs

Temperance Brennan is arguably best known from the hit Fox series, “Bones,” an adaptation of Kathy Reichs’s mystery series. At eighteen novels and counting, there’s certainly plenty of the literary life of Temperance Brennan to delve into. All the elements are there – edge-of-your-seat suspense, gruesome crime scenes, and plenty of bones.

Still Midnight by Denise Mina

Noir can be an interesting beast with all of its regional subgenres. In the case of Denise Mina and her world-weary Detective Inspector Alex Morrow, it just happens to be the Tartan Noir of Scotland. Much like its hard-boiled cousin in the Nordic countries, Tartan Noir is known for its bleak cynicism and oft-brutal crime. With Still Midnight, Morrow must contend with a bizarre murder/kidnapping, police force politics, and her own increasingly complicated personal life.

The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe is Botswana’s premiere detective and the proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. She also happens to be a particularly cunning and observant detective – and one of our personal favorites, so we’ve allowed for Alexander McCall Smith to be the one honorary male writer on this list. The delightful, bestselling series will see its eighteenth book released in early November – but you can dive in anyplace in the series. And while a bit less hard-boiled than some others on this list, Precious is certainly among the most engaging.

Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum, a detective somewhere on a spectrum that runs from Nancy Drew to Dirty Harry, is the occasionally hapless, always resourceful bounty hunter at the center of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum seriesLooking for a way to make ends meet, Plum, a former lingerie buyer, once blackmailed her way into a bounty hunting job as part of her cousin’s bail bond business. Myriad hijinks have since ensued.

O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King

With her sleuth Mary Russell, Laurie R. King has created one of the most intriguing detectives on this list. After a chance encounter with a semi-retired Sherlock Holmes, Russell found herself as the master detective’s protégé and eventually his wife. In their first adventure, with Russell still serving as Holmes’s apprentice, the duo find themselves navigating a labyrinthine mystery and a rash of murders against the rising tensions of British-occupied Palestine.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

Who doesn’t like a good, wise-cracking, hardboiled detective whose past is a bit of a mystery? In the case of Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt, that’s exactly what you get. Employing some unorthodox techniques – and by unorthodox we mean lucid dreaming and drug-induced visions – DeWitt is one of the more interesting detectives on this list. Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead sees the natural-born sleuth unraveling a mystery in a post-Katrina New Orleans.

Sun Storm by Asa Larsson

This is an entry in another regional noir subgenres – Nordic Noir. It’s a genre well-known for its dense plotting, brutal crimes, tortured protagonists, and bleak themes. Asa Larsson’s Sun Storm is no different and attorney Rebecka Martinsson is as tortured as they come. In this latest installment in the series, Martinsson returns to the hometown she left in disgrace to confront her own dark past amid a series of vicious murders.

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell

Patricia Cornwall is arguably one of contemporary crime fiction’s most influential writers. Her first novel, 1990’s Postmortem, introduced us to her longtime protagonist, medical examiner and forensic specialist Dr. Kay Scarpetta. Postmortem also garnered Cornwell a host of awards including an Edgar, and the author’s detail-heavy thrillers paved the way for TV series like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” In the novel that started it all, Scarpetta is drawn into the hunt for a particularly savvy serial killer.

Killer Look by Linda Fairstein

Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cooper seems to have a knack for landing in the middle of particularly perilous situations. In Killer Look, the most recent in Linda Fairstein’s Alexandra Cooper series, the seasoned D.A. is pulled into the investigation of an apparent suicide against the backdrop of the flashy New York fashion scene. With her job  in jeopardy and her own PTSD on the verge of overtaking her, Killer Look could hold in its pages Cooper’s most dangerous case yet.

 

IL Reads Showcase – A Hamilton Affair

First the $10 bill, then the musical, now this. Some guys have all the luck… disregarding the whole fatally wounded during a duel to the death thing, of course.

IL Reads - Hamilton the Revolution

 

What Would You Lose?

by , August 30, 2017, first appearing in Library Journal

Library Advocacy PosterU.S. libraries battle unprecedented challenges to federal support; you can help—and if you don’t have a copy yet, you can download and print the PDF of our poster, sponsored by Gale Cengage, highlighting services that libraries stand to lose without federal funding. These services were drawn from states’ 2013–17 plans for Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds granted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Read it, post it in your library or around your community, and start a conversation.

Survive the Game of Thrones Hiatus with These Queens, Kings, and Conquerors

GOT Hiatus

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”
William Shakespeare

by Marie, August 30, 2017, first appearing on Goodreads Blog

Experiencing Game of Thrones withdrawal? The wait for the final season might feel agonizing—though maybe not as agonizing as the wait for The Winds of Winter.

But don’t fret! History is teeming with royal drama of every kind, from the mad to the Machiavellian to the morally gray. George R.R. Martin himself drew plenty of inspiration from real-life nobles for his world-renowned fantasy series. Consider The Accursed Kings, a history on the House of Capet, which Martin once called, “The original Game of Thrones.”

Click here for a whole list of monarchies and books that have enough complexity to fuel their own television show (in fact, many of them already have). There’s the Plantagenets, the Tudors, the Romanovs…the list of dynasties who took power by force or fortune goes on and on.