Monday, February 16, 2009

Female Sleuths

I've been asked to be a part of a colloquium on March 31 at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. The subject is female sleuths and, trying to get myself up to speed, I asked the folks at the Dorothy L list to tell me some of their favorites and what they look for in a female sleuth. I invite those of you who are mystery readers to do the same.

I have are 97 female sleuths listed so far -- well, one of them, Donna Andrews' Turing Hopper, is a computer with a female orientation. Their occupations include a park ranger, a forensic pathologist, a caterer, and a domestic diva. There are two English professors, lots of cops, a judge, several assistant DAs, many, many Private Investigators, a dairy farmer, a blacksmith, a bounty hunter, pool hustler, salvage tug operator, bloodhound trainer/handler, waitress, and any number of little old ladies with no apparent means of support.

I tried to copy and paste the list -- all three pages of authors, sleuths, and occupations -- into this post but Blogger rejected it. If any of you want a copy, let me know and I'll send it to you as an attachment.

UPDATE: Blogger did let me post the list, slightly scrunched, into a comment (see below.) A very long comment. Go figure

But, for those of you who read mysteries, I'd like to see your thoughts on female protagonists in mysteries. Who do you like and why? What (no need to name names) don't you like about some female protags in mysteries?

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Unknown said...

Hi Vicki - Interesting question about female sleuths. By the age of 12 I had read all of the Nancy Drew mysteries and then moved on to my brother's Hardy Boys. I have always loved mysteries - figuring them out before the end - or being totally stunned by the author's twists. I am enjoying the Maisie Dobbs series right now - her latest comes out tomorrow! Yea! I have enjoyed the way this character has been developed. I recently read all of the Kathy Reichs Temperance Brennan books - I do enjoy the technicality of her books and I have to say I was completely surprised when she fell off the wagon in her newest book - I thought that was a brave step for the author to make - but it did make her character much more human. I think it's important for the reader to be surprised by a character's behavior - maybe even made a little uncomfortable - it's good to be jolted a bit, if you know what I mean. Good luck in Bowling Green - sounds like fun.

Vicki Lane said...

Thanks, Liz! I've been wanting to read the Maisie Dobbs books -- actually have one of them -- but I've been waiting to get the first one. And then there's the need for time . . .

And I like your point about having a character surprise us now and then!

(Hmmmm . . . )

Susan M. Bell said...

I've gotten into what most seem to call "cozy" mysteries. They're good, often quick reads, and I like that it's the women who take the initiative and find the bad guys (or gals), which is cool.

I especially like the Coffeehouse Mysteries by Cleo Coyle. They even have recipes in the back. Can't beat that. :-)

I'm not a huge James Patterson fan, but I do like his Women's Murder Club books. Strong female characters, the group (a reporter, M.E., cop and DA) get together and work on the case, and support each other personally. It's pretty well-written.

I used to read the "..In Death" series featuring LT Dallas, but I have to say the sex scenes got a bit...redundant. I don't mind sex scenes once in a while, but books shouldn't rely on them so heavily.

And I also agree that Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan books are good. Haven't read any of them lately. Sounds like it's time to pick them up again.

Neil Plakcy said...

Let's face it, men and women are different. And that carries through to the way they investigate-- for the most part. You have a woman like Zoe Sharp's Charlie Fox, who fight against being stereotyped, and often take advantage of men's assumption that they are weaker.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Miss Marple types, who use their powers of observation (often honed in socities that keep women silently in the corner) to see things that male detectives might miss.

These are gross stereotypes, of course, but the bottom line is that a female detective is going to approach cases to at least some degree differently from a male one, because of biology and expectations.

Vicki Lane said...

Hey, Susan, There are mysteries out there from cream-puff sweet and light to to the hardest-boiled noir. And you'll find women at both ends of the spectrum. Sometime, what is a perfect read for one stage of one's life is all wrong at another. We're lucky to have so many choices.

And Neil, thanks for stopping by! Absolutely true, re biology and expectations! Good point! Stereotypes maybe, but stereotypes come into existence for a reason . . .

Anonymous said...

There are many "female sleuths" that I like, too many to list here and I like them for varied reasons. They tend to have one thing in common, intelligence enough not to do dumb things to prove that they can take care of themselves. As an example, there's the supposedly intelligent women who insist on proving their independence by staying home alone when they know the murderer is after them and knows exactly where they live. Or the woman who comes home to find the door ajar when she locked it before leaving. Are we surprised when she gets knocked on the noggin after going inside? Enough of my pet peeve; fortunately there's many a writer who can move the plot along without resorting to "dumb moves."

Lynne in Ga.

Karen said...

I would LOVE a copy of your list. Thanks for offering it. --Karen

Vicki Lane said...

Hey, Lynne, Yes, that's the 'too stupid to live' syndrome that affects many a mystery heroine. Even Elizabeth has been accused of the same but it's been because someone else was at risk and she HAD to do something . . . and didn't have a cell phone or there was no reception or . . .

And Karen, glad to send the list along. Just remember it may not be completely accurate and is certainly not complete! But,oh my goodness, there are reading opportunities galore!

Vicki Lane said...

Here you go!



Susan Wittig Albert - China Bayles- herbalist, ex-lawyer
Deborah Turrell Atkinson Storm Kayama attorney
Donna Andrews - Meg Langslow- blacksmith Turing Hopper
Turing Hopper Artificial Intelligence
Mignon Ballard Augusta Goodnight Guardian angel
Linda Barnes - Carlotta Carlyle- cabdriver/PI
Nevada Barr - Anna Pigeon - Nat’l Park ranger

M.C. Beaton - Agatha Raisin - retired PR exec.
Linda Berry - Trudy Roundtree - police officer
Cara Black - Aimee LeDuc - investigator
Rhys Bowen Molly Murphy PI
Emily Brightwell - Mrs. Jeffries housekeeper to Scotland Yard Inspector
Margo Brown Marlis Day teacher
Pat Browning - Penny Mackenzie reporter
Robin Burcell - Kate Gillespie police homicide investigator
Sydney Fitzpatrick forensic artist
Alafair Burke - Samantha Kincaid deputy DA
Ellie Hatcher police det.
Jan Burke - Irene Kelly reporter
Ellen Byrrum Lacey Smithsonian fashion reporter

Dorothy Cannell - Ellie Haskell amateur sleuth
Bobbi McGee Causey- Bobby Faye Sumrall ?
Agatha Christie - Miss Marple little old lady
Tuppence Beresford semi-amateur intelligence agent
Ariadne Oliver mystery novelist
Cassandra Clark Hildegarde nun
Jane Cleland - Josey Prescott antiques dealer
Judy Clemens - Stella Crown dairy farmer
Sheila Connolly - Meg Corey banker turned house rehabber
Patricia Cornwell - Kay Scarpetta forensic pathologist
Alisa Craig - Dittany Herbert ?
Deborah Crombie - Gemma Jones police
Amanda Cross - Kate Fansler professor of English

Barbara D’Amato - Cat Marsala free lance journalist
Jo Dereske - Miss Zukas librarian
Diane Mott Davidson- Goldy Schultz caterer
Krista Davis - Sophie Winston Domestic diva
Joanne Dobson - Karen Pelletier professor of English
Carole Nelson Douglas Temple Barr public relations
Carola Dunn - Daisy Dalrymple journalist
J.T. Ellison - Taylor Jackson police lt.
Peggy Ehrhart Maxx Maxwell blues musician
Janet Evanovich - Stephanie Plum bounty hunter

A.A. Fair - Bertha Cool investigator
(Erle Stanley Garner)
Linda Fairstein - Alexandra Cooper assistant DA
Robert Fate - Baby Shark pool hustler
Jerilyn Farmer Madeline Bean party planner
Monica Ferris - Betsy Devonshire needlecraft shop owner
Jane Finnis Marcella Roman inn keeper
Kate Flora - Thea Kozak private school consultant
Earlene Fowler - Benni Harper folk art museum curator
Ariana Franklin - Adelia medieval coroner, physician
Anne George The Southern sisters retired schoolteacher/club owner
Roberta Gellis Magdalene la Batarde 12th century whoremistress
Elizabeth George Barbara Havers police
Shane Gericke - Emily Thompson police detective
Tess Gerritsen - Jane Rizzoli detective
Maura Isles medical examiner
Dorothy Gilman - Mrs. Pollifax suburban grandmother/ CIA agent
Leslie Glass - April Woo NYPD detective
Sue Grafton - Kinsey Millhone PI
Kerry Greenwood - Phryne Fisher PI (‘20s, Austr.)

Charlaine Harris - Sookie Stackhouse waitress/paranormal sleuth
Lee Harris Christine Barnett ex-nun
Jane Bauer cold case detective
Rosemary Harris Paula Holliday gardener
Carolyn Hart - Henrie O. retired foreign correspondent
Annie Darling ?
Ellen Hart - Jane Lawless restaurateur
Lauren Henderson Sam Jones sculptress
Joan Hess Claire Malloy bookstore owner
J.A. Jance - Joanna Brady sheriff
Craig Johnson - Victoria Moretti deputy sheriff (supporting character)

Laurie R. King Mary Russell colleague/wife Sherlock Holmes
Christine Kling Seychelle Sullivan salvage tug operator
Harley Jane Kozak Wollie Shelley card store owner
Rochelle Krich Molly Blume true crime writer
M.D. Lake Peggy O’Neill campus cop
Rita Lakin Gladdy Gold little old lady
Vicki Lane Elizabeth Goodweather herb farmer
Virginia Lanier Jo Beth Sidden Bloodhound trainer/handler
Dennis Lehane Angie Gennaro PI
Laura Lippman Tess Monaghan PI

Mary Jane Maffini Charlotte Adams professional organizer
Margaret Maron Deborah Knott judge
Sigrid Haraldsen homicide detective
Ngaio Marsh Kate Alleyn ?
Lee Martin Deb Ralston police chief
Stephanie Matteson Charlotte Graham retired actress
Sharyn McCrumb Nora Bonesteel wise woman (supporting character)
Charlotte McLeod Sarah Kelling ?
Gladys Mitchell Mrs. Bradley ?
Marcia Muller Sharon McCone PI
Radine Trees Nehring Carrie McCrite widow
Carol O’Connell Kathy Mallory detective, NYPD

Abigail Padgett Bo Bailey advocate for the mentally ill
Sara Paretsky V.I. Warshawski PI
Robert B. Parker Sunny Randall cop turned PI
Elizabeth Peters Amelia Peabody archaeologist/Egyptologist
Jacqueline Kirby librarian
Vicky Bliss art historian
Nancy Picard Jenny Cain director civic foundation
Cathy Pickens Avery Andrews attorney
Rhonda Pollero Finley Anderson Tanner paralegal
Ann Purser Lois Meade house cleaning service

Deanna Rayebourne Lady Julia Grey wealthy widow
Kathy Reichs Temperance Brennan forensic anthropologist
Fran Rizer Callie Parrish mortuary cosmetologist
J.D. Robb Eve Dallas police lt.
Gillian Roberts Amanda Pepper English teacher, PI in training
Priscilla Royal Prioress Eleanor nun
S.J. Rozan Lydia Chin PI
Hank Phillipi Ryan Charlie McNally investigative reporter

Dorothy L. Sayers Harriet Vane mystery novelist
Barbara Seranella Munch Mancini auto mechanic
Zoe Sharp Charlie Fox soldier turned professional bodyguard
Clea Simon Theda Krakow journalist
Joanna Campbell Slan Kiki Lowenstein housewife/scrapbooker
Julie Smith Skip Langdon police detective
Julia Spencer-Fleming Clare Fergusson Episcopal priest
Dana Stabenow Kate Shugak PI
Veronica Stalllwood Kate Ivory novelist

Marcia Talley Hannah Ives ?
Sarah Stewart Taylor Sweeny St. George art historian
Louise Ure Cadence ? Car mechanic (blind)
Kathryn Wall Bay Tanner inquiry agent
Betty Webb Lena Jones PI
Charlene Weir Susan Wren police chief
Patricia Wentworth Miss Silver PI
Jacqueline Winspear Maisie Dobbs PI

Vicki Lane said...

Ha, Now THAT'S a comment! The formatting is messed up and I'll still email it in better form to anyone who's interested. Bit I just wondered if Blogger would take it here. Weird.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

What a GREAT list!!!!!

thank you!

Meg said...

Thanks for a great list of female sleuths. I've got one more for you, not exactly from a "cozy" mystery, more of the thriller/mystery type, but definitely female and sleuth-y. Tory Pierce, CIA operative in Sudan from the book "Satan's Chamber." Her boss, Marge, is also a great character, CIA too. Enjoy!