I read a considerable amount of crime fiction – perhaps more than I sometimes think is healthy – and I love a good mystery. Early on in my crime-reading days, I discovered Bitter Medicine, one of the VI Warshawski books by Sara Paretsky, and boy was I hooked!
What struck me most about that book was VI – a single woman who was working as an investigator was living her best life, and totally unapologetic about it. That and an incredible plot that soon had me reaching for more.
As the years went by, I expanded my consumption of both crime novels in general and in female detective especially so this post is a basic run-down of my favourites.
VI Warshawski/Sara Paretsky
A series that currently runs to 19 books, the VI Warshawski books were my first exposure to a kickass female detective. As I’ve already said, I loved that she was a strong woman who lived as she chose, but she also struck a note of realism, as she was very often short of money and doing all the crappy life admin and jobs that we all have to do the make ends meet.
VI also had a healthy relationship with…relationships! She met a wide variety of men in her job, some of whom she started seeing on a regular basis, over more than one book, some of whom she slept with and didn’t really see again, but whatever, she didn’t apologise for how she lived her life – except perhaps to her downstairs neighbour who takes it upon himself to protect VI whether she needs protecting or not!
There was a movie made of a selection of the VI books, starring Kathleen Turner, which is ok, but not really representative the quality of the books.
I’m currently a couple of books behind with VI – something I hope to correct over the summer.
You can find out more about Sara Paretsky on her website.
Kinsey Millhone/Sue Grafton
Sue Grafton was a contemporary of Sara Paretsky and, sadly passed away before completing her Alphabet series of books about Californian PI Kinsey Millhone. Beginning with A is for Alibi, Sue worked her way through the alphabet as far as Y, producing a remarkable series of thrilling mysteries, all of which are solved with a twist!
Kinsey herself is a lot like VI Warshawski in her living arrangements and her approach to life, but Kinsey’s Santa Teresa is a lot different to VI’s Chicago and, as the years went on and Kinsey remained in the 1980s, the books became more of a snapshot of the detective business in the time before the Internet and forensic advances.
In some of Kinsey’s adventures, characters ran across several books, but sometimes they were self-contained, but each was really cleverly done and a very quick read, ripe for re-reading.
To find out more about Sue Grafton’s life and work, you can check out her website, where her daughter carries on promoting her work.
Stephanie Plum/Janet Evanovich
While my last two choices are strong, independent women, Stephanie Plum is kind of a hot mess! That’s certainly not to do her down, but when you consider that she took up bounty hunting purely because she couldn’t find a job and was spectacularly bad at it in the beginning, you’ll start to get an idea of her.
So Sue Grafton went with letters, but Janet Evanovich went with numbers, starting her series with One for the Money, which was turned into a movie in 2012. Now, I liked the movie, but look it up online and you’ll find some scathing reviews!
The Stephanie Plum books (currently at number 26) are great, self-contained mysteries, but they are also hilariously funny! With Stephanie’s life spiralling out of control, and no money in her bank account, she blunders from job to job, helped by old flame Joseph Morelli, mysterious bounty hunter Ranger (a love triangle that develops throughout) and her buxom friend Lula – some of the scenes in which they try and capture people who’ve skipped bail have me laughing properly out loud.
With numbering, the future for this series seems limitless, which is great news for me, as I’m thoroughly enjoying it…
To find out more about Stephanie Plum and Janet Evanovich, you can take a look at her website.
So there you are – I’ve narrowed this list down to three, but there are plenty more people I could have added to the list. I’d be really interested to know your Queens – and Kings – of crime, so do leave me a comment or do get in touch on Twitter!