I like to think that I’ve created some pretty bad-ass female sleuths in my mysteries, but there are some pretty tough cookies in other great books that I would not want to cross. I’ve come up with a selection of some of my personal favorites. Each is formidable in her own way.
Hester Latterly Monk from Anne Perry’s William Monk series
When we first meet Hester, she’s just returned home from serving as a battlefield nurse with Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, so we already know she’s made of stern stuff. Even those who like Hester find her infuriatingly stubborn. But it turns out that fierce determination and fearlessness come in handy when solving crimeson the mean streets of 1850s London.
She meets her match in permanently cranky amnesiac detective William Monk. Readers will figure out that these two frenemies need to get a room several books before they do, but it’s perfectly clear that Monk admires her toughness, loyalty, stubbornness, and her determination to right society’s wrongs all along. It just takes him some time to figure out that those qualities are not only admirable but kinda hot.
Hester won’t take you out with a right hook or a pistol shot, but she can stealthily gather info to bring about your downfall if you’re doing the wrong thing. And she never gives up.
Nora Charles from Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man
Despite being a character in several movies, Nora actually only makes one appearance in print. Nora is young, wealthy, and living the booze-fueled high-life with her older husband, Nick Charles. But she’s no spoiled princess.
When a mobster breaks into her bedroom at night and holds her at gunpoint, she barely bats an eye. Not even when her husband socks her in the jaw to knock her out and get her out of the line of fire. Nora’s just mad that she didn’t get to see Nick take the guy out. Nora matches former Pinkerton man Nick quip for quip and drink for drink until they get to the bottom of what really happened to the thin man. (who is not Nick Charles, but a missing inventor)
If you think the 1930s was somehow a more innocent time, you’ll want to check out this 1934 book by Dashiell Hammett.
Lady Juliet Linton from Emma Jameson’s Marriage Can Be Murder
Lady Juliet is as stubborn as Hester and born into wealth and privilege like Nora, but she’s still struggling to find herself in a small English village at the start of WWII. An exceptionally tall, strong woman, she feels more like a clumsy horse than a fierce Amazon. It doesn’t help that she seems to have been cursed with the world’s worst fashion sense and a knack for always saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time.
But she’s also blessed with a sharp mind, good heart, thirst for adventure, and the natural ability to take charge. Juliet is interesting because unlike the rest of the ladies on this list, she’s not fully aware of just how strong and beautiful she really is yet. But we’re only a few books into the series, and she’s starting to wake up. Now that she has some mystery solving under the belt of those trousers she insists upon wearing, Juliet is even more of a force to be reckoned with.
Precious Ramotswe from Alexander McCall Smith’s #1 Ladies Detective Agency
Unlike the previous three fearless sleuths we’ve talked about, Precious isn’t investigating murders, kidnappings, or other dastardly crimes. This traditionally-built resident of Botswana focuses more on solving personal crises. Armed with only red bush tea and a keen understanding of human nature, Precious is able to see what others might miss.
Her only weapons are compassion, confidence, and unbridled optimism. Still, she’s just as formidable an adversary as the other ladies on this list. More so, because she’s likely to turn you from an adversary to an ally without your realizing it’s even happening. The first book in the series was also made into a charming HBO series.
Rae Spellman from Lisa Lutz’s The Spellman Files
Teenage Rae grew up in a family of private detectives, so it’s no wonder she’s able to conduct surveillance like a pro before she’s even old enough to drive. This precocious private eye is an expert at gathering evidence to use in what she likes to call “negotiations.” (You might call it blackmail.)
The true master of the art of the deal, Rae has a way of inserting herself into potentially dangerous situations, yet somehow managing to come out completely unscathed.
Now, I happen to think that Police Chief Andrea Taylor from Killer ClownsFrom Out Of State fits nicely into this category. But if you aren’t convinced of that yet, wait until you see what I have planned for Chief Taylor in the sequel, “Vegas Vexation.” In fact, it was procrastinating working on that book that led me to write this article. Shame on me! Enjoy my slacking and let me know who your favorite women sleuths are in the comments.