Women have always been prominent among the writers of crime fiction; Agatha Christie actually had a character, Ariadne Oliver, who was a female writer that she used as a figure of fun. But apart from Christie who had several female sleuths, the remainder of the Golden Age female writers used male protagonists, often linked to females who were the secondary detectives in many of their books. In more recent times, we can find many females, sometimes cops, more often perhaps private eyes or even professionals connected to the criminal justice system.
Probably the most violent of the authors to be considered in this piece is the South African Jassy Mackenzie, whose character Jade de Jong is taught to shoot by her father beginning at age 13. There is a gap of ten years in Jade’s life, but the hint is that she has done a variety of nasty stuff and she certainly re-enters South Africa with several bangs. Not surprisingly, the villain Jade is after in Random Violence (in stock in trade paperback) has homeowners murdered so that their property can be bought at a rock bottom price. In the end, things get pretty gory.
The American writer Linda Fairstein has created a series featuring an Assistant District Attorney in New York City. Alexandra Cooper likes to keep her nose close to the ground of the cases she technically has nothing to do with. But she occasionally gets caught up in the them. Such is certainly the case in Deadfall (available to order in hardcover) when her boss gets bumped off in her arms. She has two police assistants to help her solve the case.
One of the problems with focusing on gendered authors is that husband and wife teams really mess you up, as in the case of Nicci French (aka, Nicci Gerrard and Sean French). But Frieda Klein is one of my favorite sleuths, working as a psychotherapist which gives her some status in the room without quite turning her into a cop. In Dark Saturday (in stock in trade paperback), Frieda deals with an accusation of murder that has seen a young woman spend 13 years incarcerated for crimes she may or may not have committed. This book is particularly well-plotted with a surprise twist at the end.
Ann Cleeves is one of our more prolific authors. She currently has two series on the go, both now television series as well, one set in the Shetland Islands featuring Detective Jimmy Perez and another set in Northern England featuring DI Vera Stanhope. Vera is by far the more interesting creation. She is older, crankier, and more intuitive than Perez. The two victims in The Moth Catcher (in stock in trade paperback) seem to have in common only a fascination with moths, but it turns out that they have more in common than one might expect. As usual, Vera plunges ahead to come up with a most unlikely solution to a very complicated case.
Margaret Maron began her crime writing career with a series starring a New York Police detective, Sigrid Harald. Sigrid was quirky enough, her boyfriend was a successful artist more than twice her age. At some point in the series Maron moves into the South and shifts her locale and her protagonist. Personally, I always regretted the shift since I found that Judge Deborah Knott was much less interesting than the quirky New York cop that had preceded her. Maron has returned to Sigrid for one last hurrah in Take Out (in stock in hardcover). The famous artist boyfriend is dead (auto accident), leaving Sigrid as executor of his estate. This one has an interesting method of killing: two homeless men are given a free meal which turns out to be dosed with Warfarin. The case leads Sigrid into the thickets of a small New York City neighbourhood which features the widow of a mobster who lives next door to his mistress. It only gets more complicated from there.
Rhys Bowen has specialized for many years in “soft” crime fiction. She set a number of cases in the Highlands of Scotland, but more recently has been extremely successful with her Her Royal Spyness, featuring Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, an impecunious member of the Royal Family who moves from one job to another in her search for steady employment. In Crowned and Dangerous (in stock in mass market), the latest installment of this very popular series, Lady Georgiana is in the process of eloping with her Irish Catholic boyfriend when the couple is brought up short by the information that Darcy’s father is suspected of murder. Elopement is put on hold while they solve the mystery and away we go!