Who is your favourite female detective?

An exercise is in progress to determine the "world's favourite fictional detective", which has now reached the shortlist stage. Craig Sisterson provides an update at his excellent blog, Crime Watch. The competition is like a tennis tournament, in which one is presented with paired lists of characters and can nominate one from each group. After attempting to undertake this task in the first round, I soon gave up, so am now on the sidelines rather than being one of the 500 crime-fiction readers who are apparently taking part. The shortlist is:

  1. Harry Bosch vs Sam Spade
  2. Sherlock Holmes vs Lincoln Rhyme
  3. Elvis Cole vs Phillip Marlowe
  4. Hercule Poirot vs. Dave Robicheaux

One thing that strikes me immediately about this list is that it contains the same number of X chromosomes as Y. That's it, no women. I'm not surprised about this given the composition of the initial "long list" (created by readers' nominations) but what the heck, I thought I would ask "who is your favourite female detective?" just to see if this person would be a worthy rival to whoever wins the male version. (I define detective loosely – amateur, professional, police, PI, person in other profession who solves mysteries, etc.)

Here are some suggestions (which does kind of make you wonder at the all-male shortlist!):

Miss Marple (Agatha Christie)

Precious Ramotswe (Alexander McCall Smith)

Irene Huss* (Helene Tursten)

Female_officer Hannah Scarlett* (Martin Edwards)

Lisbeth Salander (Stieg Larsson)

Kate Martinelli* or Mary Russell (Laurie R. King)

Sara Linton (Karin Slaughter)

Rebecka Martinsson or Anna-Maria Mella*(Asa Larsson)

Tess Monaghan (Laura Lippman)

Siobhan Clarke* (Ian Rankin)

V I Warshawski (Sarah Paretsky)

Vera Stanhope* (Ann Cleeves)

SmNatalieHaynes_wod1 Ruth Galloway (Elly Griffiths)

Mrs Pargetter (Simon Brett)

Barbara Havers* (Elizabeth George)

Joanne Vik (Anne Holt)

Carol Jordan* (Val McDermid)

Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich)

Anna Lee or Eva Wylie (Liza Cody)

Linda Wallander*(Henning Mankell)

Agatha Raisin (M C Beaton)

Cassie Maddox* (Tana French)

Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton)

Evan Delaney or Jo Beckett (Meg Gardiner)

Laura Principal (Michelle Spring)

Harriet Vane (Dorothy L Sayers)

Anna Travis* or Jane Tennison* (Lynda la Plante)

Russia Miss Smilla (Peter Hoeg)

"Saxon" or Grace Fitzgerald* (Ingrid Black)

Charlie Fox (Zoe Sharp)

Kat Colorado (Karen Kijweski)

Adelia Aguilar (Ariana Franklin)

Thora Gudmunsdottir (Yrsa Sigurdadottir)

Kay Scarpetta (Patricia Cornwell)

Tempe Brennan (Kathy Reichs)

Ann Lindell* (Kjell Ericksson)

Charlie Zailer* (Sophie Hannah)

Petra Connor* (Jonathan Kellerman)

Rina Lazarus (Faye Kellerman)

Eve Dallas* (J D Robb)

* = in the police force.

There is also a list of female detectives at Wikipedia, by no means comprehensive (and including media other than books).

Feel free to write a comment with your top three women detectives (or if time is short, just one), either from this list or not. If you have time, please write a brief reason for your choice. If I get enough responses I will declare a winner from among them! (in the event of a tie-break, the one with the best "reason", in my judgement, will win).


24 thoughts on “Who is your favourite female detective?

  1. Asa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson and Carol O’Connell’s Mallory. Certain people — well, one — might expect me to cite Barbara Haver, but it should be noted that there’s a bit of a gulf between Haver on the box and Haver in the book. Asa Larsson is way up on my internationally prestigious A+ List and Martinsson exceptional. O’Connell and her Mallory, while recipients of high praise from significant sources, is still not, I think, given the full measure of attention and credit they deserve.

  2. OK now it’s getting spooky. I was in the middle of typing along exactly the same lines after also being struck by the all male list (and only one of the creators of the original 8 is a woman to make matters a bit worse). I shan’t bother finishing my post now (just as well, it was rambly). Now to pick only three…
    Kinsey Millhone (one of my first finds as an adult mystery reader around the same time as VI Warshawski but I’ve always had more of a soft spot for Kinsey’s – she’s a bit of a loner but dogged and honest with herself and I like the fact that she eats appallingly but runs every day – it seems so real for a character to have that dichotomy of personality).
    Jill Jackson (Leah Giarratano) (a cop who’s been through a lot but has pulled herself together without resorting to becoming a drunk which seemed to be what everyone else was doing in crime fiction when I picked up my first book featuring her)
    Barbara Havers (she’s smart, untidy and she puts up with the insufferable Tommy Lynley – woman deserves a medal).
    I’d give an honourable mention to Adelia Aguilar who I only met this year in one book so far but I did adore her intelligent outlook on life and her sense of humour
    And then of course there’s Dusty Buchanan (Phillip Gwynne) and Hazel Micallef (Inger Ashe Wolfe), Molly Smith (Vicky Delaney), Louise Monroe (Kate Atkinson), Kate Burkholder (Linda Castillo) and…

  3. Oh just in case Phillip (or anyone else) should think otherwise I am only talking about Havers in written form. We do not speak of the TV version in this household 🙂

  4. Thanks, Bernadette and Philip. I hope you *do* write your post, Bernadette – maybe focusing on the author aspect? I don’t blame the organiser of the contest as the entries were determined by the people who sent them in…you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
    Totally agree on Havers – I have never watched the TV series and don’t intend to.
    Thanks for all the great suggestions, Bernadette – I wanted to include an Australian but could not think of any off the top of my head. Of course, I have now remembered Adrian Hyland and his wonderful creation Emily Tempest.
    Philip – good call on Mallroy, she slipped my mind, apologies. Though not my personal favourite, I know she is a favourite of many highly regarded crime-fiction readers.
    On Asa Larsson, I think Karen at Euro Crime might be posting some good news about her soon.

  5. If I might put in votes for Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley, Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel and Colin Cottrell’s Nurse Dtui. The fact that 6 of the final 8 are from the USA, and that incredibly only Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot have managed to force their way in says something about the value of this contest. ;o)

  6. Yes, I think the blog where it all started is in the USA and hence has quite a high proportion of its readers there, who clearly read mainly USA books. So much for the global spread of the internet!

  7. Great post, interesting debate.
    Long term favourites of mine are Tess Monaghan and KInsey Milhone, I almost think of them as being long-lost twins on opposite coasts.
    A new favourite is Imogen Robertson’s Harriet Westerman – http://gd.is/Xgds – one of a growing number of historical detectives.
    On the undercard are really well developed characters like Rankin’s Siobhan Clark – who I’d like to see in a novel of her own – and I always really liked Helen Soileau in James Lee Burke’s RObicheaux novels although she was not really a detective.

  8. Maxine I’ve three to add to your list:
    – Petra Delicado (Alicia Gimenez Bartlett)
    – Cornelia Weber-tejedor (Rosa Ribas)
    – Sam Shephard (Vanda Symon)
    The three of them in the police force in Barcelona, Frankfurt and Mataura (New Zealand).
    My vote goes to Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton), but I’m afraid my knowledge is very limited

  9. Maxine – What a wonderful post! I’m so glad that you and Bernadette thought of this and that you posted this list. Hmm…I find it hard to pick only three, but here goes. I like Vera Stanhope; she’s thoughtful and reflective, and yet she’s not nearly as plodding as she seems. She’s not afraid to be exactly who she is. That’s what I also like about Precious Ramotswe. She’s wise but not condescending, and she’s got such a strong sense of self. She and Stanhope are smart and strong, but are still what people call feminine. I also choose Miss Marple, mostly for sentimental reasons, because of what a Christie fan I am. And yet, it’s more than that. She’s much smarter than people give her credit for being, and she’s got so much common sense. This was hard, because I really do like several of the other women on your list, but you said three… ; )

  10. Thanks, Margot – I share your dilemma. (And also your view of Miss Marple and Precious R. I have only read one Vera book but I like her so far).
    Exciting news! I have two nominations via Twitter!
    Harriet Vane (Lab Lit)
    Nancy Drew (Jenfold). I did not put Nancy Drew on the list as she is written by a composite not one author. But, one cannot argue with the fact that she’s an influential fictional detective. We’ll be having suggestions for Hermione Granger next ;-).

  11. Maxine – That’s terrific Twitter news : ). And of course, Harriet Vane is a wonderful choice, too. That makes this even harder!! ; ). Well, it’ll be really interesting to see if there ends up being some consensus…

  12. The day has gone but I have been in church, singing rather than pondering, so I am probably not much wiser.
    Miss Marple is my Golden Age favourite, Kinsey Millhone is my American favourite, Vera Stanhope my British favourite and Fanny Fiske my Scandinavian favourite (not translated). It is quite funny that I criticized Hercule Poirot recently for being too vain; Fanny Fiske is horribly vain, but then she is some kind of parody of the middle-aged male sleuth who thinks all women fancy him.

  13. Barbara Seranella’s Munch Mancini and Liza Cody’s Eva Wylie – an ex junkie prostitute and a prickly female wrestler – I pick them both because they are original, both very touching characters, great fun, and with lots of heart.

  14. Thanks for the post! An analysis of the gender of the people who nominated and who voted on the other site would be interesting.
    Here are my favorites:
    VI Warshawski: Love these novels because of their un-compromising and political nature
    Lisbeth Salander: unbelievably smart but very refreshing
    Miss Marple: Got to love the classics
    I also added a few to the wikipedia page (Lisbeth Salander, Molly Murphy, Jenny Cooper, Thora Gudmundsdottir).

  15. Thank you, Maxine. I did my best by voting for the handful of females in the tournament, but obviously my votes weren’t enough.
    I can’t name just one favourite. In the amateur league it would be Miss Marple, in the P.I. league Kinsey Milhone, and my favourite female police detective de jour is Eve Dallas. I also have a soft spot for Stella Blómkvist (an Icelandic female P.I. who, to my knowledge, has not been translated into English. In case you were wondering, the last name is derived from Lindgren’s Kalle Blomkvist)

  16. Thank you all for all these additionally great suggestions – much appreciated. And thank you Dorte and Bibliophile for the pre (hopefully) translated suggestions. Interesting that there is a female derivation of Kalle B as well as a male one (Stieg Larsson’s Michael Blomqvist).

  17. I think I would have to go with Kinsey Millhone. I love her 🙂
    Miss Marple would come a close second. The only reason I did not nominate Miss Marple is because she has an annoying habit of always being right.

  18. My top three would have to be –
    VI Warshawski who first introduced me to feisty female detectives
    Carol O’Connell’s Mallory beacuse I always get excited when I find a new one of her books.
    Liza Cody’s Anna Lee (though not as she was portrayed in the Tv series!)

  19. Agreed on that last, Pat! I liked those books but only watched a bit of the TV series as it was such a missed opportunity.

Comments are closed.