Fictional female sleuths get tough on crime

The private detective hero who solves whodunits by any means possible is still popular.

The likes of Jack Reacher, Amos Decker, Harry Bosch, Alex Delaware and Will Trent are still here with their guns, muscles, machismo, wisecracks and street smarts.

They solve the case, get the girl, beat up the bad guys, kill the evildoers and save the innocent.

But lately there has been a paradigm shift.

The female detective has taken over — kicking butt, unmasking villains and conspiracies, catching bad guys and gals, striving for respect and plotting revenge.

It has happened slowly over the past two decades and sped up in recent years.

Female authors have come to dominate crime fiction, with female sleuths their lead characters.

The biggest reason could be that readers of crime fiction have changed.

Women have, this century, been by far the biggest readers of novels, represent as much as 80% of the market.

Crime and psychological thrillers once associated with male readers are being consumed by 60-80% of female readers worldwide.

The crime thriller has changed as well — no longer is it written with the male gaze in mind.

In 2012, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was published.

It was a watershed moment and the domestic noir was born.

No longer was the thriller only about bad men, the terrible stuff they do to women and children, and how they are punished by good men; now it was about women and how revenge can be insidious.

And about how the supposed “cool” woman can topple the stereotype of being the victim.

Women investigators are not easily pigeonholed either — you don’t have the hardboiled cop/ex-cop with a drinking problem; the stealthy, lonely detective; or the dangerous maverick who fixes the problem in his own way.

Female detectives show more of their family and emotional lives.

There is often more empathy and prominence given to the victims, and how their families and friends are affected by the crime.

Behind every female sleuth is a woman infiltrating a male-dominated world.

They scorn the system of patriarchy and misogyny they have to work and survive in.

They solve cases without the knight in shining armour coming to the rescue.

Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a breakthrough release in 2005.

Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander was the prototype for a new kind of vigilante — tech-savvy, guarded with a dark past, and one who doesn’t fit societal norms but still tries to save the world that rejected her.

There have many female authors who have toiled hard to allow the new authors to come in and dominate the market.

Among them are Tess Gerritsen, who has written 11 page-turners featuring tough homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and her partner Dr Maura Isles.

Lynda la Plante recently resurrected her Prime Suspect character from her TV writing in novels starring a young, green Jane Tennison.

Sally Andrews created the wise Tannie Maria who investigates murders while dishing out advice in her agony aunt column.

Janet Evanovich uses comedy and romance to lighten her crime capers featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, who has to use her street smarts to get the bad guys who eventually come after her.

Number 27 in the series will be released in November.

Then there’s Margie Orford’s journalist/criminal profiler Clare Hart, who assists police in investigating violent crimes and femicide in SA.

In Michele Rowe’s What Hidden Lies and Hour of Darkness, we learn what demons drive her young detective Persephone Jonas, of the Diep River police station.

Nora Roberts has more than 220 novels under her belt and has sold 500-million copies.

She writes under many nom de plumes, JD Robb one of them, for her In Death series, which stars no-nonsense cop Eve Dallas.

These writers and many others have paved the way for an explosion of authors with females as central figures.

Nell Pattison’s The Silent House features police interpreter Paige Northwood who is called in to help when a child from a deaf family is murdered.

In Three Hours, by Rosamund Lupton, forensic psychologist Rose Polstein must lead an investigation on a siege at a British school.

In a gritty new series (the first one is Hold Your Tongue), Deborah Masson’s protagonist Eve Hunter must hunt down a sadistic serial killer while dealing with guilt.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley is a locked-room Agatha Christie novel.

All these brilliant heroines are working hard for justice and deserve a place on our night stands — next to Jack Reacher, of course. — TimesLIVE

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

X