The Best Female Detectives in Fiction Written by Women
Move aside Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade, and Sherlock Holmes! These women are here to solve crimes, put away the bad guys, and take their rightful title as Queens of Mystery. See below for a list of a few of our favorite sleuths.
In the heart of Harlem, young black women like Louise Lloyd are ending up dead. As each new victim appears, Louise’s neighborhood becomes more on edge. After an altercation with a police officer gets Louise arrested, she is given an ultimatum; help the police solve the case, or end up in a jail cell. Louise has no choice but to look into these murders, but in doing so, has put herself in the path of a murderous mastermind.
From the bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a riveting story about a daydreaming secretary, a lonesome enforcer, and the mystery of a missing woman they’re both desperate to find. This is an edgy, simmering historical novel for lovers of smoky noirs and anti-heroes.
After her role in taking down a well-placed mole inside the CIA, Agent Lyndsey Duncan arrives in London fully focused on her newest Russian asset, deadly war criminal Dmitri Tarasenko. That is until her MI6 counterpart, Davis Ranford, personally calls for her help. Following a suspicious attack on Russian oligarch Mikhail Rotenberg’s property in a tony part of London, Davis needs Lyndsey to cozy up to the billionaire’s aristocratic British wife, Emily Rotenberg. But before Lyndsey can cover much ground with her newfound friend, the CIA unveils a perturbing connection between Mikhail and Russia’s geoplitical past, one that could upend the world order and jeopardize Lyndsey’s longtime allegiance to the Agency.
Sue Grafton’s long-running Kinsey Millhone novels, also known as the “alphabet mysteries,” introduced mystery fans to Ms. Millhone, a hard-boiled private detective from fictional Santa Teresa, California, in 1982. With Grafton’s latest, Y is for Yesterday, there’s no better time to dive into Santa Teresa’s decidedly sordid criminal underworld.
A searing and tender novel about a young Black journalist’s search for answers in the unsolved murder of her great-grandfather in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, decades ago — inspired by the author’s own family history.
When a local teenager discovers a severed body washed up on the shore of a small town in Alaska, Cara Kennedy is on the case. A detective from Anchorage, she has her own motives for investigating the possible murder in this isolated place, which can be accessed only by a tunnel. After a blizzard causes the tunnel to close indefinitely, Cara is stuck among the odd and suspicious residents of the town — all 205 of whom live in the same high-rise building and are as icy as the weather. Haunted by her past, Cara soon discovers that everyone in this town has something to hide. Will she be able to unravel their secrets before she unravels?
At thirty-nine, Manon Bradshaw is a devoted and respected member of the Cambridgeshire police force, and though she loves her job, what she longs for is a personal life. One night, after yet another disastrous Internet date, she turns on her police radio to help herself fall asleep — and receives an alert that sends her to a puzzling crime scene. Suspenseful and keenly observed, Missing, Presumed is a brilliantly twisting novel about how we seek connection, grant forgiveness, and reveal the truth about who we are.
The inspiration behind TNT’s hit show Rizzoli & Isles, Tess Gerritsen’s New York Times bestselling thrillers featuring Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles just keep getting better. In I Know a Secret, they continue their bestselling crime-solving streak, as they pursue a shadowy psychopath keeping secrets and taking lives.
Veronica’s natural-historian beau, Stoker, has been away in Bavaria for months and their relationship is at an impasse. But when Veronica shows up before him with his brother, Tiberius, Lord Templeton-Vane, he is lured back home by an intriguing job offer: preparing an iguanodon for a very special dinner party. Tiberius has received a cryptic message — along with the obituaries of two recently deceased members of his old group of friends, the Seven Sinners — that he too should get his affairs in order. Realizing he is in grave danger but not knowing why, he plans a reunion party for the remaining Sinners at his family estate to lure the killer out while Veronica and Stoker investigate.
Vera Wong is a lonely little old lady who lives above her forgotten tea shop in the middle of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Then one morning, Vera trudges downstairs to find a dead man in the middle of her tea shop. In his outstretched hand, a flash drive. Vera doesn’t know what comes over her, but after calling the cops, she swipes the flash drive from the body and tucks it safely into the pocket of her apron. Why? Because Vera is sure she would do a better job than the police possibly could. Vera knows the killer will be back for the flash drive; all she has to do is watch the increasing number of customers at her shop and figure out which one among them is the killer.
With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper-class society. So, when the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old — a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.
Being on the Murder Squad is nothing like Detective Antoinette Conway dreamed it would be. Her partner, Stephen Moran, is the only person who seems glad she’s there. The rest of her working life is a stream of thankless cases, vicious pranks, and harassment. After complications with a new case, she wonders if it’s just another step in the campaign to force her off the squad, or are there darker currents flowing beneath its polished surface?
It’s 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s brilliant, but she’s also a young black woman working in an old boys’ club. So when she’s given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes. In the year that follows, Marie will observe Sankara, seduce him, and ultimately have a hand in the coup that will bring him down. But doing so will change everything she believes about what it means to be a spy, a lover, a sister, and a good American.
Liz Rocher is coming home for her best friend’s wedding. But on the day of the wedding, the couple’s daughter, Caroline, disappears. As a frantic search begins, with the police combing the trees for Caroline, Liz is the only one who notices a pattern: A summer night. A missing girl. A party in the woods. She’s seen this before. As Liz starts to dig through the town’s history, she uncovers a horrifying secret about the place she once called home. Children have been going missing in these woods for years. All of them Black. All of them girls. With the evil in the forest creeping closer, Liz knows what she must do: find Caroline, or be entirely consumed by the darkness.
Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for her job as a hotel maid. But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find him dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black — but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?
Stephanie Plum, a detective somewhere on a spectrum that runs from Nancy Drew to Dirty Harry, is the occasionally hapless, always resourceful bounty hunter at the center of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. Looking for a way to make ends meet, Plum, a former lingerie buyer, once blackmailed her way into a bounty hunting job as part of her cousin’s bail bond business. Myriad hijinks have since ensued.
With her sleuth Mary Russell, Laurie R. King has created one of the most intriguing detectives on this list. After a chance encounter with a semi-retired Sherlock Holmes, Russell found herself as the master detective’s protégé and eventually his wife. In their first adventure, with Russell still serving as Holme’s apprentice, the duo find themselves navigating a labyrinthine mystery and a rash of murders against the rising tensions of British-occupied Palestine.
In Victorian-era New York, the Malloys may be new to marriage and high society life, but they’re no stranger to solving mysteries in this national bestselling series. When Gino Donatelli is accused of a brutal murder, beloved sleuths Sarah and Frank Malloy have to catch a killer who is out to destroy their innocent friend’s life in the latest installment.
Widow and former suffragist Harriet Gordon looks for a fresh start in 1920s Singapore and stumbles into murder in her new home. In Revenge in Rubies, when Harriet Gordon receives word from a friend about a tragic death, she and Inspector Curran are thrust into a web of family secrets that threatens to destroy them both in this all-new mystery from the author of Singapore Sapphire.
Frankie Elkin has a knack for finding missing people. So when she reads about Timothy O’Day, a young man who disappeared in the wilderness of Wyoming, she joins the search team. But as they hike into the mountains, it becomes clear that there’s something dangerous at work in the woods … or someone who is willing to do anything to stop them from going any further.
This is an entry in another regional noir subgenres — Nordic Noir. It’s a genre well-known for its dense plotting, brutal crimes, tortured protagonists, and bleak themes. Asa Larsson’s Sun Storm is no different and attorney Rebecka Martinsson is as tortured as they come. In this latest installment in the series, Martinsson returns to the hometown she left in disgrace to confront her own dark past amid a series of vicious murders.
1920s India: Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s only female lawyer, is investigating a suspicious will on behalf of three Muslim widows living in full purdah when the case takes a turn toward the murderous. The author of the Agatha and Macavity Award–winning Rei Shimura novels brings us an atmospheric historical mystery with a captivating heroine.
Maggie Hope started out as Winston Churchill’s secretary, but now she’s a secret agent. When she’s called upon to look into the theft of a Stradivarius, one of the finest violins ever made, Maggie can’t resist. Meanwhile, there’s a serial killer on the loose in London, targeting conscientious objectors. Little does Maggie know that investigating this dangerous predator will pit her against a new evil — and old enemies.
Claudia Lin is an amateur sleuth in the 21st century. Claudia just landed her dream job working for Veracity, a referrals-only online dating site. Her job is to verify that people really are who they say they are. But when one of her clients disappears, Claudia breaks protocol to investigate and winds up in over her head.
Ten years after the Armistice, in the spring of 1929, Maisie sets out on her own as a private investigator, one who has learned that coincidences are meaningful, and truth elusive. Her very first case involves suspected infidelity but reveals something very different.
Armed with only hazy memories, a woman who long ago witnessed her friend’s sudden, mysterious death, and has since spent her life trying to forget, sets out to track down answers. What she uncovers, deep in the woods, is hard to believe.
Lady Georgiana Rannoch is an amateur sleuth and professional member of the British Royal family, solving crimes in 1930s England. In The Last Mrs. Summers, she’s just back from her honeymoon with dashing Darcy O’Mara when a friend in need pulls her into a twisted Gothic tale of betrayal, deception and, most definitely, murder.