It’s February, the doldrums of winter, and a time I like to settle in with a blanket, a cat on my lap and an easy to read mystery. I love literary fiction, but sometimes I just want something that slides down easily, like a chocolate shake- not as good for you as green tea, but tasty never the less.
The genre I return to time and again when I want a break is the mystery series. I like series with strong female protagonists, maybe because I can more easily put myself in their shoes. This is not surprising, considering I cut my literary chops as an eight year old on Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden , and matured as a reader in junior high with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Though these books are often formulaic and predictable, I enjoy figuring out the mystery and solving the crime. I often “yell” at our heroine, ” don’t be stupid” or “look at what is right in front of you!” If you like crime fiction on TV, these books are the literary equivalent of a good episode of Castle.
- The Kinsey Millhone alphabet mysteries by Sue Grafton
This series started with A is for Alibi in 1982 and is up to W is for Wasted. I can’t wait for X. Kinsey is a Private Investigator. Rebellious and a bit of a loner, she is both smart and vulnerable. Someday I am going to start over and read them all again. I worry about what will happen when Grafton gets to the end of the alphabet, which is coming soon!
- The Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich
Stephanie is a somewhat reluctant bounty hunter who is not particularly good at her job. She manages to get most of her cars blown up and regularly waffles between her sometimes boyfriend Joe Morelli and the mysterious and hot security expert, Ranger. Add in crazy friend Lula and even crazier Grandma Mazur and you have slapstick comedy along with murder and mayhem. This series is often ridiculous and goofy, and it makes me laugh out loud.
- The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear
Set in England from early years of WWl to the cusp of WWII, this series follows Maisie, who starts out as a maid in a powerful household as works her way up to opening her own detective agency. The setting, which often deals with the psychological trauma of war elevates this series above the usual mystery series.
- The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Precious Ramotswe is a detective in Botswana, taking on local clients in this series full of colorful characters and glimpses into daily life. Often there is a theme revolving around clashes between traditional and modern lifestyles. The series was turned into a television series starring Jill Scott.
- The Skip Langdon series by Julie Smith
Skip Langdon is a former debutante turned police officer. This series is set in New Orleans, one of my favorite cities. I love this series for the glimpses into life in the Garden District or the behind the scenes look at the Mardi Gras parades and balls.
- The Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwall
I like the earlier books in this series far better than the later ones. Scarpetta is a medical examiner, solving crimes with the help of her tech- savvy niece Lucy and cop pal Pete Marino. The books get a bit grizzly and times; this is one series I would rather read than see. The series will make more sense if you read them in order.
- The V.I. Warshawsky series by Sara Paretsky
V.I. is a private investigator in Chicago. Like with so many mystery series, I think the city is a major character in the stories. V.I. weaves her way around the city, usually hot on the trail of a murderer who is connected to some kind of white color crime. She is self-reliant and strong, knows her way around a Smith and Wesson and stays grounded by her two dogs and her elderly neighbor Sal.
- The Rosato and Associates series by Lisa Scottoline
Bennie Rosato, Mary DiNunzio, Judy Carrier and Anne Murphy work in an all female law firm. These legal thrillers, which are sometimes funny and often include colorful family members, are set in Philadelphia. Different books are written from the perspective of the different women. The books have been optioned as a TV series.
- The Goldy Schulz series by Diane Mott Davidson
These are mysteries with a culinary flair. Goldy, a small time caterer, keeps running into murder. These are quick and easy to read. I love the titles, Dying for Chocolate, and The Main Corpse. Food related mysteries seem to be a trend now… bakery mysteries, cupcake Mysteries…see also author Joanne Fluke.
- Lisbeth Salander in The Dragon Tattoo Trilogy by Steig Larsson
Though not technically a recurring series such as the ones above, I like Lisbeth Salander too much to not include her as a kick-butt crime solver. Techno- genius Lisbeth deserves her own series, unfortunately Steig Larsson’s death ended Lisbeth’s potential series.
I realize this list barely touches the surface of fiction with female crime solvers. Do you like female sleuth fiction? Which series are your favorites? I’d love to hear suggestions for what I should read next.