Hear the words ‘detective’ or ‘private eye,’ and you probably picture a tough guy like Mickey Spillane or a cooler customer like Sam Spade. But it turns out that mystery fiction also features a lot more female sleuths than you might think, dating back to Loveday Brooke in the 1890s and coming right up to today.
It’s interesting to note how many of these earlier crime-solvers were given “ladylike” professions as covers—either as antique dealers or esoteric academics –or the more modern wedding planners or pet sitters. It wasn’t—for the most part—till the TV era, that they would become career private or police investigators.
One thing that they do have in common though is some pretty fantastic first names, and here are some of the best.
Adelia Aguilar is a medieval forensic specialist in a series of novels by British crime writer “Ariana Franklin,“ alias Diana Norman.
Amelia Peabody is an archaeologist/detective created by Elizabeth Peters, Amelia Butterworth a nosy high-society lady with lots of free time for crime solving, created by Anna Katharine Green
Bertha Cool–(a name that’s a contradiction in terms?)— is an older, overweight private investigator in a series of books by A. A. Fair –a pseudonym of Erle Stanley Gardner.
Carnegie Kincaid — a crime-solving Seattle wedding planner in a series by Deborah Donnelly.
China Bayles—an herbalist and ex-lawyer detective created by Susan Wittig Albert.
Clio Browne—the first black female detective, in stories written by Dolores Komo.
Cordelia Gray—Serious and shy, this P.D. James character makes an unlikely private eye when she inherits a detective agency.
Dixie Hemingway — an ex-policewoman and pet sitter in Sarasota Florida in a series by Blaize Clement.
Doran Fairweather – an antique dealer/amateur detective in a series of books by British novelist Mollie Hardwick.
Hildegarde Withers — a tweedy, snoopy, schoolmarm created by Stuart Palmer.
Honey West — one of the first TV female PIs, described as a cross between Mike Hammer and Marilyn Monroe.
Jemima Shore—an investigative journalist and amateur detective created by the Irish historian/novelist Antonia Fraser.
Kinsey Milhone—a private investigator and former policewoman whose unusual first name was her mother’s maiden name, created by Sue Grafton for her ‘alphabet’ mystery series.
Lisbeth Salander — a computer hacker and private investigator in the mega popular Millennium Trilogy by Swedish journalist and novelist Stieg Larsson.
Loveday Brooke — an early “lady detective” appearing in short stories by Catherine Louisa Pirkis beginning in 1894.
Maud Silver–a retired governess and amateur sleuth a la Miss Marple, by Patricia Wentworth.
Precious Ramotswe — the charming and clever first female private investigator in Botswana, created by Alexander McCall Smith.
Seychelles Sullivan– a salvage tug boat captain operating out of Ft.Lauderdale, in a contemporary series by Christine Kling. An interesting place name we haven’t heard before.
Temperance Brennan — the exceptionally named TV anthropologist and forensic specialist seen on the TV show Bones.
Temple Barr — a PR consultant and amateur detective in the Midnight Louie series by Carole Nelson Douglas.
Theolinda “Dol” Bonner– a private detective in several Nero Wolfe mysteries created by Rex Stout.
Thursday Next (daughter of Wednesday Next) — the heroine of a series that forms a genre unto itself—a mix of mystery, fantasy and parody by Jasper Fforde.
Trixie Belden is a junior Nancy Drew, a girl-detective who, with a friend, solves mysteries that baffle authorities, starting in 1948.
Tuppence Beresford solves crimes with her husband Tommy in a series of novels and short-stories by Agatha Christie beginning in 1922.
Verity Birdwood– a TV researcher who solves murders in six books by Australian Jennifer Rowe
Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski– a former police officer created by Sara Paretsky, is usually known as Vic—but it’s her middle name that we really love.
Violet Strange — a debutante with a secret life as a sleuth, by Anna Katharine Green, one of the first American writers of detective fiction.
Can you think of any other lady detectives with distinctive first names?
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