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.
Aguilar is a medieval forensic specialist in a series of novels by British crime writer “ Adelia Ariana Franklin , alias “ Diana Norman.
Amelia Peabody is an archaeologist/detective created by Elizabeth Peters, Butterworth a nosy high-society lady with lots of free time for crime solving, created by Amelia Anna Katharine Green
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 Bertha Erle Stanley Gardner.
Carnegie Kincaid — a crime-solving Seattle wedding planner in a series by Deborah Donnelly.
Bayles—an herbalist and ex-lawyer detective created by China Susan Wittig Albert.
Browne—the first black female detective, in stories written by Clio 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.
Fairweather – an antique dealer/amateur detective in a series of books by British novelist Doran Mollie Hardwick.
Withers — a tweedy, snoopy, schoolmarm created by Hildegarde Stuart Palmer.
Honey West — one of the first TV female PIs, described as a cross between Mike Hammer and Marilyn Monroe.
Shore—an investigative journalist and amateur detective created by the Irish historian/novelist Jemima Antonia Fraser.
Milhone—a private investigator and former policewoman whose unusual first name was her mother’s maiden name, created by Kinsey Sue Grafton for her ‘alphabet’ mystery series.
Salander — a computer hacker and private investigator in the mega popular Lisbeth 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.
Ramotswe — the charming and clever first female private investigator in Botswana, created by Precious 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.
— a PR consultant and amateur detective in the Temple Barr 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.
Birdwood– a TV researcher who solves murders in six books by Australian Verity Jennifer Rowe
Victoria Warshawski– a former police officer created by Iphigenia Sara Paretsky, is usually known as Vic—but it’s her middle name that we really love.
Strange — a debutante with a secret life as a sleuth, by Violet Anna Katharine Green, one of the first American writers of detective fiction.
Can you think of any other lady detectives with distinctive first names?