11 Fictional Female Detectives You Need To Know — Who Aren't Nancy Drew
I have an ugly confession to make to you, internet: I was never that into Nancy Drew. I mean, I read my fair share of Nancy Drew books, of course, because I was a young, awkward girl who liked lateral thinking puzzles. I even enjoyed those Nancy Drew books, although I couldn't possibly tell you what any of them were about (someone stole a clock, maybe? Was that one of them?). And I have nothing against Nancy. She's certainly got more going for her than that charmless know-it-all, Encyclopedia Brown (and don't even get me started on the Hardy Boys). But let's be honest here: Nancy could get a tad dull. She was hot, rich, polite, athletic, and feminine. She frequently went sleuthing in a silk blouse and pumps. She wasn't attempting to challenge any norms. She was (forgive me) a little basic. So if you're in the mood to read about a slightly more interesting lady detective, check out some of these other fictional gumshoes who deserve a little more love.
After all, detective fiction is an enormous genre. If you only know Sherlock and Nancy and maybe Hercule, then you've barely scratched the surface. Here are just a few of the brilliant, messy, and well-written ladies out there solving crimes on a bookshelf near you:
Precious Ramotswe has only just opened The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, but already she's tracking down a missing husband, trailing a rebellious daughter, besting a conman, and attempting to rescue an 11-year-old boy from kidnappers. If you're a fan of cheerful, brilliant lady detectives solving cozy mysteries, then you're going to love sharing a cup of tea and some deductive reasoning with Precious and her friends.
The unflappable Miss Jane Marple hardly needs any extra publicity. She's a sweet older woman with a razor-sharp wit and the uncanny ability to solve every mystery she comes across (much to the annoyance of the police). Miss Marple is one of the best loved fictional detectives out there, and Agatha Christie continues to be the reigning queen of detective fiction.
Thursday Next lives in a world very similar to our own, except with time cops and pet dodo birds and a society that treats classic literature as cutting edge pop culture. Thursday herself is a Literary Detective, but this case is unusual even in her line of work: Jane Eyre has been kidnapped from the pages of her own novel. Thursday's world may be quirkier (and more literary) than most, but she's one of the most kick ass and well-read lady detectives out there, with a team of increasingly ridiculous sidekicks to boot.
Juniper Song from Follow Her Home loves noir fiction. So when she gets a chance to play amateur sleuth, Juniper is thrilled to act out her wildest fantasy. But then, when she's knocked out while on the case only to find a dead body in her own trunk, Juniper begins to realize that this is not the fun roleplaying game she signed up for. She's not just playing at being detective anymore; this fangirl is going to have to become the real thing if she wants to make it out alive.
Carlotta Carlyle from A Trouble of Fools is a six-foot tall ex-cop turned cabbie, and she's ready to get back into the mystery-solving game. Of course, switching to life as a private detective isn't going to be easy, especially not when her first missing person case snowballs into something far more dangerous. But it beats reading her cat's mail, right? Carlotta is a delightful heroine, and her books are peppered with plenty of inspiration by way of Yiddish quotes from Carlotta's grandmother.
6Elouise “Lou” Norton
Homicide detective Elouise “Lou” Norton has a brand new partner and a brand new case... that might just be a little too close to home. The death of a teenage girl mirrors the disappearance of her own sister when they were just kids. Caught between traumatic memories of her past and the assumptions of her clueless white male partner, Lou has one last chance to bring her sister's killer to justice. Plus she also has a group of supportive girlfriends, because not all hardened detectives have to be loners.
Look, Miss Marple is great, but she's not the only "little old lady" detective in the world. There's also Gladys Mitchell's Mrs. Bradley, the "ugly," "reptilian" psychoanalyst with the wicked tongue. Mrs. Bradley is not your cuddly, cozy armchair detective. She could care less about looking cute or making friends. But she is gloriously mean, ruthless, and effective when it comes to solving murders and throwing shade.
Lovely, fashionable Phryne Fisher has been living it up in the Roaring '20s... but she's grown tired of small talk and boring old men. She's decided that it would be much more interesting to begin a life of steamy intrigue as a lady detective in Melbourne, Australia. Phryne is all about bustling cocaine rings and saving women from abusive monsters, but she's going to do it stylishly.
Claire DeWitt was always meant to be a detective. At least, when she was a teenager, she found a mysterious book that inspired her to take up a life of crime-solving. Now, twenty years later, she's being called in for a case that may test her religious devotion to her work: she must find an upstanding citizen who has disappeared in the chaos of hurricane Katrina, and she's willing to go to any lengths to find the truth.
10Rosie "Aunty" Lee
Ever since Rosie Lee lost her husband, she's thrown herself into creating a fierce culinary empire. Her home-cooking restaurant is second to none. But when one of her wealthy and powerful guests fails to show up to a dinner party, Rosie finds herself pulled into a mystery that extends far beyond the kitchen. She also finds that her well-placed connections and her quick wit make her an unusually talented amateur sleuth.
All of the detectives in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad books deserve a shout out. But poor Cassie Maddox has a very particular challenge to overcome in the second book of the series: she must solve her own murder. Or rather, the murder of a woman who looks an awful lot like her. So, naturally, Cassie goes undercover in the dead girl's place, to pick up some clues with some truly hands-on detective work.