Women of Mystery

Edwin of the Iron Shoes, by Marcia Muller, introduced the very first female private eye in detective fiction: Sharon McCone. There had been female heroines in mysteries. Some excellent and astute female sleuths had become legend: Miss Marple, Ariadne Oliver. But none were actual, professional Private Detectives, with a license and a gun; operating entirely on their own; and their stories, up till now, had never been told with the flavor of the hard-boiled detective novel.

That was in 1977. Twenty years later, seeing the names of women authors and the names of women detectives scattered through the mystery section has become commonplace. There are hard-boiled detectives like V.I. Warshawski, "soft-boiled" detectives like Kat Colorado (written by Karen Kijewski), lawyers who do their own detecting like Julie Smith's New Orleans based heroine, journalists like Carlotta Carlyle (from Linda Barnes) who get just as hard-nosed as anyone with a badge, or women in as grim a business as bounty hunting whose adventures are related with as much humor as the attempts of Police Chief Arly Hanks to keep order in the oddly-assorted town of Maggody.

It's a wide variety. I don't believe it would be as wide a variety if it weren't for the first iron shoe in the door, from Marcia Muller.

There is no way I am going to be able to present a comprehensive list of female private detectives. I'm going to have at making a start, and please quibble with my entries and add your own, at will.
Author Character First Book
Marcia Muller Sharon McCone Edwin of the Iron Shoes
Sue Grafton Kinsey Milhone "A" is for Alibi
Sara Paretsky V.I. Warshawski Indemnity Only (?)
Linda Barnes Carlotta Carlyle Bitter Finish (?)
Karen Kijewski Kat Kolorado Katwalk
*Janet Dawson Teri Howard Credible Threat

The above are all private eyes. Following are more debatable entries to the category:

Julie Smith

... That's gonna have to do for tonight. :)

* I haven't actually read any of those marked with an asterisk, but I've had them highly recommended.

An excellent list of women mystery writers has been compiled by Helene Androski. It begins with a hard-boiled section.
In researching this topic, I came across some great sites:

I had an interesting time analyzing the last with an eye to the development of women detective authors and women detectives.

Starting in 1839 with Edgar Allen Poe, there are a total of nine male detective novelists of note until we get to the first female novelist. Guess who? Agatha Christie, whose first Hercule Poirot story was printed in 1926. Dorothy Sayers shares the limelight with her, though -- but while Agatha Christie also created female sleuths (Miss Marple, Ariadne Oliver, and Tuppence are the three I can remember) Dorothy Sayers focused on only one sleuth, and a male one -- Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey. We then continue on for another nine male authors until, in 1930, Josephine Bell created Dr. David Wintringham and Margery Allingham gave us Mr. Albert Campion. Two years and four male authors later, Gladys Mitchell created Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley. In 1935 Ngaio Marsh created Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn, and in 1936 Georgette Heyer created both Inspector Hemingway and Superintendent Hannasyde and Josephine Tey created Inspector Alan Grant. The pace of women authors of detective stories is accelerating, but the only women detectives created so far (who survived) have been by Agatha Christie and Gladys Mitchell. Six male authors and two years later, Elspeth Huxley creates Superintendent Vachell, one more male detective. In 1941 A.A. Fair -- a pseudonym of Erle Stanley Gardner -- creates the private detective pair of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. When I was reminded of Bertha Cool I thought for a moment "Sharon McCone was *not* the first female private eye!" But McCone was the first female private eye operating solely on her own, the central protagonist of the novel, *and* also written by a woman.

Seven male authors later ...

Eight male authors later ...

Two male authors later ...

Finally!! The third female author to create a female detective -- at least one who survives in literary history.

Five male authors ...

I believe Cordelia Gray has the honor of being the first female police detective in novels.

Two male authors ...

Has anyone else read any of the Jemima Shore books? Is she a "professional" detective or an "amateur"?

Two male authors (we are definitely balancing out) ...

My most recent discovery is the team of Constance Leidl, professional psychologist, and Charlie Meiklejohn, arson detective turned private investigator, in The Casebook of Constance and Charlie, Vol. 1 (1999) and Vol. 2 (2000) by Kate Wilhelm.

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