4 Mysteries Featuring Strong Female Leads
Kelly Oliver, author of The Jessica James Mysteries, on women writers who aren’t afraid to take on timely social issues—and do so with wit and humor.
One of my all-time favorite amateur female sleuths is Amelia Peabody. She is the protagonist of more than 20 novels by Elizabeth Peters, primarily set in Egypt. I especially love listening to the Peabody series on audiobook when read by Barbara Rosenblatt, a genius at performing different voices, which makes the novels so much more fun. Amelia Peabody and her husband are archeologists, and I love that I learn about Egyptology while enjoying an entertaining mystery. “Peabody” (as she is affectionately called by her husband, Radcliffe Emerson) is an upper-class English woman who uses a parasol, and her sharp wit, as weapons. The heroine of my novels Wolf and Coyote, Jessica James, may not have a parasol, but like Peabody, she wields a witty barb.
I’m also a fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which was also made into an all too short-lived HBO television show. I love the characters, and the setting in Botswana. McCall Smith deals with some important social issues, but does so with humor.
Another author who takes on social issues is Denise Mina. Her mysteries are darker, grittier, and deal with abuse, rape, and victimization in all its gore. But the female lead in her Garnetthill trilogy, Maureen O’Donnel, is as irreverent as she is damaged. And the “dreigh” of Scotland is the perfect backdrop for murder.
Tough as nails Lisbeth Salander of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the most memorable characters in recent years. Like Maureen O’Donnel she’s the survivor of sexual violence. But she gives as good as she gets. And who doesn’t love a good feminist revenge plot?! In my novels Wolf and Coyote, Jessica’s best friend Lolita Durenchko could give Lisbeth a run for her money.
Who are your favorite women authors who write about strong female heroines?
Kelly Oliver is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University and well-known feminist philosopher. She is the author of 14 nonfiction books, most recently, Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Rape on Campus (Columbia University Press, May 2016). Kelly’s new mystery trilogy features kickass heroine Jessica James, a Montana “cowgirl” and philosophy grad student taking on ripped-from-the-headlines crimes like date rape drugs on campus, sex trafficking, fracking and more. The adventure begins with trilogy debut Wolf: A Jessica James Mystery #1 (Kaos Press, June 2016) and Jessica’s adventures continue in Coyote: A Jessica James Mystery #2 (August 2016). Wolf: A Jessica James Mystery is currently #1 on Goodreads’ Mystery and Suspense with a Strong Female Protagonist list. Read more about Kelly and the Jessica James Cowgirl Philosophy Mystery series at www.kellyoliverbooks.com
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