When trying to decide upon my favourite of all fictional detectives I was struck by the realisation that, after the most obvious candidates, there are actually fewer female ‘lead’ detectives in mystery fiction than I had at first imagined. Of course, we all think of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and perhaps Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym- who are both classic creations that withstand the test of time. However, my other favourite women sleuths tend to have originated on the small screen; such as Sarah Lund and Jane Tennison- although they remain masterfully penned personalities nonetheless. I also then considered some of my favourite detective writers and their characters. For example, P.D James and Ruth Rendell, who have both certainly created strong female sleuths in their many books are yet best known for their male leads- Adam Dalgleish and Chief Inspector Wexford. I must admit myself that I prefer the Dalgleish novels to those that feature Cordelia Gray, for instance. So this article was more of a challenge to write than I had at first thought, particularly when one considers that the traits we would traditionally apply to female characters seem to fit very well with the role of investigator. For example, we expect our fictional women to be intuitive and interested in people and what makes them tick. Yet male detectives still dominate the genre and even the great female mystery solvers- as you will note in my list below- operate as a ‘side-kick’ to a man. I have tried in my novels to make my female lead (Imogen Croft) the chief character in the book, although her husband does work alongside her and they solve cases as a team. But perhaps I have been influenced by my favourite lady detectives a little too much and have not been bold enough to allow Imogen to sleuth on her own- without a male counterpart. However, I do like the interplay between a husband and wife team of investigators and I enjoy the relationship that this creates (see numbers 3 and 5 of my list). In the end, your all time favourite lady detective is a very personal decision, but here is my top five- feel free to heartily disagree!
1. Jane Marple. (created by Dame Agatha Christie)
An amateur sleuth who needs little introduction. A completely unassuming old lady who possesses razer sharp intelligence. These mysteries are set predominantly in post-war Britain and Marple draws on her experience of the microcosm of human behaviour that she observes in the village of St Mary Mead to solve murder cases that have the police baffled. A creation of pure genius.
2. Nancy Drew. (first created in 1930 by Edward Stratermayer but more recently recognisable in the novels of Carolyn Keene)
The first ‘girl detective’, these novels and stories are a personal favourite of mine. Nancy is feisty and intelligent and has a wonderful group of girlfriends who all have something different to add to the investigation. I read these books from a very young age and spent a great deal of time searching for the next title in the series at my local library. Pure gold.
3. Harriet Vane. (Dorothy L. Sayers)
Harriet Vane appears in the Lord Peter Wimsey novels and in later books she becomes his wife. Although she is not the lead character in Sayers’ mystery stories she plays a pivotal role in the investigations. It takes an extremely strong and intelligent woman to ensnare the highly intellectual, confirmed bachelor Lord Peter and only Vane could do it.
4. Kay Scarpetta (Patricia Cornwell).
Dr Scarpetta is a Chief Medical Examiner who also solves crimes. She is an Italian American who makes great pasta as well as being a tough career woman and unmistakably the main character in this superlative series of books. Kay’s character changes and evolves over time but she never plays second fiddle to a man- something that perhaps American writers achieve better than us British do?
5. Tuppence Beresford (Agatha Christie)
Another Christie character, Tuppence solves mysteries alongside her husband, Tommy. This husband and wife team are very much equals and are touchingly supportive of eachother. This equality is interesting when you consider that these novels first appeared in the 1920s. I had to add Tuppence to my list as these novels were an inspiration for my fictional husband and wife sleuthers- Imogen and Hugh Croft.
That is my list- obviously there are plenty of great women sleuths that I have not mentioned here- so feel free to add some of your own.
I certainly think so, although recently I’ve found it more difficult to find them. The real masters of the genre have never used graphic violence to ‘spice up’ their plots. Agatha Christie, P.D James, Ruth Rendell (writing also as Barbara Vine), Josephine Tey and Susan Hill can create genuine chills through their suspenseful prose, interwoven with just the hint of the worst crimes that mankind (and womankind) are capable of. These great writers avoid stomach churning descriptions of blood and guts but rely instead on very clever storytelling and well observed characterisation. However, now that we expect a certain amount of gore in our T.V dramas and mystery fiction, is it possible to write a top novel in this field without it? Or will we now need to create a whole new genre of fiction for this type of narrative? It’s a large field and I hope there’s room for everyone’s tastes within it- I certainly enjoy a good ‘serial-killer chiller’ myself, but my favourites are those books that tease me along with a labyrinthine plot and a final conclusion that actually seems plausible to me because I feel that I understand the motives of the main characters. I don’t like an ending that just parachutes in from nowhere and makes me feel dissatisfied and cheated. Any suggestions on great writers; new and old who manage to achieve this would be gratefully received.
The very best thing about publishing your own novel is that YOU get to decide how it looks and what will go inside it. Once you have a fabulous front cover and a well proofed book- you have some choices to make.
One of your biggest decisions is whether or not you will simply go down the print-on-demand (POD) and downloads route or whether you will invest in having your own private print run.
This is entirely your own decision and depends on your budget and your marketing strategy.
In my case, I am really glad that I decided to have a limited print run of 100 books because the quality was superb and I have used them for launch parties and book signings– people like to see a physical copy of your novel and have a flick through it.
I had a couple of afternoon tea and scones launch parties and they were great. It rewards your core readership- especially those who have taken the time to review your book. It also allows people to buy signed copies for their families and friends.
Try to be creative with your parties- a theme, like scones and cream or blue or pink coloured cakes is good and try to stick to the colour theme of your book’s cover when you are promoting- it helps to build your brand. My kids and I even wore blue for a booksigning, although I’m not sure how much anyone noticed!
Finally, you will need to decided on a price for your promotional copies. Remember, you are not a famous author yet- however brilliant your novel is. The most important thing is that people are reading and talking about your book, so set a price that is reasonable and will make people feel that they got a ‘special deal’ because they were at your event.
Next time: tips on marketing beyond your immediate family and friends.