What is it about mystery novels that makes us want to ignore all else until we flip that final page? When I’m in the middle of a really good whodunit hours will pass without thoughts of anything but the story.
Dishes pile up, laundry lingers in the dryer, the to do list remains unchecked… the sun sinks lower in the sky. I hop from snack to snack (because who can read without eating now and then?) and the day slips away until I get to the end. When I look up, it’s likely dark out, and way past the time I should have gone to bed.
For me, the big reason is I absolutely love being along for the ride with my favorite female sleuths. I grew up reading Nancy Drew, then moved on to Miss Marple and Stephanie Plum. Most recently I’ve been obsessed with Kinsey Millhone.
Do you know Kinsey? She’s the leading lady in Sue Grafton’s famed alphabet series. She’s a private investigator who lives in California, where she spends her days eating peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and solving cases for her clients.
No matter who you’re fighting fictional crimes with these days, I’d guess that she’s an amazing person to hang out with. Why else would you read the story she stars in? Women detectives, FBI agents, police officers, and neighborhood busybodies must have a few core qualities in order to capture our hearts. Here are five characteristics to love about these ladies!
When I’m reading a story, I feel like I’m in it with the characters. Do you get that feeling, too? One thing I love about hanging out with my favorite female sleuth, whoever she may be at the moment, is that she gets the job done to the best of her ability. No matter what obstacles pop up. Problems pile on until I’m chewing my nails, thinking, how is she going to deal with this? But no matter how bad it gets, I know she won’t give up.
Kinsey Milhone will, once in a while, set aside a case. It’s too much of a hassle, too dangerous, or not worth what she’s being paid. But inevitably she picks it back up again because she can’t help herself. Once a client presents her with a case, she does her best to get to the bottom of it, no matter what seems to stand in her way. And that’s what I love about her.
Whether I’m reading a thriller or cozy mystery, I know the sleuth is going to be up against great odds. From page one onward, I trust that the sleuth will face her fears in the end. She may waver a bit here and there and run away or hide in her weaker moments, but there will be a moment when she has to face her fear.
I love that moment in a story when a main character is up against a really nasty bad guy, and she has every right to be scared out of her mind—but she overcomes her fear. I’m thinking of a scene in particular where Kinsey is trying to track down a serial killer, and the clues lead her into the crawl space under a building. It’s dark down there and hard to move around. She starts seeing signs that the killer has been camping out there, and she begins to feel freaked out. Who wouldn’t? But she keeps doing her job and even manages to save an innocent furbaby while she’s at it. I love her for that.
I really like when a main character is relatable. Have you read David Baldacci’s Atlee Pine series? In one of the stories, Atlee, an FBI agent, is going hard, working long hours and getting physically beaten up and worn down in the process. She gets to the apartment she’s staying in and pours herself a bath. After a good soak she crawls into bed and sleeps. Even super fit, strong, FBI agents like Atlee need a hot bath and a nap sometimes—despite the fact that the clock is ticking and the enemy’s on the move. She realized she wouldn’t be of much use if she did not stop and take care of herself. That made me like her even more.
Kinsey Milhone also loves those recharge times. When it’s raining out she will often skip her morning run and sleep in, or use the weather as an excuse to read a book all day. She’s also an introvert, and after too much socializing she’ll hit a wall and just ignore her phone for 24 hours. The moments when my fav female sleuths unplug, get cozy, and rest-up really touch me. I can see a reflection of myself, and what I’d do in a similar situation. I root for the character and hope she feels ready to face the criminals again when she gets back to work.
Female Sleuths must be curious. In all my years of reading and writing, I’ve found that to be fact. It has to do with the nature of investigating. If she is going to get to the bottom of a crime, an amateur sleuth has to wonder about the inconsistencies she sees. If it’s the middle of a cold and snowy winter, why is there a bathing suit on the clothesline? If the neighbors moved out two months ago, why is there a light on in the upstairs room?
While some of us—many of us, even!—turn a blind eye to for the sake of convenience, the star of one of our favorite mystery stories won’t do that. Snooping on the guy digging a hole in the woods late one evening might make her late for dinner, but she’s going to check it out anyway.
A good dose of intelligence goes a long way, when it comes to women sleuths. I love it when I’m reading along and a character surprises me by connecting dots in a way I didn’t spot. She may or may not be conventionally “book smart” with a college degree or lists of history facts to draw upon during dinner conversation. She might even be ditzy at times, or terrible at math! But, if weak in one area, she’s strong in many others. The fictional women sleuths I have loved over the years have unique strengths when it comes to brain power.
One of my favorite things to do is get completely lost in a real page-turner. I get caught up in a puzzling case with my favorite character, and time slips away as I race with her to the finish line. Who is your favorite female sleuth lately? What do you love about her? Drop a comment below!
Amorette Anderson writes warm-hearted cozy mysteries that star witchy characters. She lives in Colorado with her husband and furbabies, pups Marley and Teddy. When she’s not writing or reading she’s dreaming up ways to make life a little more magical.