13 Fierce Female Detectives Every Crime Fiction Fan Should Read

13 Fierce Female Detectives Every Crime Fiction Fan Should Read

D.I. Kate Burrows

Martina Cole is better known for her bad boys and girls, but in 1993 Martina took a walk on the other side of the law and wrote her very first police procedural – The Ladykiller – starring DI Kate Burrows. In the male-driven environment of the police force, Kate is a tough cookie who has made a career for herself through straight hard work. Which made it all the more surprising that the man she fell in love with was notorious criminal and powerful gangster Patrick Kelly. Balancing her hard-earned career with Patrick’s crooked past has been a struggle throughout the books, and in book three – Hard Girls – a case close to home took its toll on their relationship.

Now in 2017 Martina is bringing her strong female detective out of retirement once again to work as a consultant on a serial killer case. Martina has said that Damaged will be the final Kate Burrows book in the series and so we’ll finally find out how Kate and Patrick’s story ends. We can’t wait!

“Kate is a tough policewoman who has risen through the ranks the right way, not through corruption or fear. She’s followed the rules and worked hard, and she’s brilliant at her job. But then she does the unexpected and starts a relationship with one of the most powerful gangsters in town. It was that relationship and how Kate handles it in terms of her career that meant I had to continue to write about her.”

Martina Cole

D.C.I. Jane Tennison

Jane Tennison is perhaps Lynda La Plante’s most best-known character, first introduced to us in Prime Suspect back in 1991. From the get-go Jane has had to fight for her place among her resentful male colleagues, but despite constant opposition we eventually see her work her way up to the head of the Vice Squad. In more recent books, Lynda has taken us back to when Tennison was first starting out in the police force aged 22 and fresh out of the police training academy. Smart but naive and inexperienced, Jane had to learn fast to keep her feet out in real situations.

In 2017 Tennison returns in Good Friday, in which Jane becomes a key witness in a deadly bombing. Set in the mid 1970’s under the threat of the IRA, Jane is caught up in a horrific bombing campaign across London whilst passing through Covent Garden underground station. When she later recognises the bomber at the scene of a big event, she has to convince her senior officers before another tragedy occurs. It’s head-strong and resourceful Jane at her best, and we love sharing her journey to becoming the detective we met in Prime Suspect all those years ago.

“The most interesting aspect of creating Jane aged 22 was knowing that I eventually had to make her grow into the formidable, very controlled, career woman”

Lynda La Plante

D.I. Helen Grace

We first met D.I. Helen Grace in M.J. Arlidge’s debut crime novel – Eeny Meeny – back in 2014 when she took on a disturbed serial killer who was kidnapping pairs and forcing them either to kill or be killed. A masochist with a damaged past, Helen has struggled with her demons, and her lack of personal life has given her a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude during investigations.

In more recent books Helen’s life has fallen into further disarray having been framed and incarcerated in prison. In the latest release – Love Me Not – Helen has finally been released and is back at Southampton Central investigating an apparent carjacking linked to the murder of a shopkeeper. There seems to be a dangerous puzzle behind the killings, and Helen has just 24 hours to figure it out. If anyone can handle the pressure then it’s D.I. Helen Grace.

“Helen has been seriously injured on more than one occasion in the pursuit of justice. This is an occupational hazard, but tells you something about Helen’s character. She is utterly fearless, totally committed and never gives up. The higher the stakes, the harder she fights.”

M.J. Arlidge

D.I. Marnie Rome

D.I. Marnie Rome is one of the more troubled detectives on this list, with a bleak past in which her parents were murdered and her foster brother put in prison. Nevertheless, she tries to keep her personal life private and throws herself into her work alongside her partner D.S. Noah Jake. Marnie reveals her intelligence and caring side in book one when dealing with cases of domestic violence after an attack at a domestic violence shelter. As the series goes on, we see Marnie soften slightly and begin to put more trust in the people around her, whilst still holding her own in the tough and competitive world of policing.

In the latest book in the series – Quieter Than Killing – Marnie thinks there may be a link between a number of violent attacks across London. But it’s only when her own family home is broken into and she visits her foster brother in prison that she begins to think that the link could be her. As the past threatens to catch up with her once again, Marnie must rely on her instincts and wits to try and keep ahead of the game.

“We see her start to move away from that very protected, shut-down, spiky person into somebody much more open and trusting. But also, of course, therefore much more vulnerable to being hurt or challenged.”

Sarah Hilary

Clarice Starling

FBI agent Clarice Starling is the headstrong heroine who comes up against one of the most fearsome fictional serial killers of all time; Hannibal Lecter. A student at the FBI Academy when she first meets Hannibal, the pair develop a mutual respect for each other as she continues to visit him in a mental institution to try to get information about active serial killer Buffalo Bill. Later, as Starling becomes a full-fledged FBI agent she finds her career stunted by her superiors and takes matters into her own hands when she realises that corrupt agents are following her and pursuing Hannibal.

Starling shows herself to be very smart, strong and brave throughout the series, although it does all fall a bit to the wayside in the conclusion to Hannibal where the pair grow closer and he even feeds her the brains of a superior agent sautéed with lemon and capers (it’s delicious, apparently).

“I had always liked the character of Dahlia Iyad in Black Sunday and wanted to do a novel with a strong woman as the central character. So I began with Clarice Starling and, not two pages into the new novel, I found she had to go visit the doctor. I admired Clarice Starling enormously and I think I suffered some feelings of jealousy at the ease with which Dr. Lecter saw into her, when it was so difficult for me.”

Thomas Harris

D.S. Charlie Zailer

DS Charlie Zailer and her husband DC Simon Waterhouse are the dysfunctional but intelligent leads of Sophie Hannah’s Culver Valley series. Charlie is a fierce and smart detective who isn’t afraid to bend the rules to get to the bottom of a crime, but just like everyone else she has her flaws and can sometimes be her own worst enemy. Charlie and Simon’s relationship always make for fun and gripping reading, although we do often find ourselves wondering how Charlie puts up with some of Simon’s quirks.

In the latest story in the series – The Narrow Bed – a serial killer who seems to be targeting pairs of best friends is the key investigation. Stand up comedian Kim Tribbeck has reason to believe that she could be the killer’s next target, except that she doesn’t have a best friend. So is Kim in danger? And who is behind these murders? If anyone can get to the bottom of it then it’s Waterhouse and Zailer.

“My characters all have issues, but I don’t see that as weird or abnormal because I think in real life there are very few bland, normal people. I feel I am writing about ordinary people in the real world – but with the proviso that nobody is really that ordinary.”

Sophie Hannah

Jane Rizzoli

The brash and brilliant Jane Rizzoli has fought hard to win the respect of her colleagues, despite becoming the youngest officer ever to be promoted to the rank of detective in the Boston Police Department. Competitive and guarded with everyone but her best friend – medical examiner Maura Isles – Jane can be a prickly character, but we still love her sharp and determined approach to policing.

In I Know a Secret, Rizzoli and Isles are dealing with a series of gruesome crime scenes. Isles can find no obvious cause of death, but the killer has clearly staged a crime scene, with the first victims’ eyes having been removed and placed in the palm of her hand. Now that the pair know who the next target is, they must work with her to catch the killer. But first she must reveal a deep secret that she swore never to tell.

“Jane Rizzoli is actually the character I most identified with! She’s the outsider in many respects: the only girl in a family of brothers. The only female cop on the homicide squad. The plain jane who’s overlooked because other women are more attractive. While I don’t have the chip on the shoulder that she has, I do sympathize with her “outsider” status. I think a lot of us do.”

Tess Gerritsen

Mma Precious Ramotswe

Mma Precious Ramoswe was the first female private investigator in Botswana and the jolly lady behind the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Gaborone. Empathetic, cunning and pragmatic, Precious uses her grit, common sense and womanly instinct to solve community mysteries such as missing family members, cheating husbands and mishaps with witch doctors.

The eighteenth book in the series – The House of Unexpected Sisters – is out in 2017, and Mma Ramoswe is delving into her own personal life as she discovers something about her late father that surprises her. We can’t wait to find out more about the man Precious idolised as a child, and see her restore some calm at the end of it all as only Precious can.

“Mma Ramotswe sets up her agency without any relevant experience. However, she does have intuition—in abundance—and that is very much more important than anything she could learn from a book.”

Alexander McCall Smith

Miss Marple

Miss Marple is arguably one of the most well-known and loved female detectives of crime fiction, although she is, strictly speaking, an amateur. An elderly spinster with a shrewd eye for the dark side of human nature, Miss Marple often uses examples of similar cases that she’s come across in life to solve mysteries. In the earlier books she came across as nosy and a bit of a gossip, but as the series went on she became much warmer and kinder to her neighbours.

In our online poll to find out the best fictional crime detectives of all time, our followers voted Miss Marple in at #4 (behind Sherlock Holmes, John Rebus and Hercule Poirot) making her the top female detective in the list.

“Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle appealing manner- Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is the more dangerous”

Agatha Christie

Dr Temperance Brennan

All of these detectives have got to have a strong stomach to do what they do, but we’re pretty sure Tempe Brennan’s stomach is made of steel. As a forensic anthropologist, it’s Tempe’s job to step in when human remains are too degraded for a coroner to obtain evidence, which means she has worked on some pretty gruesome crime scenes in her time. Strong, intelligent and a stickler for detail, Tempe’s professional life has always been in-hand, even when her personal life was struggling.

“She is not just another CSI heroine character. In my book, she’s a complex character, and it may take a little while to get to know her. She’s got issues she should be working on, but she’s so compassionate about her work that she just doesn’t pay attention to things going on in the world around her.”

Kathy Reichs

Dr Kay Scarpetta

Patricia Cornwell’s series protagonist Kay Scarpetta is another strong and inspiring female lead, who starred as Chief Medical Examiner in Postmortem; the thriller that made forensic crime popular. Throughout the series, Kay demonstrates again and again that she’s an independent, talented and strong-minded character, and moves on to several different job roles including the Head of the National Forensic Academy and Cambridge Forensic Center’s Director and Chief. Unlucky in love and fiercely independent, Kay finally finds happiness in her personal life with husband Benton Wesley, albeit after he was presumed dead for a little while.

“Scarpetta is an elegant intellectual with great depths of feeling which you don’t always see”

Patricia Cornwell

Lisbeth Salander

Strictly speaking, Lisbeth Salander starts out as a computer hacker in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, before eventually becoming a private investigator at Milton Security. But although we can’t really call her a detective, she certainly does a lot of detecting throughout the series. Unconventional, antisocial and deeply troubled, Lisbeth follows her own set of morals, especially when it comes to men who abuse women. Her hacking skills and ruthless attitude often put her ahead of the game, but Lisbeth’s traumatic past catches up with her time and time again throughout the series.

In David Lagercrantz’s most recent reboot, we find Lisbeth in prison after taking measures to save a young boy’s life. Still working on a lead with Blomkvist, the pair search for the truth behind a childhood memory that could be an important expose for Millennium.

“Lisbeth Salander is one of the heroines, I think, of the 21st century, and a most unlikely heroine. She’s brave, she’s intrepid, she’s unfrightenable, she’s got a moral core”

David Lagercrantz

Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew is an American teenager with a knack for solving mysteries alongside her two friends Bess and George. Almost impossibly talented, Nancy is a skilled driver, painter, swimmer, seamstress, cook, dancer, first aider, horse-rider and oarsman, with a keen understanding of psychology and the ability to speak French. Nancy was written out of a desire to create a strong female heroine for the girl readers who had taken an interest in the Hardy Boys books, and she has served as an influential role model for many women ever since.

“Ned said “Nancy Drew is the best girl detective in the whole world!” “Don’t you believe him,” Nancy said quickly. “I have solved some mysteries, I’ll admit, and I enjoy it, but I’m sure there are many other girls who could do the same.”

Carolyn Keene