From the Library: Feminist Mystery Novels
We love feminist mystery novels. We love them so much that we decided to devote three months of book clubs to them. In November we read Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayer's 1935 book that has been called the first feminist mystery novel. In January we're reading Everything You Have is Mine by Sandra Scoppettone. And in February we'll be reading Laura Lippman's To The Power of Three. (Are you in Portland? Come to our book clubs. Not in Portland? Read along and we'll keep discussing these books on the blog.)
If you're like me, you've been staying up all night to read these novels and you just can't get enough. After finishing our book club books, I started scouring library shelves for mystery novels with feminist detectives. Mystery novels with complex female characters that analyze and protest sexist culture. I've been pleased to find that feminist mystery novels aren't as hard to find as one might think, and that some independent bookstores have huge Gay and Lesbian Mystery sections. If you finish the book club books and want to keep knocking back the mystery novels, here are a few more that feature kick-ass girl gumshoes:
M. F. Beal's Angel Dance (1977) follows Kat Guerrera, a Chicana lesbian investigator. Guerrera works as a writer for an anti-establishment collective before becoming a capitalist-fighting investigator. Guerrera was the first lesbian feminist investigator to show up in a mystery novel, in addition to being the first lesbian Chicana in the genre.
Laurie King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice is the first in a series that follows detective Mary Russell and her friend Sherlock Holmes. The series begins in 1915, and Sherlock Holmes is a retiree who has immersed himself in studying bees. Mary Russell, a smart fifteen-year-old, stumbles upon Holmes and pulls him back into the crime-investigating business. The two embark on many cases together throughout this series that often, according to the author, explore women's rights as well as "religious expression and governmental oppression".
Sara Paretsky is the creator of V.I. Warshawski, a feminist sleuth who mystery readers were first introduced to in 1982. In the newest book in the series, Body Work, V.I. is hired to clear the name of an Iraq war vet suffering from PTSD. Many of Paretsky's books focus on underlying social issues in the US, and this book is no exception. In Body Work, Paretsky uses V.I. to take on sexism, homophobia, and private contractors creating problems for Iraqi soldiers. Bonus points: V.I. is described as a "mega-feminist" in the book. In addition to writing this fabulous detective, Sara Paretsky founded Sisters in Crime, a group of "authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians bound by our affection for the mystery genre and our support of women who write mysteries."
Who are your favorite lady detectives? What books would you recommend to a feminist who is new to the genre?
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