1 Miss Marple of course
I’ve heard that there was a female sleuth who pre-dated Agatha Christie’s wonderful Miss Marple but I’ve never actually found the books. It’s probably a dead-heat between Marple and Nancy Drew (both published in 1930) for the earliest female detective who is widely known and what a pair. Miss Marple comes out top for me – I love the juxtaposition of well-mannered old lady and razor sharp mind. There are Miss Marples out there today – I know it and I am in awe of them!
2 Nancy Drew
That said, when Nancy Drew gets hit on the head from behind (a frequent occurrence in the books) it always makes me smile. Nancy is resourceful beyond her years. I prefer the earlier, unedited books (poor Nancy was rewritten with a revisionist eye in order to banish racism – not very successfully – from her pages) I see shades of her all over the place, particularly female TV detectives of the 1970s and 80s. Neither Cagney nor Lacey would have been possible without Nancy Drew.
3 Rhona MacLeod
I love Lin Anderson’s forensic detective, Rhona MacLeod. When she arrives on the scene in the first of the series, Driftnet, Rhona performs a DNA test on a teenage victim and realises that he might be the son she put up for adoption almost 20 years before. It’s a great mixture of emotional story and forensic detail and Rhona keeps it up throughout the series. She’s smart, savvy and very modern. I like her style!
4 Vera Stanhope
By contrast Ann Cleeve’s Vera is ordinary and sometimes seems almost autistic! She makes me laugh, though – somewhere in among all that bumbling she always comes out on top. The stories are always unexpected and so is Vera’s response – she’s enormously human which makes her loveable. You can imagine having a cuppa with Vera and she’d sort out all your problems in the process. No nonsense here…
5 Rosie Gilmour/ Paddy Meehan – it’s a tussle
Anna Smith’s crime journalist, Rosie Gilmour is stunning! Her stories read like world-class thrillers – spills, big issues and can’t put them down storylines. In contrast to Denise Mina’s Paddy Meehan (also a journalist character) I have to come down on the side of Rosie – she’s brash, unapologetic and probably not quite so flawed, or at least so introspective, but somehow I like that about her – it gives her an air of personal integrity. Still, if I was allowed 6, not 5 on this list, Paddy with her down-to-earth detection style would be making an appearance too. It’s a hard one to call!
“Great fun. The world needs Mirabelle’s feistiness, intelligence, and charm.” –James Runcie, author of the Grantchester mysteries
In post-World War II England, former Secret Service operative Mirabelle Bevan becomes embroiled in a new kind of intrigue…
1951: In the popular seaside town of Brighton, it’s time for Mirabelle Bevan to move beyond her tumultuous wartime years and start anew. Accepting a job at a debt collection agency seems a step toward a more tranquil life.
But as she follows up on a routine loan to Romana Laszlo, a pregnant Hungarian refugee who’s recently come off the train from London, Mirabelle’s instincts for spotting deception are stirred when the woman is reported dead, along with her unborn child.
After encountering a social-climbing doctor with a sudden influx of wealth and Romana’s sister, who seems far from bereaved and doesn’t sound Hungarian, Mirabelle decides to dig deeper into the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death. Aided by her feisty sidekick–a fellow office worker named Vesta Churchill (“no relation to Winston,” as she explains)–Mirabelle unravels a web of evil that stretches from the Brighton beachfront to the darkest corners of Europe. Putting her own life at risk, she must navigate a lethal labyrinth of lies and danger to expose the truth.
Praise for Brighton Belle
“Beneath that prim exterior lies a fearless, fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants kind of gal. One part Nancy Drew, two parts Jessica Fletcher, Mirabelle has a dogged tenacity to rival Poirot.” —Sunday Herald
“Unfailingly stylish, undeniably smart.” —Daily Record
“I was gripped from start to finish.” —Newbooks
“Plenty of colour and action . . . will engage the reader from the first page to the last. Highly recommended.”–Bookbag
“Fresh, exciting and darkly plotted, this sharp historical mystery plunges the reader into a shadowy and forgotten past.” —Good Book Guide
“Early 1950s England is effectively portrayed in this intriguing mystery story… An excellent read for the beach or a long flight.” —Historical Novel Review
“After many twists and turns, she finally unravels the mystery in an entertaining romp pitting her wits against underworld characters and scheming impostors.” —Bookseller
Sara Sheridan is an historical novelist. She mentors fledgling writers for the Scottish Book Trust, sits on the committee of the Society of Authors in Scotland and on the Board of the UK-wide writers’ collective ‘26’. She is a member of the Historical Writers Association and the Crime Writers Association. Sara is a twitter evangelist (@sarasheridan) and also posts regularly on facebook.
Her new novel, the first book in the Mirabelle Bevan Mystery Series, is called Brighton Belle and is published this summer by Polygon. She will be talking about it at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this summer as well as running a literary bootcamp as part of the festival’s How To Write programme. Mirabelle tweets 1950s snippets as @mirabellebevan