BOOKS CHECKED OUT | By JANET CLAPP
The fictional gumshoe need not be a man. In fact, there is a whole subgenre of mysteries in which the private detective is a woman. These are hard-working and sometimes wise-cracking investigators who turn over every clue and don’t stop until they figure out who committed the crime. Because each of the following titles belongs to a series, you can read several adventures starring these tough ladies.
“A is for Alibi”
by Sue Grafton
Meet Kinsey Millhone, a hard-working private investigator in Santa Teresa, California. “I’m thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind.” In this first book of the series, Millhone is hired by a widow convicted of murdering her husband eight years ago. Millhone doggedly digs through paperwork, interviews sources, and organizes her information on index cards: “I tack them up on a large bulletin board above my desk and stare at them, telling myself the story as I perceive it. Amazing contradictions will come to light, sudden gaps, questions I’ve overlooked.” Time doesn’t pass as quickly for Millhone as it does for the rest of us; the most recent entry, W is for Wasted, still takes place in the 1980s, an era before cell phones and the Internet.
“The Snake Tattoo”
by Linda Barnes
Carlotta Carlyle worked for the Boston police before going into business for herself. “Demand for a female private investigator is picking up, but I still moonlight as a cab driver to afford luxuries like FancyFeast, the only cat food T.C. will eat.” When her former partner is suspended, he hires Carlyle to find a witness who can clear him. That same day a wealthy seventeen-year-old boy hires her to find a missing girl. “I shouldn’t have taken either case. I certainly shouldn’t have taken both. As my mother used to say, in Yiddish more often than English: ‘You can’t ride two horses with one behind.’” Throughout the series Carlyle remains devoted to Paolina, her little sister through the Big Sisters organization.
by Sara Paretsky
Introducing V.I. Warshawski of Chicago – V for Victoria and I for Iphigenia. “My Italian mother had been devoted to Victor Emmanuel. This passion and her love of opera had led her to burden me with an insane name.” In this first of the series, Warshawski’s job is to find a missing student. “Now I’ve heard everything, I thought. Hired to find a person so her boyfriend would go to business school.” But when she investigates, she discovers a dead body and a more complicated case than she expected. Fortunately, as in most of the Warshawski books, she has her doctor friend Lotty to help her when she gets in trouble.
“Pennies on a Dead Woman’s Eyes”
by Marcia Muller
Sharon McCone works for All Souls Legal Cooperative, a San Francisco law firm. At first she is reluctant to investigate a brutal murder that occurred in 1956. “Gruesome murders hold no fascination for me; I’ve seen too much ugliness in my work as a private investigator to relish gory accounts of true crime, current or historical. I supposed I could take a look at the trial transcript over the weekend….” Soon she is intrigued and becomes heavily involved in the case. As the series progresses, McCone’s career and relationships with the characters in her life change and evolve.
by Karen Kijewski
Kat Colorado, a Sacramento private detective, has a new client. “First a floater, then an orphan with parents: In my business that’s what we call a clue. I let it slide, but I shouldn’t have. Some investigator.” Apparently her investigation hits a nerve because somebody tries to run Colorado off the road. Meanwhile she’s not having much success in the romance department. “Detectives are no good on their own lives, that’s for sure.” Books in the series have thematic chapter openings like facts or snippets from an advice column.
by Laura Lippman
Former reporter Tess Monaghan tries to discover who killed an unidentified woman. “She raced through what she thought of as the hard part – her identity, what she was doing, how she knew to ask for him. In her experience, it was those first sixty seconds, from the moment she flashed her P.I. license to the end of her pitch, that she was most likely to earn someone’s cooperation.” As she investigates, she unearths some ugly politics. Many of the books in the series incorporate Baltimore’s history and culture, making the city almost a character itself.
The Rutland Free Library has books from all these series, and many other mystery stories. Who’s your favorite female private eye?
Janet Clapp is an adult services librarian at Rutland Free Library.