Lesbian Sleuths: Ten Classic Series
by Sue Hardesty, 8/24/14
The charm of series is that the characters become old friends as we follow them through one book after the other and anxiously wait for the next one. The following mystery series with lesbian protagonists have been chosen for their excellent writing, surprising plot twists, and unusual, interesting characters. There’s a moderate level of romance ”as in most mysteries” but the love interests are not the emphasis. For a definition of “series”, I’ve used at least three books, but I want to mention Blue and The Last Blue Plate Special (Abigail Padgett) featuring Blue Carron, a reclusive lesbian social psychologist who lives in a half-built California desert motel. Although some of the series use professional crime-solvers to pursue the mystery, others feature sleuths in such professions as journalist, author, travel agent, and restaurant owner. Recommendations in alphabetical order.
For the past 25 years, Ellen Hart has been writing good summer reads about Jane Lawless, a restaurant owner in Minnesota, and her wacky sidekick, Cordelia Thorn. Hallowed Murder begins the series; Hart skipped only two years in publishing an annual addition to the series. The latest, The Old Deep and Dark, again features family problems as Jane saves Cordelia from another disaster. Here are the titles of this series in order of publication. https://www.goodreads.com/series/65509-jane-lawless
Another favorite is J.K. Redmann’s Micky Knight series which begins in 1990 and is still going strong. Her skillful voice creates real settings and believable, caring characters who live in the real world of New Orleans both before and after Hurricane Katrina. Redmann deals with hard topics such as child abuse, human trafficking, and hurricane victims. A recurring character in the series is Dr. Cordelia James, sometimes a suspect in a murder, who is Micky’s on-again, off-again lover.
Katherine Forrest published the first of her series about police detective Kate Delafield in 1984. An LAPD ex-Marine homicide detective, Kate is militarily calm with a dogged determination to find the killer. Dealing more with character studies than mystery solving, the author slowly reveals personalities through the characters’ actions and interactions. Kate’s challenges come from chauvinistic and homophobic people in a world in which homosexuality is still illegal and feminism is still a nasty word.
It’s been over a decade since my all-time favorite writer, Laurie King, published her last Kate Martinelli book in 2003, but I always hope for another one. San Francisco police detective Kate solves intricate, dark crimes of murdered children and homeless people while struggling with her complicated intimate relationship. As author of the Mary Russell series (Sherlock Holmes’ wife), King used a missing Arthur Conan Doyle manuscript in her final book of the series.
The series from Mary Wings features Emma Victor from 1986 to 1999. Reminiscent of the old-time butch world, the clever and witty Emma Victor is a private eye who takes the reader through the compelling lesbian lifestyle in beautiful San Francisco after a rocky start in Boston. Through sub-plotting and meandering, the characters’ interactions, including casual sex and male-like stoic behavior, make the books fun.
Over a decade ago, Nicola Griffith introduced lesbian hero Aud Torvigen, a tough, ex-police lieutenant from the elite “Red Dogs” who has seen it all. Making Atlanta her home, Aud solves crimes as she kills without hesitation and without remorse, emotionally removed from the world. Icy-cold and hot at the same time, Aud is a character to follow.
British author Nicola Upson uses the Scottish playwright and murder mystery author Josephine Tey (aka Elizabeth MacKintosh) as the protagonist in this fictional series set in the 1930s. The atmospheric books about Great Britain that move between theater life in London and murders in rural England blend fiction with fact, include real characters in Upson’s world of murder. The first book, published in 2008, includes LGBT characters, but Tey’s lesbian relationship doesn’t occur until midway through the series.
Sandra Scoppettone’s Lauren Laurano, a private investigator in New York City, started to solve crimes with humor and heart over two decades ago. The series begins with humor and ends with sadness but keeps the same charming character who seems like a close friend as she investigates deaths of friends and family.
Sara Dreher’s slightly off-kilter character Stoner Mc Tavish entertains readers who like the unexpected. Through psychic connection and out-of-body-travel, Stoner is transported into different places and time periods, solving crimes and searching for her lover, Gwen. Helped by her fun-loving friend Mary Lou and her cool aunt, Stoner’s adventures are uplifting and crazy unusual. Sarah Dreher died in 2012, and I am saddened that both she and Stoner are gone.
Val McDermid was the first writer to hit the UK with a lesbian sleuth. Lindsay Gordon is a very feisty, very funny Scottish journalist who, with friends, family, and lovers, untangles conspiracies and exposes murderers. Her world is sometimes so dark that I’m reluctant to turn the page, but I always do. McDermid leaves the reader with unanswered questions and wanting another Gordon book.
That’s my top ten – authors who succeeded in bringing back lesbian sleuths again and again, with style and amazing imagination. All these books should be in print and in libraries serving general populations.