Caz Frear grew up in Coventry and spent her teenage years dreaming of moving to London and writing a novel.
After fulfilling her first dream, it wasn’t until she moved back to Coventry thirteen years later that the writing dream finally came true.
She has a first-class degree in History & Politics which she’s put to enormous use over the years by working as a waitress, a shop assistant, a retail merchandiser and, for the past twelve years, a headhunter. When she’s not agonising over snappy dialogue or incisive prose, she can be found shouting at the TV when Arsenal are playing or holding court in the pub on topics she knows nothing about.
Caz is the winner of the Richard & Judy Search for a Bestseller Award 2017.
It’s almost a case of ‘where to begin?’ Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect completely changed the face of TV crime by putting a woman at the helm of a high-profile murder team and exposing sexist attitudes within the police force in a realistic, non-preachy way Helen Mirren often gets the plaudits for bringing DCI Jane Tennison to life but she’s La Plante’s creation, no doubt, and indeed Helen Mirren often spoke about La Plante’s influence on set – how she coached her into the role, pointing out on one occasion that she was smiling too much, being too much of a people-pleaser, rather than the Tennison that La Plante envisaged. La Plante’s Tennison is tough, uncompromising and wipes the floor with any misogynist she encounters however she’s not without vulnerability too (deep breaths outside the incident room before facing off to ‘the lads’, the odd tear when she realises she’s won the respect of her superiors). She’s undoubtedly my all-time fave and I don’t think that will ever change.
Favourite Women in Crime Fiction
Guest Post by Caz Frear
Of Agatha Christie’s seventy-plus novels, Miss Marple only featured in twelve however she’s arguably her most memorable character. Miss Marple was one of the first female protagonists in crime fiction and truly ground-breaking in her own understated way. Unassuming but innately curious, Miss Marple managed to blend into the background due to her advancing age and mild demeanour but it was this inconspicuousness that was her greatest strength. A Murder is Announced remains one of the all-time great crime novels and writing this has made me want to go back and read all twelve Miss Marples again!
Cassie first appears in Tana French’s first novel, In the Woods. As the story is told from Rob Ryan’s viewpoint, you could be forgiven for thinking that Cassie is the trusty sidekick however she’s far more than that. While not exactly the moral compass (she certainly wouldn’t see herself as that!), Cassie keeps the investigation focused, she keeps Rob sane for the most part, and it’s Cassie who sees through the culprit’s charm first. Cassie takes centre stage in French’s second novel, The Likeness, where we see a far more fallible character, struggling to cope in an extreme situation. All in all, she’s a delightfully rounded character with a sharp wit and a fierce intelligence that she chooses to wear lightly.
With her quick temper, working-class chip on her shoulder, and the permanent air of angst that hangs heavy on Barbara Havers, she really shouldn’t the winning character that she most definitely is! I watched the Inspector Lynley Mysteries long before I picked up the novels, however I’m so glad I did eventually discover the world created by Elizabeth George as the novels are far richer and there are clear differences in Barbara Havers’ character. While ‘TV Havers’ still has that prickliness, she’s a far more sympathetic individual and incidentally far more attractive than in the novels (that’s TV for you!). It’s often said that Havers acts as the classic foil to Lynley but I think this underplays her significance as she’s not just there to highlight his idiosyncrasies, she’s a fascinating protagonist in her own right. Strangely likeable despite being textbook unlikeable!
I adore Susie Steiner’s creation! Manon is deeply flawed but not in the traditional crime fiction way. She’s not ‘damaged’ as such (we do seem to love a damaged detective), she’s just intensely human and that makes you root for her all the more. Manon’s been knocked around by life, she sometimes makes bad choices, she acts on impulse, gets drunk and occasionally makes a show of herself, but ultimately she’s just a woman who’s getting on with things, doing the best she can. I’m currently about a quarter of the way through Persons Unknown and I’m already hoping there will be a third outing for Manon Bradshaw.
Cagney & Lacey
No list would be complete without this pairing! I recently saw them referred to as the ‘suffragettes of American TV’ and while that may be a slight exaggeration J, they certainly represented forty-something working women in a way that hadn’t been done before. Christine Cagney was the glamorous, sexy, career-driven one, and her character was at the centre of some of the more controversial episodes – Cagney and Lacey certainly didn’t shy away from taboo subjects (for the time) – date rape, abortion, domestic abuse. Mary-Beth Lacey was the motherly one – warm, empathetic but tough-as-old-boots and as straight-talking as they come. Lacey openly struggled with the work-family balance but in ‘Harv’ she had a husband ahead of his time – a man proud of, although occasional fearful of, his wife’s tough job and commitment to her career. Cagney and Lacey has often been called a show “about two women who happen to be cops" and this was the real beauty of it. We got to see both characters at work, at home and with each other – as friends, not just partners.