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Top 10 female crime protagonists

Guest Post by Corrie Jackson, 

author of  BREAKING DEAD


Nancy Drew

La Drew, whose stories were written by several American authors under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, has been solving crimes since 1930. Yep, 1930. Just ten years after women were given the right to vote in the US. Sure, she’s had her fair share of facelifts but one thing’s for sure: Nancy is a trailblazer.


Maeve Kerrigan

I flipping love Jane Casey’s Irish detective. She’s the youngest (and only female) member of the London Murder Squad. Watching Kerrigan grow in confidence - and find her feet in a male-dominated industry - has taught me lots about successful series fiction. Also, she does a fine line in putdowns. Especially those directed at her lovable rogue of a partner, Josh Derwent.


Clarice Starling

Starling’s learning curve from ingénue student to ice-cool FBI agent would give most normal people a nosebleed. When she is sent to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris’ notorious psychiatrist and serial killer, Starling uses both her whip-smart brain and her vulnerability to gain his trust – and solve the case. Hurrah!


Cassie Maddox

A minor character in one of Tana French’s earlier books, Maddox’s mettle is tested in The Likening when she goes undercover as a murder victim. Sharp, tough and complex, Maddox is French’s only female protagonist. Here’s hoping for a future cameo.


Lisbeth Salander

Stieg Larsson’s punkish, bisexual computer hacker blasted into the public’s consciousness in 2005 and has remained there ever since. Socially dysfunctional but razor-sharp, Salander is one of a kind. Larsson based her on the grown-up version of another rebellious Swedish heroine, Pippi Longstocking.


Rizzoli and Isles

Ok, I’m cheating; these count as two female leads. Detective Jane Rizzoli is serious and driven, while medical examiner Maura Isles is a loner nicknamed ‘The Queen of the Dead’. The appeal? Tess Gerritsen isn’t afraid to let her characters make mistakes.


Kay Scarpetta

Patricia Cornwall’s cool, blonde medical examiner’s personal life is almost as fascinating as the cases she solves. Although the edges of her icy exterior melt as the series progresses, one thing never softens: Scarpetta’s astonishing brain.


Modesty Blaise

Dubbed the ‘female James Bond’, Peter O’Donnell’s comic-strip heroine out-smarts and out-fights any Alpha-male. Blaise later starred in eleven novels – and if there’s a female crime protagonist with a better name I don’t know about it.


Kinsey Millhone

I am a private investigator, licensed by the state of California. I am thirty two, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind. Sue Grafton’s punchy opening lines give the measure of Millhone. A spunky heroine who drives an old banger, lives in a garage and cuts her own hair with nail scissors. What’s not to love!


Lindsay Gordon

Any character who describes herself as ‘a cynical socialist lesbian feminist journalist’ deserves to be on this list. Val McDermid went on to create many other standout protagonists, but it’s her fearless, straight-talking journalist that holds a special place in my heart.






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