Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Favourite female sleuth novels: Tess Gerritsen gives her picks

Bestselling crime writer Tess Gerritsen, who will be visiting New Zealand next month to appear at the Ngaio Marsh Award presentation in Christchurch, and headline the Romance Writers of New Zealand (RWNZ) Annual Conference, Love & Other Crimes (where she will teach a workshop on thrillers, and give a talk on how to build emotion into one's writing), has recently shared with The Week her six all-time favourite crime novels starring female sleuths.

Gerritsen, who was a doctor before becoming the author of the best-selling Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles crime novels, recommends the following slate of female sleuth-starring thrillers:
  • BLIND DESCENT by Nevada Barr: National park ranger Anna Pigeon "is so smart and resourceful that any man would feel safer with her at his side", says Gerritsen
  • GRAVE GOODS by Ariana Franklin: Adelia Aguilar is a doctor sent to Glastonbury by King Henry II in 1176 to investigate two skeletons that may be the remains of Arthur and Guinevere.
  • THE STRANGE FILES OF FREEMONT JONES by Diane Day: Fremont Jones is an independent-minded woman who offers secretarial services in 1905 San Francisco.
  • IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER by Julia Spencer-Fleming: the Reverend Clare Fergusson is an Episcopal priest in a small New Hampshire town.
  • THE INFORMATIONIST by Taylor Stevens: "Vanessa Munroe is more than just a sleuth —she’s an unstoppable force of nature", says Gerritsen.
  • THE NANCY DREW MYSTERIES by Carolyn Keene: "Quick-witted and courageous, Nancy demonstrated to girls of my generation that we could accomplish anything."
You can read the full article, with more comments from Gerritsen on each book and heroine, here.
It got me thinking about my own personal favourite female sleuths, or thrillers starring female heroines. Regrettably, I have only read one of the above sleuths (Nancy Drew - although I was always much more of a Hardy Boys fan growing up, I did read one or two Nancy Drew books too). I have heard good things about Nevada Barr's writing, and as I enjoy thrillers set in rural/wilderness areas, I will have to at some point get my hands on some of her Anna Pigeon books.
To be honest, my all-time favourite long-running sleuths are all guys (Harry Bosch, Tom Thorne, Dave Robicheaux), but I have read plenty of female-starring crime novels that I've really loved too. Back in high school I really enjoyed Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta novels, although I think the series has tailed off in more recent times. I've also read plenty of Kathy Reichs's Tempe Brennan series, and Vanda Symon's Sam Shephard series is a recent favourite - Shephard is a terrific character that I really look forward to reading. I haven't yet got into Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich or Sarah Paretsky's long-running series, although I have some of each of their books on my TBR bookshelf at home. I recently enjoyed reading RED WOLF by Liza Marklund, but I'm not sure about how I feel about the main character, Annika Bengtzon - I might like Marklund's writing despite Bengzton, rather than because of her. Similarly I thought Gillian Flynn's DARK PLACES was a terrific novel, but her female lead (which isn't intended to be a recurring character anyway) was highly dislikeable - as are almost all of the characters in that intriguing novel. However, I quite like the DI Tina Boyd character in Simon Kernick's books (eg THE LAST 10 SECONDS, PAYBACK). And I really enjoyed Leah Giarratano's BLACK ICE last year, starring DS Jill Jackson - I'd like to read more of her.
In terms of Gerritsen's own heroines, Boston detective Jane Rizzoli and pathologist Maura Isles, I am really enjoying THE SILENT GIRL, which I am currently reading - although I'm not such a fan of Isles. I read THE KILLING PLACE earlier this year, and had a similar vibe (I think I am enjoying this one more because it, so far, is less Isles-centric than THE KILLING PLACE). Rizzoli is played by Angie Harmon in the recent TV adaptation of the novels (pictured left), while Isles is played by Sasha Alexander.
On the local front, as well as Shephard, I have enjoyed the two 'Anna Markunas' books by Alix Bosco, particularly the first, CUT & RUN (which won the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award), and I'm looking forward to seeing how Markunas develops further as an intriguing character in future books. Donna Malane's heroine, missing person's expert Diane Rowe, was also a fresh and interesting heroine in SURRENDER - and hopefully Malane may continue the character in future books. She really grew on me throughout that debut novel, and has a distinct narrative voice.
Looking at the first 50 books I read in 2011, of the 44 crime novels, only nine starred female leads or co-leads, which is probably a sign that I need to read more female-centric crime fiction. I'm currently contemplating my own 'top female sleuth' thrillers, which I will share with you in due course.
In the meantime, what do you think of Gerritsen's picks? Who are your own personal favourite female sleuths? Would Gerritsen's Rizzoli and Isles feature amongst your faves? What other female sleuths would you suggest? I'd love to read your suggestions.

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