The Best Female Sleuths in Pop Culture, Part II

Sleuth fans, we’re back again, and this time with an even longer list of the best women detectives, crime fighters, and amateur mystery solvers pop culture has to offer.  When we published a round-up of 13 of the best female sleuths earlier in the month, we were delighted to see what readers had to say about it, and who they wanted to add to our list.

Whenever I do a round-up or a listicle, whether it’s a collection of the scariest true crime novels or a list of all the things NOT to say to mystery lovers, it’s nearly impossible to include everything—but that’s why I love the comments section. You, the readers, were so excited to share your own favorite female sleuths with us. From fictional private investigators in San Francisco to glamorous gal detectives down under, classic cartoon characters to comic book heroes, readers let us know who we were missing on our own round-up, which is why we’ve decided to come back with a Part II.

Can’t get enough of power women with a penchant for solving crime? Neither can we, which is why we’re giving you these additional 23 of the best female sleuths in pop culture.

Did we miss anyone else?

1. Phryne Fisher

Not all sleuths are grubby cops or hard-and-fast living detectives. Some, like Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Fisher, are glamorous, wealthy aristocrats with a knack for solving crime. Strong, fearless, and daring, Miss Fisher is usually found running off to war, flying a plane herself, or, more often than not, getting to the bottom of one mystery or another. When you’re talking best female sleuths of all time, Miss Fisher falls near the top of the list.

See also: Murder, Melbourne, and Miss Fisher: A Roaring Series Set in the Roaring Twenties
 

2. Sharon McCone

The main character in over 30 of Marcia Muller’s mysteries, Sharon McCone is the cleverest female P.I. the San Francisco Bay has to offer. A determined and hardworking mystery solver, Sharon McCone is exactly what the New York Times said she was all those years ago—a “new breed of American woman detective.” Since her emergence on the screen, female sleuths have never been the same.
 

3. Mrs. Bradley

Mrs. Bradley, the protagonist of the Gladys Mitchell novels and the British drama series, is among some of the most beloved female sleuths, while her creator is considered one of the dames of detective writing, along with Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Sharp as a tack and fierce as a lioness, Mrs. Bradley may be considered elderly, but her mind is anything but. The star of over 65 novels, there isn’t a crime she hasn’t seen or solved.
 

4. Kinsey Millhone

The leading lady of Sue Grafton’s bestselling alphabet mystery novels, Kinsey Millhone is probably one of the most famous private investigators in modern fiction. A no-nonsense kind of woman, and a loner at heart, Kinsey spends more time tracking down criminals and solving cases than worrying about her appearance or personal relationships. With only two more letters left in the alphabet, readers everywhere should soak up what time they have left with this unforgettable female sleuth.
 

5. Alex Morrow

Like most women in their field, DS Alex Morrow is constantly faced with sexism and unfair gender politics in the workplace—but she doesn’t let that stop her from being one, fine female sleuth. A complicated individual with plenty of her own baggage, Morrow throws all of her energy into her work, and uses what’s left to try and stay afloat. An intriguing woman in her own right, Alex Morrow is a mystery worth reading about.
 

6. Kate Beckett

Richard Castle may be a brilliant writer and a natural mystery solver, but it’s detective-turned-police captain Kate Beckett who keeps the team on track in ABC’s crime series, Castle. Pragmatic, driven, and savvy, Beckett uses her own heartache to fuel her successful career in law enforcement, and will stop at nothing to see those responsible for it brought to justice.
 

7. Eve Dallas

If you think Nora Roberts only writes romances, think again. Under the pseudonym J.D. Robb, Roberts created Eve Dallas of the …in Death series, a police lieutenant in mid-21st century New York. The protagonist in over 50 books, Eve Dallas has shown herself to be a dedicated cop, a fiercely independent woman, and a hardened individual with a dark and complicated past. Despite her hardships, nothing can knock Eve down for long.
 

8. Paddy Meehan

Though she’s not a detective, police officer, or private investigator of any kind, Denise Mina’s Paddy Meehan knows how to get to the bottom of things. A journalist working her way up in Glasgow’s newspaper world, she lunges at any opportunity for a good mystery or, better yet, a great story.
 

9. Lily Ivory

Who says you can’t use a little magic to help you solve a mystery? Lily Ivory, a San Francisco based witch, uses her powers to keep evil and mischief at bay while solving supernatural mysteries. A fearless and charming protagonist, there’s never been a female sleuth like Lily before.
 

10. Flavia de Luce

Little girls make great sleuths, and we’re not just talking about Harriet the Spy here. Flavia de Luce, the titular protagonist of Alan Bradley’s series, is a motherless 11-year-old girl who isn’t afraid of death, but rather fascinated with it. Wise beyond her years, and smarter than most grown-ups around her, you’ll find yourself just as fascinated with Flavia as you are the mysteries she solves.
 

11. Anna Lee

Whether you’re talking about the Liza Cody Anna Lee Mystery series or the TV series with the same name, there’s one thing for sure: the protagonist is one incredible female sleuth. Anna Lee, an ex-cop-turned-private-investigator in London, is a shrewd, pragmatic, and dedicated sleuth determined to fix everything (and everyone) around her. And, despite the doubts of the men around her, Anna Lee not only constantly proves how valuable she is, but how strong all women are.
 

12. Amelia Peabody

The protagonist of Elizabeth Peters’s historical mystery series, Amelia Peabody is the brainy daughter of a scholarly recluse who leaves her his fortune—an event that allows her to find her true love, and her true passion, Egyptology. A strong and independent woman with no patience for fickle girls and helpless women, Peabody is a proud feminist who spends her time supporting women’s suffrage—that is, when she isn’t solving ancient and modern mysteries.
 

13. Velma Dinkley

Would the Scooby-Doo gang be able to solve a single mystery if it weren’t for their bookworm member, Velma Dinkley? Smart, clever, and well-read, there’s no obscure topic that Velma doesn’t know the facts about. Not to mention, she’s great at saving everyone else’s butts, so really, where would they be without her?
 

14. Mary Russell

It turns out that Watson wasn’t Sherlock’s only friend, at least not in Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series. Incredibly intelligent, logical, and scholarly, Mary Russell is a multi-talented woman who, among other things, can speak over half a dozen languages, throw knives, pick locks, and hypnotize others. A fervent feminist, Russell never lets her famous friend, mentor, and eventual husband overshadow her.
 

15. Cordelia Gray

Despite the name of the first book she stars in, Cordelia Gray proves that there is no such thing as an unsuitable job for a woman by solving every crime thrown her way. A secretary-turned-private-detective after the death of her boss, Cordelia Gray uses her level-headedness and focus to methodically find missing animals and uncover the identities of killers. Is there nothing she can’t do?
 

16. Jane Tennison

It’s no secret that British television knows a thing or two about crime dramas, and Prime Suspect is no different. Though the American version of the show, starring Maria Bello, didn’t take off, the original series, starring Helen Mirren as Detective Chief Jane Tennison, was a huge hit—all thanks to the leading lady. Smart, determined, and ambitious, Tennison works incredibly hard in her male-dominated field to rise to the top of the ranks and prove nay-sayers wrong. An empowering example for women everywhere, Tennison is the sleuth-loving feminist’s dream.
 

17. Laura Holt

What do you do when your sexist clientele refuses to hire a woman? You make up a fake male boss to report to. And when a con man assumes that role, you spend five seasons in a romantic power struggle with them, apparently. The leading lady of NBC’s game-changing series Remington Steele, Laura Holt is a smart, independent, modern woman who served as an inspiration to a generation of girls who wanted to grow up and be anything but ordinary.
 

18. Saga Norén

Move over Lisbeth Salander, because you aren’t the only female sleuth in Sweden. Saga Norén, the brilliant but socially inept police investigator, and protagonist of the Danish TV series The Bridge, may be lacking people skills, but her detective work more than makes up for it. Closed-off, somewhat hostile, and logical to a fault, Norén is a devoted member of the police force, and certainly one of the best women detectives on TV.
 

19. Vera Stanhope

Ann Cleeves has written more than a few great mystery novels, but among the very best are the ones starring Vera Stanhope. The leading lady of Cleeves’ books and a British TV series, Vera, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Vera Stanhope is an unorthodox crime solver, to say the least, but her quick-temper and increasingly messy life are no match for her razor sharp mind and commitment to her job.
 

20. Stella Gibson

This isn’t the first role to land Gillian Anderson a spot on a list of best female sleuths. The former (and current) The X-Files star puts her deductive reasoning skills to good use again, as Stella Gibson in BBC’s The Fall. A Detective Superintendent, Gibson is tasked with bringing down serial killer Paul Spector, the man responsible for the deaths of at least five women in Belfast. Gibson works tirelessly at making sure that number doesn’t go up, and believe me when I say, she’s damn good at it.

See also: I Still Want to Believe: The Power of The X-Files
 

21. Susan Grey

After working as codebreakers at Bletchley Park, is it really that surprising the four women in The Bletchley Circle miniseries become magnificent mystery solvers? Though Millie, Lucy, and Jean could all be counted in this list of the best female sleuths in pop culture, it’s their leader, Susan Grey, who steals the show. A homemaker during the day and risk-taker at night, Susan will stop at nothing to protect the women around her and catch the serial killer that the police won’t.
 

22. V.I. Warshawski

The star of nearly 20 books and short story collections, Victoria Iphigenia “V.I.” Warshawski is a seasoned detective capable of taking down even the smartest white collar criminals. Independent, fiery, and clever, Warshawski is a powerful and determined woman that lets her strong moral compass act as her guide. She isn’t afraid to use her karate moves (or her pistol) to make sure justice is served, and justice is always served.
 

23. Ms. Tree

It’s right there in her punny name—Ms. Tree is a hero when it comes to solving a mystery. A female P.I. who takes over her late husband’s detective business after he’s murdered, Ms. Tree is an ass-kicking, crime-fighting, social-justice seeking machine who can solve mysteries even when she’s 9 months pregnant. There’s no female sleuth in pop culture quite like her.

See also: 13 of the Best Female Sleuths from Pop Culture

Did we miss any badass female sleuths from pop culture? Keep 'em coming in the comments section below!

 


Sadie Trombetta is a freelance writer and proud bibliophile hiding out in the hills of Western Massachusetts. A terrible representation of her generation's prowess of all things technology, she's most likely found hiking up one mountain or another with at least four books in her backpack. Will work in exchange for plane tickets.

Comments

  1. Girl Crush

    Do you know Ava Lee? If not you are missing out on a great character.

  2. COmtnLady

    Don’t forget Sarah Kelling (Charlotte MacLeod is her author),
    or
    Brooklyn Wainwright (Kate Carlisle is her author).

  3. Teddy P

    Very impressive list.

  4. Deanna Zanaglia

    A lot of favorites mentioned, I’d add DI Helen Morton,DS Annie Cabot -DCI Banks; DS Barbara Havers-Lynley Mysteries; Rosemary Boxer,Laura Thyme-Rosemary+Thyme; Emma Peel -The Avengers

  5. Deanna Stillings

    I like Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman better than I like her Phryne Fisher.

  6. Jerrie Adkins

    Don’t forget Hetty Wainthropp.

  7. Thrilling Detective

    I just went through both lists. Just good, good stuff all around.

    A bit surprised Scully (and some of the other media types) was so highly ranked. But Scully before Nancy Drew? Sheesh!

    Still, I’m so glad you went beyond the typical dumbed down movie/TV world to include literature’s Sharon, V.I., Kinsey, Anna Lee and… Ms. Tree. Man, that dame was dangerous!

  8. Thomas Lawrence

    1. Modesty Blaise
    2. Honey West
    3. Cinnamon Carter
    4. Charlie Fox
    5. Carrie Matheson
    6. Tuppence Beresford
    7. Daria Gibron

  9. Maud Bellamy

    How come Maisie Dobbs isn’t on the list?????? Ubelievable!!

  10. Mia Thrace

    Portia Adams from the Portia Adams Adventure series!

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