13 of the Best Female Sleuths from Pop Culture

Everyone knows Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and the Hardy Boys, but what about the best female sleuths from pop culture? Women have been solving crime and catching bad guys in books, television, and movies just as long as men—only they’ve been doing it better. Let’s face it, women do almost everything better.

Call it female intuition, call it women’s instinct, call it whatever you like—women are natural problem solvers. It’s unsurprising we make great cops, detectives, spies, and amateur mystery solvers. We’re great at finding clues, we can get anyone to talk, and we always know when someone is lying to us.

We’re smart, sly, and experts in the art of manipulation (hey, we’re girlfriends and mothers, it’s part of the job description), so even the sneakiest, most dastardly criminals can’t escape our clutches. Combine that with our ability to kick ass and take names, and you can understand why the best sleuths from television, movies, and books are always women.

Don’t believe me? Let me prove it to you with this list of 13 amazing female sleuths from pop culture. Trust me, these ladies will have you convinced.

1. Miss Marple

When you think of great sleuths, you probably don’t think of elderly spinsters, but Miss Marple will change all that. One of Agatha Christie’s most famous detectives, this little old lady’s nosy nature is good for more than just the week’s hottest gossip. Clever and intuitive, Miss Marple never misses a clue—proving that not only do women make great detectives, but the elderly can, too.

2. Dana Scully

FBI Special Agent Dana Scully may be a skeptic when it comes to monsters and aliens, but luckily for us, it hasn’t stopped her from solving case after mysterious case. Highly intelligent and analytical, there is no situation, no baddie bad enough, to scare Scully away, and no matter the case, she doesn’t stop until it’s solved. If you ever find yourself in the midst of a government conspiracy or alien abduction, just ask yourself:

“What would Scully do?”

3. Nancy Drew

Every little’s girls first favorite detective, Nancy Drew has evolved a lot over her 86-year history as a girl detective—but no matter what changes she goes through, one thing is always certain: she’s an inspiring character and one smart woman. From the paperbacks to the movies to the graphic novels, Nancy Drew’s intelligence, independence, and kind heart make her not only a great crime solver, but also a wonderful role model and one of the best female sleuths ever created.

4. Olivia Benson

If ever you’re in New York and find yourself victim to a crime, your only hope is that there is a real life detective as persistent, committed, and thorough as Olivia Benson. One of the longest serving characters in the extensive Law & Order universe, Benson continually proves herself an asset to the SVU team, rising through the ranks from junior detective to leadership positions—and now, as the squad’s commanding officer—we can only assume more amazing things will come from this incredible detective.

5. Jessica Fletcher

This author isn’t just good at writing mysteries, but she’s great at solving them, too. With a knack for finding murder wherever she travelled, Murder She Wrote’s Jessica Fletcher—one of the greatest TV characters of all time, and one of the best detectives to ever grace the screen—was even named “most prolific sleuth” by Guinness World Records. Yes, she really is that amazing, and if you don’t believe me, there are 12 seasons and 4 TV movies you can binge-watch for proof.

6. Clarice Starling

Strong, smart, and courageous, Clarice Starling of Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal fame won’t let anything hold her back—not even jealous, sexist coworkers, corrupt agents, or a cannibalistic maniac on the run.

A complicated woman, Starling may have been corrupted in the end, but it doesn’t change her phenomenal work as an FBI agent over the years or the lives she saved apprehending murderers like Buffalo Bill. Hey, everyone has their weaknesses, and for Starling, it’s apparently weirdly sexy cannibals.

7. Women’s Murder Club Members

What happens when you combine a police inspector, a deputy district attorney, a medical examiner, and a crime reporter? Pure crime solving magic in the form of one incredible Women’s Murder Club, that’s what.

Lindsay Boxer, Cindy Thomas, Claire Washburn, and Jill Bernhardt of James Patterson’s bestselling series have yet to come up against a mystery they can’t solve together. Their loyalty, comradery, and love for one another makes them even better sleuths, and earns them all a spot on this list of kickass female sleuths.

The only real question is, who is your favorite?

8. Precious Ramotswe

From the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and the first female detective in her home of Botswana, Mma Precious Ramotswe proves that the most unlikely characters can make the best crime solvers. Pragmatic, shrewd, and intuitive, Precious uses her grit and her signature sassy attitude to find missing people, bust con men, and keep peace in her town. A unique and wholly original character, Precious is a sleuth you’ve never seen before.

9. Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars is such a beloved sleuth, fans literally paid for her return. Originally written by Rob Thomas as an young-adult novel starring a male protagonist, Mars proved that a female private investigator is just as interesting—if not more so—than any boy out there. Smart, sly, and quirky, there’s no one quite like Veronica Mars.

10. Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles

When it comes to detective dream teams, there’s no one better than Rizzoli and Isles. This police detective and medical examiner duo not only have great chemistry and true loyalty, but they’re also unstoppable forces of nature when it comes to taking down the baddies and serving justice.

Though the television series just announced its cancelation, we can all cross our fingers and hope that author Tess Gerrisen still has another Rizzol and Isles novel up her sleeve.

11.  Stephanie Plum

Not all sleuths have to be proper and professional, just ask Stephanie Plum of the hilarious Janet Evanovich series. Technically a female bounty hunter and not a true detective, Plum still stops at nothing to get her man, even if it means blowing up a few cars in the process. Outrageous and larger than life, Plum is the kind of sleuth that will make you laugh, make you cry, and help solve the crime, one crazy adventure at a time.

12.  Lisbeth Salander

If you want to be a good sleuth in these modern times, then you have to know a thing or two about computers—and there is no one better than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Lisbeth Salander.

A small woman with more power in her tiny pinky then most people have in their whole body, Salander is a force to be reckoned with. Fierce, strong, and intelligent, Lisbeth isn’t a typical sleuth, but a world-class computer hacker who is taking down criminals one syndicate at a time.

Trust me, this is one sleuth you do not want to mess with.

13.  Harriet Welsch

My personal hero, Harriet M. Welsch is one of the all-time best amateur female sleuths. An aspiring writer, a nosy neighbor, and the most precocious girl to walk the New York City streets, Harriet is that classic character that made me fall in love with sleuthing to begin with. Smart, cunning, and truly original, there’s no spy quite like Harriet.


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.


  1. L.K. Scott

    Mrs Bradley and the Honorable Phryne Fisher have a huge cult following in both novels and movies. I’m quite surprised they didn’t make it to this list. That’s scary buscuits! [img]https://dreadfulnotions.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/screen-shot-2016-03-18-at-10-13-51-am.png[/img]

  2. L.A. Thompson

    “13 Best” might be pushing it since several excellent examples were not included. Maybe this is the author’s choice of 13 best, but certainly not an all-time best list (best being a very subjective term anyway) as the list fails to note Det. Kate Beckett from Castel, Lt. Eve Dallas from J.D. Robb’s In Death series, or Juliet Blackwell’s Lily Ivory. Plus many other fine examples from literature.

  3. tom spisak

    where are Amelia Peabody and Mary Russell?

  4. Charles Dexter Ward

    No Velma from Scooby Doo? Her patience for her inept colleagues alone makes her one of the greats.

  5. Bruce Arthurs

    I have mixed feelings about including Clarice Starling on the list. To see her end up (in the book version of HANNIBAL) as half of the World’s Cutest Cannibal Couple was… horrible. I will never forgive Thomas Harris for letting himself fall in love with his villain.

  6. Teddy P

    Dana Scully FTW

  7. Dave Brzeski

    Saga Norén, from the original Danish version of ‘The Bridge’. Accept no substitutes.
    Vera Stanhope
    DSI Stella Gibson
    Ms. Tree
    V.I. Warshawski

  8. Cheryl Peterson

    [b]Sharon McCone[/b], for goodness sake! She’s been sleuthing successfully since Edwin of the Iron Shoes in 1977. She also has a great cast of characters supporting her.

  9. Naomi Johnson

    Sorry not to see Laura Holt on this list. She influenced an entire generation of girls. She ran her own highly successful PI business, set high standards for herself and her company, and maintained a work/life balance that allowed for her to pursue both arts and athleticism.

  10. GENA

    No Flavia du Luce? Not a good list, then.

  11. Jerrie Adkins

    Where’s Hetty Wainthropp?

  12. G Morgan

    What about: Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel, Honor Blackman as Mrs. Cathy Gale, Anne Francis as Honey West, and Stefanie Powers as April Dancer. These ladies were all way ahead of their time. Not only did they ‘sleuth’ – they could defend themselves with martial arts, and they were no match for any man in combat!

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