Five Overlooked Crime Fighters
I’ll admit it: I love an amateur sleuth the most. Why? Because we expect a police officer or detective to solve a crime. It is their actual job, and by nature of their profession, they are bestowed with the tools and authority to crack the case. I mean, couldn’t we all solve a crime if we had access to search warrants, databases, and forensics experts, and could drag people downtown for questioning? I like to think I could.
But amateur detectives are different. Without these tools and the authority of a badge, they must rely on their own instincts, powers of observation, and ability to elicit information from others.
What makes an amateur sleuth effective–and fascinating–is that they are often overlooked for one reason or another. They may not have the obvious tools to solve a crime,
But not fitting the detective stereotype works to their advantage. No one expects retirees or children to be up to anything, which allows them to evade suspicion and enter into places and conversations where the authorities might not be welcome. These crime fighters find ways to relate, which usually means they’re loaded with charm and humor.
The amateur or overlooked detective ends up on the case not out of curiosity, but because they’re compelled to, usually for some deeply personal reason. They’ve got skin in the game. It drives the investigation forward and causes blind spots and complications that make the book more readable.
Fall is the perfect time to get to know protagonists with more chutzpah than real authority. Here are a few of my favorites.
Flavia de Luce is an 11-year-old chemistry genius, largely ignored by her aloof father and left to roam the English countryside like a feral cat in this charming mystery for adults. But don’t be fooled—between a sharper-than-he-appears house manager rattled by the war, and the death of Flavia’s mother by a mountaineering accident—these books have more emotion and depth of feeling than you might expect. Flavia is a tenacious crime fighter in a pinafore.
It’s not that Nanette Hayes isn’t capable of solving a crime. She has a degree from Vassar and occasionally does French translations for money. It’s just that she makes incredibly bad choices that complicate her life, including sleeping with married men and busking corners with her saxophone instead of getting a proper job. Nanette perfectly straddles polite society while her own life is a shambles, with only her dearest friend—a stripper—to confide in. Time travel back to NYC 1990s, or for the first time, through the eyes of Nanette.
Leda Foley is a travel agent with a gift that feels like a curse—a spotty and unreliable clairvoyance that she tends to keep to herself. But when she rebooks a client’s travel for no apparent reason, and that plane bursts into flames, and that client is a detective with a cold case . . . she can no longer hide. At the urging of the detective, she works on sharpening her psychic instincts, through Klairoyvoyant Karaoke of all things, and tackles a cold case of her own.
To say that Dexter is an amateur sleuth is a bit misleading. He’s a blood spatter expert with the Miami Police Department and often first-on-the-scene of the city’s most grisly crimes. But he doesn’t have the agency’s support with his side hustle as a serial killer. He’s not looking for any old victim. Trained by his detective father who recognized his son’s killer instincts, he focuses solely on those who got away. It’s not easy being a sociopath. The charm of this series comes from Dexter’s first-person POV as he pretends to be just one of the guys.
These books have sold millions of copies around the world, and if you haven’t read one yet, please do yourself a favor and surrender. You’ll be charmed to no end.
About Glory Be by Danielle Arceneaux:
It’s a hot and sticky Sunday in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Glory has settled into her usual after-church routine, meeting gamblers at the local coffee shop, where she works as a small-time bookie. Sitting at her corner table, Glory hears that her best friend—a nun beloved by the community—has been found dead in her apartment.
When police declare the mysterious death a suicide, Glory is convinced that there must be more to the story. With her reluctant daughter—who has troubles of her own–in tow, Glory launches a shadow investigation into Lafayette’s oil tycoons, church gossips, a rumored voodoo priestess, nosey neighbors, and longtime ne’er-do wells.
As a Black woman of a certain age who grew up in a segregated Louisiana, Glory is used to being minimized and overlooked. But she’s determined to make her presence known as the case leads her deep into a web of intrigue she never realized Lafayette could harbor.
Danielle Arcenaux’s riveting debut brings forth an unforgettable character that will charm and delight crime fans everywhere and leave them hungry for her next adventure.