Top 10 Female Sleuths


Each of the characters in this top ten list features a female sleuth who stars in her own series. This list is in no way comprehensive. I love far too many books to list them all here, but the following heroines have stuck with me for a variety of reasons. I didn’t number my selections because I enjoyed them all for different reasons, and my preference for each would depend on what kind of book I’m in the mood to read.


  • Detective Elouise Norton aka “Lou” by Rachel Howzell Hall. Lou, a Los Angeles homicide detective is one of my favorite new characters. Smart, funny, and at time, vulnerable, Lou kicks ass as a detective. The dialogue is snappy, the procedure dead-on, and the prose fresh. Start with Lou’s first book, Land of Shadows, because you won’t want to miss the beginning of this riveting series.
  • Stephanie Plum by Janet Evanovich. I was born and raised in New Jersey. How could I not love a humorous mystery series set in Trenton? Stephanie is an inept but endearing bounty hunter. The books are fast-paced and fun. These books don’t necessarily need to be read in order, but start with the first book, One for the Money, to learn how Stephanie became a bounty hunter and for a full introduction to the cast of quirky characters.
  • Kinsey Millhone of the “Alphabet Mysteries” by Sue Grafton. I have read at least twenty of the twenty-five books in this series, beginning with book one, A is for Alibi. Kinsey was my first private investigator heroine. She also served as my introduction to more hard-boiled detective fiction. Kinsey was different from other female heroines from the very beginning. She didn’t need a male counterpart. She got herself out of trouble. She has no domestic interests. Tough and relentless, she’s a loner who always gets the job done.
  • Jane Rizzoli by Tess Gerritsen. Raised with all brothers, no sisters, Jane is one determined detective. She is also outspoken, sometimes impulsive, and often brash. Her flaws are part of what make her so interesting as a character. The second lead character in this series. Dr. Maura Isles, is also female, making the series even more of a stand-out in a genre dominated by male leads. I find the books grittier than the TV series they inspired, but I enjoyed both. Book one, The Surgeon, is particularly dark.
  • DD Warren by Lisa Gardner. Gardner’s novels are brilliantly plotted, and the DD Warren novels are particularly riveting. This is the book series that first hooked me on police procedurals. Start with the first book, Alone, to appreciate Gardner’s attention to detail and her smart, no nonsense heroine.
  • Roxane Weary by Kristen Lepionka. Book One, The Last Place You Look, brings a fresh perspective to the classic PI mystery. Recently emerging froma low point after her father’s death, Roxane takes on a seemingly impossible case. She battles alcohol dependence, crippling self-doubt, and depression while becoming more and more obsessed with solving her case: a fifteen-year-old double homicide the police do not want reopened. Roxane stumbles into plenty of danger, and stubborn determination becomes one of her most endearing traits.
  • The Lucy Kincaid Novels by Allison Brennan. Lucy is the survivor of a horrific crime. She is a survivor, period. Brennan is a master at character development, and Lucy’s transformation from victim to FBI agent is enthralling over the sixteen (so far) fast-paced mystery-thrillers in this exceptional series. You’ll want to start at the beginning, Love Me To Death, to witness her entire character arc. Brennan has a brand-new FBI Mobile Response Team series starting in February. I can’t wait to read book one, The Third to Die.
  • Lady Julia Grey by Deanna Raybourn. Set in 1880s London, these historical mysteries are beautifully written, and Raybourn’s prose is an absolute pleasure to read. Book one, Silent in the Grave, launches the nine-book series with the suspicious death of Lady Grey’s husband. She investigates, with the help of a private detective who becomes an eventual love interest, and quickly learns she did not know her husband at all.
  • Eve Dallas by JD Robb. Set about fifty years in the future, The In-Death Series spans an impressive fifty-one books for a reason. A New York City detective, Eve has a deep and disturbing backstory that is skillfully developed over the course of multiple books, as is her problematic relationship with Irish billionaire Rourke. Book one, Naked In Death, is one of the rare books I have read multiple times.
  • Jaya Jones by Gigi Pandian. Half cozy, half action-adventure, Book One, Artifact, introduces Jaya, a historian that made my inner nerd very happy. With mystery, humor, and a touch of romance, this series reminds me of a cross between Indiana Jones and Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody books. Pandian’s background and knowledge of anthropology—and her super smart heroine—make this series shine.