Indie Sleuths: Girl Detective Series through the Ages

indie fixx book club

Here’s another Indie Fixx Book Club post from Laura Zurowski. Get in touch with me if you want to contribute to the Book Club by writing a post. xoxo –  jen!

By guest contributor Laura Zurowski

On first glance one might be tempted to say that the girl sleuths of our parent’s or grandparent’s era have little in common with female detectives found in today’s popular crime series. Upon peering through our trusty magnifying glass though, it’s apparent that yesterday’s characters were stealthily challenging gender norms and societal expectations while appealing to a mass audience of young women. From a teen girl having a “career” solving mysteries instead of domestic duties to adult women working as private investigators preferring independence over husbands to ladies from around the globe expressing their sexuality, heritage, and intelligence on their terms, these stories showcase creative and courageous females who are simultaneously feminine and tough as nails.

Old School Sleuthing

Girl Series: The immense popularity of teen detective series published in the early twentieth century – Nancy Drew, The Dana Girls, Judy Bolton… to name but a few – transcends time. Some of the titles are nearing 100 years old! Certain series, like Nancy Drew, were reprinted and “modernized” but reading the originals provides insight (although an uncomfortable one) into the societal beliefs of the time.

Invisible Scarlet O’Neil Published in the 1940s and 50s, this American comic strip featured one of the first “superheroines.” Scarlet used her power of invisibility to help strangers in need and catch dangerous criminals. Despite a 50+ year hiatus, she has recently resurfaced in a book series and blog.

nancy drew
{{nancy drew books by alice b. gardens photography}}

Crime Bustin’ 80s style!

Kinsey Millhone: Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series features a no-nonsense California PI twice divorced living in a converted garage and hating her daily 3-mile run. Kinsey might be a plain Jane but she has a brilliant mind for busting criminals – even if her taste in sandwiches (peanut butter pickle?) is questionable.

Stephanie Plum: The star of Janet Evanovich’s Numbers series has big attitude, big problems with cars, big drama with her family, and big hair thanks to a canister of Aquanet (which is used as a crime deterrent in one story). Going on a long flight? Throw one of these into your carry-on and that seat in coach won’t seem so bad.

No Ordinary Woman

Theda Krakow: Clea Simon has a brilliant mystery series featuring something near and dear to many Indie Fixx readers – cats! Theda is a music journalist, detective, and cat lover all rolled into one. With titles such as Mew is for Murder, Cries and Whiskers andProbable Claws the furry friend in your life will certainly approve!

Lisbeth Salander: She’s the girl with a dragoon tattoo and in Stieg Larsson’s three books her 5 foot tall 90lbs bundle of mixed martial arts energy hacked computers and criminals to bits with clinical precision. Considering the mysterious death of the author, a real-life Lisbeth may be needed to ensure the unpublished manuscripts see the light of day.

Mma Precious Ramotswe: The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency has eleven (and counting) novels featuring this rather large, slightly comic, and whip smart lady and her private detective agency in Botswana. Tackling crimes involving gender discrimination, domestic violence, and marital infidelity, she is a force for good in a turbulent landscape.

{{judy bolton mystery by callooh callay}}

While this article lists just a few of the crime series books featuring female detectives and crime-stoppers, there are many, many more! What are some of your favorites and why? Are there any series you collect?

About the contributor: Laura Zurowski publishes Lovelorn Poets (, a blog devoted to celebrating the beauty of anonymous love letters, missives of regret, and poems found on Missed Connections websites. The heartfelt messages serve as a springboard to creativity employing illustrations, photographs, music, dramatic readings, and videos. Indie Fixx readers are encouraged to contact her about showcasing their work!


  1. I remember all of the mystery girls mentioned above. Even Scarlet.
    I only had one of her book. Old, tattered with pages that crumbled when you turned them.

  2. I listened on tape all the “No 1 Ladies detective agency” I must say that especially with foreign names, places it really lends itself to the spoken word, so much more involving. but I pretty much only read books by listening so I am biased.

  3. Oh yes, Trixie Belden was an obsession when I was younger. I still remember reading that first book in the series; it was like my first taste of chocolate, just as intriguing and addicting! The books were first published in the ’50s and featured a group of kids who were always finding mysteries to solve. It was the horse stable across the road and the little farm house down in the valley with the kids attending a picturesque high school in the Catskills (near where I grew up) that appealed to me.
    I recall Nancy Drew’s references to her “plump friend” George always bugged me, but I suppose it was accepted at the time.

  4. I love Nancy Drew! I collect old Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and others from that time. More modern than the originals, my favorites were the Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys Supermysteries from the 80s and 90s.

  5. Totally brilliant post – love it!!! Loved Nancy Drew, whizzed through Kinsey Millhone and inhaled Lisbeth Salander!!!! Loved it… Gotta say, I love Kay Scarpetta as well!!!

  6. I LOVE this post:) So fun!

    Do you remember Harriet the Spy? When I was younger, I thought she was waaaaay cool:)

    I actually have my mom’s old collection of Nancy Drew books…I love them!

  7. My favorite books were my mother’s old mystery novels – the original Nancy, Trixie Belden and Cherry Ames. I still have them!

  8. I love Nancy Drew and have a lot of older hardcovers that I’ll keep forever. I also read the book about the women behind Nancy Drew and the story is really fascinating.

    I’m also a big fan of Mma Precious Ramotswe; those books are so incredibly simple and fun.

    Adding to the list: Maisie Dobbs. Set in the 1930’s I love how these books incorporate dealing with World War 1 into the mysteries.

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