Setting aside the wonderful Agatha Christie, the goddesses of British crime are Dorothy Sayers, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell.
I must have read all the crime novels of all three but it is Ruth Rendell who is the best (I think). Her plots are satisfyingly knotty and contemporary, just the right depth of characterization and an engaging series hero — Chief Inspector Wexford. I prefer him to the poet police man Adam Dalgliesh (James) and the super clever aristocrat Peter Wimsey (Sayers).
Of the younger generation of British women crime writers: Val Mcdermid is fantastic but Lauren Henderson’s Sam Jones series is smart and fun. I highly recommend ‘Black Rubber Dress’ – a murder mystery set in the twisted world of investment bankers, trust funds, drugs and blackmail.
There is a special genre of English crime novels set in Italy and two of the best practitioners are: Donna Leon(Commissario Guido Brunetti in Venice) and Magdalen Nabb (Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia in Florence). Political interference, corruption, art and religion are common themes through the books of these series. And delightful evocations of food and architecture. Sounds incredibly familiar, right? Italian crime novels are the best models for the fledgling genre of Indian crime.
Moving across the ocean: The American women crime writers are prolific. Sara Paretsky, the creator of the original kickass feminist P.I. , V.I. Warshawski, Sue Grafton who wrote the Alphabet series, Patricia Cornwell’s long suffering forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta, followed by Kathy Reichs’s forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (you can find her on FOX’s Bones as Bones).
Closing this list with my favourite woman detective, written by Phil Rickman , the only male writer in this list. Reverend Merrily Watkins is an Anglican vicar of a village in Wales who doubles up as an exorcist and triples up as a crime solver. Check out the novella ‘The House of Susan Lulham’.
Who’s your favourite female crime writer? Tell us in the comments.