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Tag: Elly Griffiths

Top Row, L-R: Deborah Crombie (with Dax), Anna Lee Huber, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Catriona McPherson, and Louise Penny. Middle row: Ingrid Thoft, Jenn McKinlay, Julia Spencer Fleming, Paige Shelton, and Rhys Bowen. Bottom Row: Hallie Ephron, Elly Griffiths, Maggie Robinson, and Amy Pershing. (See complete photo credits in IMAGE CREDITS below).

Mystery Woman

By G. S. Norwood

Male authors, including Edgar Allen Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, were pioneers in crime fiction—a genre which arose in the mid to late 1800s.  Even Charles Dickens tried his hand, with his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. But, from femmes fatales to the distraught daughters of the landed gentry, there has usually been a mystery woman at the heart of any crime novel. And it wasn’t long before women began to put their own distinctive mark on this form of popular fiction.

Dame Agatha Christie

At left is a montage of 36 of Agatha Christie’s book covers. At right, a black-and-white shows her in her home, typing.
Masterful mystery writer Agatha Christie wrote at least 77 books, of which the montage at left shows 36 covers. (montage: Cocosse Journal; photo: Getty Images, via Forward).

One of the first women out of the gate in the race to include female voices in crime fiction was Agatha Christie.  And what run she had! She sold her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1916. Her 66th and final novel, Sleeping Murder, was published in 1976. Over the course of her 60-year career, she defined the conventions of the mystery genre for all the generations since.

She wrote a continuing series of novels that featured professional private detective, Hercule Poirot. Her Miss Marple character became the archetype for all the amateur sleuths who populate today’s sub-genre of “cozy” mysteries. Her 1926 novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, was voted “Best Crime Novel Ever,” by the British-based Crime Writer’s Association. Christie’s play, The Mousetrap, set the world record for longest initial run of a play—November 1953 until the coronavirus pandemic shut the theatre down in March 2020. 

Agatha Christie has sold more books than any other crime writer. Her novel, And Then There Were None, is one of the best-selling books of all time. She was rarely out of the best seller lists during her lifetime. Her works have spawned countless plays, movies, homages, and outright rip-offs.

Is there a way to dispatch your enemy that Christie didn’t think of first? Her victims were stabbed, clubbed, strangled, and shot. She served in hospital pharmacies during both World Wars, and was rumored to have spent at least some of her time there studying up on deadly drugs and poisons.

By the time this mystery woman left the scene, the genre was well-entrenched in its traditions—many of which were pioneered by this one redoubtable writer.

Kicking Butt and Taking Names

P.D. James with the covers of her two Cordelia Gray novels.
P. D. James’ fictional detective Cordelia Gray kicked butt in 1972. (Express/SecondSale).

About the time Christie’s career was winding down, a new type of mystery woman stepped onstage. Christie led the way, of course, with amateur sleuth Miss Marple’s sharp tongue and very pointed knitting needles. Then in 1972, British novelist P. D. James took a step back from her investigator Adam Dalgliesh to offer us a professional private eye who was a woman—Cordelia Gray in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

But over in America, the genteel female detective caught the wave of mid-century feminism.  Somewhere along the way, she swapped DNA with the grimmer male private eyes of authors like Dashiell Hammett and John D. MacDonald to give birth to a whole new breed. Sara Paretsky’s V. I. “Vic” Warshawski was as hard-boiled as the big boys, a woman, and completely ready to kick your ass if you suggested there was anything wrong with any of that. 

If fictional detectives had embraced feminism by the early 1980s, it was glaringly apparent that Mystery Writers of America had become something of a boy’s club. All the critical acclaim, major awards, and fat movie deals were going to male writers and male detectives, even though MWA had been founded to promote the work of all mystery writers. Paretsky was a leading force in founding Sisters In Crime, an organization meant to promote the careers of female mystery writers. Both organizations now actively support efforts to be more inclusive of diversity in all its forms.

Sara Paretsky and covers of her 20 V. I. Warshawsky novels.
Sara Paretsky with her 1995 Jaguar XJS convertible, and a montage of her 20 V. I. Warshawsky novels. (CrimeReads/FantasticFiction).

You Can’t Keep Secrets from the Help

From 1992 through 2000, author and activist Barbara Neely published four Blanche White novels that are not only outstanding mysteries, but give readers a fascinating window into the Black female experience rarely seen in detective fiction. 

Blanche White was the antithesis of her name, and far from the femme fatale. Heavy-set and dark-skinned, Blanche was a mother, a housekeeper, and far smarter than the greedy, pretentious, entitled snobs she worked for. And you know what they say—you can’t keep secrets from the help.

Neely broke new ground and crushed a lot of stereotypes with her Blanche White mysteries.  In December 2019, Mystery Writers of America awarded Neely their 2020 Grand Master award.  Neely died in March 2020.

Black mystery writer Barbara Neely with covers of her Blanche White mystery series.
In a field dominated by white people, Barbara Neely drew on her activist instincts to inform her Blanche White series. (YouTube/Goodreads/Bookshop).

Killer Romance

Giving Dame Agatha some stiff competition for that best seller title, romance writer Nora Roberts entered the mystery field in 1995.  Roberts is a prolific writer with more than 225 titles to her credit.  Her books have spent a cumulative 1,045 weeks on the on the New York Times best seller lists—the equivalent of 20 years.  With more than 400 million copies of her books in print all around the world, it’s estimated that 27 copies of her work are sold every minute.

When she launched her In Death series under the pseudonym J. D. Robb, Roberts was looking for a way to release more books each year without being in direct competition with herself.  The novels written as Nora Roberts tended toward classic romance and romantic suspense.  She wanted J. D. Robb’s books to be completely different. Featuring Lt. Eve Dallas and her husband/partner Roarke, the In Death mysteries are futuristic police procedurals that combine gritty street life, adult behavior, crackling dialog, and characters who have continued to evolve over a span of 52 books and counting. 

I confess!  I have read and enjoyed all of the books in this series, and sometimes re-read a favorite when I wanted the opportunity to slip back into the very entertaining community Roberts/Robb has created.

Nora Roberts as J.D. Robb, with a montage of her “In Death” novels.
Nora Roberts in her J. D. Robb persona, with many of the covers in her “In Death” series. (MysterySequels/USA Today).

Find Your Own Favorite Mystery Woman!

Today, women are killin’ it in the field of mystery fiction.  No matter what your taste, from the coziest of cozies to the hardest of hard-boiled, you can find many outstanding mystery novels by women. Any one of these excellent writers are guaranteed to give you a great reading adventure:

Louise PennyJulia Spencer FlemingDeborah CrombieElly GriffithsJenn McKinlayCatriona McPhersonHank Phillippi RyanHallie EphronRhys BowenPaige SheltonAnna Lee HuberIngrid ThoftMaggie Robinson

This montage shows photos of the fourteen women listed in the final section of Norwood’s post.
Top Row, L-R: Deborah Crombie (with Dax), Anna Lee Huber, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Catriona McPherson, and Louise Penny. Middle row: Ingrid Thoft, Jenn McKinlay, Julia Spencer Fleming, Paige Shelton, and Rhys Bowen. Bottom Row: Hallie Ephron, Elly Griffiths, Maggie Robinson, and Amy Pershing. (See complete photo credits under IMAGE CREDITS below).

And add a bright new talent to the long list of fine mystery women! Amy Pershing published her first mystery, A Side of Murder in February 2021.  It’s a delight.

Do you need another clue?  Get reading!


Many thanks to Cocosse Journal for the Agatha Christie novel-covers montage, and to Getty Images via Forward, for the photo of Christie at work. We are grateful to Express for the photo of P.D. James, and to SecondSale for the Cordelia Gray book covers. Many thanks to CrimeReads for the photo of Sara Paretsky with her 1995 Jaguar XJS convertible. Also to FantasticFiction for the cover images for all twenty of the V. I. Warshawsky series covers (in separate images). Jan S. Gephardt assembled the montage.

We’re really grateful to YouTube for the photo of Barbara Neely at Book World Prague in 2012, to Goodreads for the Blanche on the Lam cover, and to Bookshop for the covers for Blanche among the Talented Tenth, Blanche Cleans Up, and Blanche Passes Go. In addition, we’re thankful for the photo of Nora Roberts personifying J. D. Robb, we thank “MysterySequels.” And we deeply appreciate USA Today for the “Wall of In Death” montage of covers.

Contemporary Mystery Women

In addition, we have what seems like a bazillion people to thank for the Contemporary Mystery Women collection. Jan S. Gephardt put together this montage, too. On the top row, we really want to thank Deb Crombie for the photo of her with her German Shepherd, Dax, WBOI for the photo of Anna Lee Huber, Tor Forge and photographer Chitose Suzuki for the photo of Hank Phillippi Ryan at home, Enterprise and photographer Sue Cockrell for Catriona McPherson’s photo, and BookPage for Louise Penny’s photo.

Also, we’re really grateful to Sisters in Crime of Puget Sound for the great action shot of Ingrid Thoft, to Jenn McKinlay for her photo, and to Peter Hedlund IMGP7808.jpg (original image) and Wikipedia for the photo of Julia Spencer Fleming. In addition, many thanks to Goodreads for the photo of Paige Shelton, and to Criminal Element for the sunny picture of Rhys Bowen, all on the second row!

Finally, several whoops and a holler of thanks go to Wild Mind Creative for the photo of Hallie Ephron, to The Norfolk Wildlife Trust for the Elly Griffiths photo, and to Poisoned Pen Press and photographer Jan De Lima for Maggie Robinson’s photo. Lastly on Line Three, Penguin Random House provided the photo of relative newcomer Amy Pershing. And we thank them for that.

Covers for G. S. Norwood's novellas, "Deep Ellum Pawn" and "Deep Ellum Blues."

Horror? Oh, Horrors!

By G. S. Norwood.

Jan S. Gephardt’s sister G. S. Norwood is a frequent guest blogger on “Artdog Adventures.”

I was a surprised when I learned my novelettes, Deep Ellum Pawn, and Deep Ellum Blues fall into Amazon’s “Occult Horror” category.  Sure they deal with the supernatural, but Horror?  I don’t think so.

This category ranking list from early October 2020 shows that at the moment Ms. Norwood made the screen capture, her novelette “Deep Ellum Pawn” was ranked #61 in 90-Minute Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Reads, #236 in 90-Minute Literature & Fiction Short Reads, and #645 in Occult Horror.
Screen-capture from Amazon by G. S. Norwood.

I am not a horror fan. While I deeply respect Stephen King, and am happy to recommend his memoir/advice book, On Writing, I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t read many of his other works.  I don’t enjoy being scared.  It’s not a recreational pursuit for me. Film franchises like Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street do not tempt me. I’m not tuning in to Lovecraft Country, although I hear it’s terrific. 

Funny horror stuff is okay for me—films like The Addams Family and BeetlejuiceTim Burton’s Corpse Bride knocked me out with its stop-motion animation.  But I’m too chicken for the super scary stuff.  In fact, when I was three, I was too chicken to watch The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

The movie poster for the 1966 horror comedy movie “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” shows a picture of the film’s star, Don Knotts, and other cast members.
Movie poster for The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

Imagination Makes it Scary

Still, I wonder sometimes if the horror is more horrible in my imagination than it is in reality.  I remember a childhood friend describing James Whale’s Frankenstein to me after he’d seen the 1931 horror classic on TV.  It sounded really scary. I avoided watching it until 2014, when the Dallas Winds did a live concert performance playing Michael Shapiro’s brooding orchestral score under the film.

Boris Karloff was the best part, of course.  I felt tremendous sympathy for his misunderstood monster.  But the rest of the story? After decades of avoiding it because it was “too scary,” I walked away thinking, “C’mon, buddy. You want to create new life? There are time-tested methods for that. You’ve already got the girl. It could be fun.”

A movie lobby card from the 1931 movie “Frankenstein, The Man Who Made a Monster,” shows the classic monster image, along with portraits of the cast.
Movie Theater Lobby Card for Frankenstein.

Horror?  In a Time of Virus?

In this Time of Virus, I have found myself turning more and more to books that soothe and reassure me. I’ve re-read mysteries where I already know the ending. I’ve chain-read a series of romantic comedies by British author Jules Wake, set in the London theatrical scene, or in cozy country villages.

I put off reading Elly Griffiths’ The Stranger Diaries for months because the cover blurb sounded too creepy.  As it turned out, it was just a slightly stalkerish murder mystery, and I enjoyed it immensely.

This header image from Simone St. James’s website shows a short cover quote from Riley Sager, “Deliciously creepy. A chilling blend of mystery and ghost story that will thrill fans of both.” The words run alongside the cover of her book The Sun Down Motel.
Header for The Sun Down Motel courtesy of Simone St. James’s website.

Two other recent reads stepped out of my usual comfort zone into the realm of horror.  One was a terrific ghost story/mystery called The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James.  It skirted pretty close to my limits in the beginning, but I’m glad I stuck with it.

The other was a real-life horror story. Jerry Mitchell was an investigative reporter for the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger.  His book, Race Against Time recounts four horrific crimes committed by members of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1960s Civil Rights era. Through work by Mitchell and others, these criminals were finally brought to justice. 

Author Jerry Mitchell’s portrait is next to the cover of his book, “Race Against Time.”
Author Jerry Mitchell, with his book Race Against Time.

Horror? I was certainly horrified by the violence Mitchell depicted.  But I was also uplifted by the understanding that evil can be defeated whenever good people—real or fictional—have the courage to stand up and fight back.


G. S. Norwood provided the screen capture from an early-October Amazon listing for her Deep Ellum Pawn novelette, showing one of its consistent categories is “Occult Horror.”

The Movie poster for The Ghost and Mr. Chicken The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Universal Pictures, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist. Image via Wikipedia. The movie theater lobby card for Frankenstein is by Employee(s) of Universal Pictures. Now in the Public Domain, this image is from Wikimedia Commons.

The header for The Sun Down Motel is courtesy of Simone St. James’s website. Quote by Riley Sager. Book cover photograph by Tom Hogan/Plain Picture; Jacket design by Sarah Oberrender/Berkley books. The photo of author Jerry Mitchell is by James Patterson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger. Cover for Race Against Time is courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

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