The biggest problem I had when asked to compile a list of kick-ass heroines that should be read, was narrowing it down. There has been an explosion of great female characters in recent years, and the ones I name here are just a few of them.
One of my long-time favourites has to be Lt Eve Dallas of the NYPSD (New York Police & Security Department) in the future-set police procedurals by JD Robb. This series now numbers over 50, including novellas and short stories. Dallas is a tough, damaged and gritty heroine, ably assisted by a cast of great female characters, and Dallas’s impossibly rich, impossibly handsome (and impossibly sexy) husband, Roarke. The first in the series was NAKED IN DEATH, published in 1995.
The first novel by Seeley James featuring ex-athlete, Pia Sabel, was THE GENEVA DECISION, now part of James’ Sabel Origins set. A former soccer star, Sabel takes over her father’s private security company and is soon joined in the series by unstable military veteran, Jacob Stearne, who might or might not be receiving divine guidance from the winged god, Mercury. (Or he may simply be bonkers. You decide.) Either way, the books are great fun and well worth reading.
One of my favourite kick-ass female characters is a sidekick rather than the main protagonist in her own right. Lee Child first featured former army Master Sergeant and military police operative, Frances Neagley, in BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE. She’s cool and dry, rarely impressed and sometimes scary (according to Reacher himself.) She has made half a dozen outings in Lee’s work, and even one in my own Charlie Fox novel, SECOND SHOT. How come? Because the real Frances L Neagley is a huge mystery fan who regularly bids to be a character in authors’ books in charity auctions at conventions like Bouchercon.
And I guess, shuffling my feet awkwardly, I should put in a mention here for my own kick-ass heroine. A former Special Forces trainee turned bodyguard, Charlie Fox was described by Paul Goat Allen at the Chicago Tribune as “Ill-tempered, aggressive and borderline psychotic, Fox is also compassionate, introspective and highly principled: arguably one of the most enigmatic – and coolest – heroines in contemporary genre fiction.”
If the character of Frances Neagley suffers from haptephobia (fear of being touched) then Harry Bingham’s DC Fiona Griffiths of Cardiff Police has far stranger hang-ups which lead her to identify more strongly with the dead than the living. Her first appearance was in TALKING TO THE DEAD, which was turning into a two-part Sky TV drama starring Sophie Rundle. A great and unusual heroine who can kick some serious ass when required.
By contrast, Lori Anderson in Steph Broadribb’s DEEP DOWN DEAD is a single mother bounty hunter, who by a combination of circumstances has to take her young daughter with her to collect a fugitive from out of state. As you might expect, trouble ensues, and Broadribb gives her tough heroine added depth by adding ferocious maternal instinct into the mix.
Ex-cop turned Chicago PI, Georgia Davis, is the heroine of five novels by acclaimed author Libby Fischer Hellmann. Tough, smart, principled and tenacious, Georgia first appears in a cameo in Hellmann’s Ellie Foreman series novel, A PICTURE OF GUILT, but plays a larger role in AN IMAGE OF DEATH, then steps squarely onto centre stage in EASY INNOCENCE.
I have long been a fan of the late Robert B Parker’s spare style of prose and sharp action scenes in his Spenser and Jesse Stone series. With Boston PI Sunny Randall, he combined everything I liked most about his first two series, but with a female protagonist to root for. She’s as smart and capable as Spenser, and still surrounded by a wonderful cast of subsidiary characters, but perhaps with more emotional depth. The first book in this series is FAMILY HONOR.
I was already reading Rachel Amphlett’s Dan Taylor thrillers before she began her modern spin on the police procedural with SCARED TO DEATH, featuring Detective Kay Hunter of Kent police. Hunter is as driven as you would expect, but her resilience is also tested as she fights a personal vendetta against her as well as the villains of each particular instalment.
Another memorable subsidiary character is that of DI Roberta Steel in the Aberdeen-set DS Logan McRae crime thrillers by Stuart MacBride. Steel has a major role to play in all the Logan McRae books, right from COLD GRANITE onward. She’s politically incorrect, a chain-smoker, foul-mouthed and over-the-top, and you can’t help but love her for it. Clearly, MacBride did too, because he wrote the spinoff standalone NOW WE ARE DEAD featuring Steel in a leading role.
And finally, one of my all-time favourites is Kinsey Millhone, the heroine of the alphabet series by the late Sue Grafton. Millhone is prickly, fiercely independent, and a skilled and methodical private detective in the fictional Santa Teresa, a thinly disguised Santa Barbara in California. The ending to the first in the series, A IS FOR ALIBI, still blows me away, years after I first read it.
Zoë Sharp is the author of twelve books in her award-winning crime thriller series featuring ex-Special Forces trainee turned bodyguard, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox. Lee Child said: “If Jack Reacher were a woman, he’d be Charlie Fox.” Sharp has also written a joint novella with espionage thriller author, John Lawton, numerous short stories, and two standalones, the latest of which is DANCING ON THE GRAVE (July 2018) which is her take on the Washington Sniper attacks, set in the English Lake District. Find out more at www.ZoeSharp.com.
Dancing On The Grave by Zoë Sharp
ZACE £9.99 mmpb ISBN: 9781909344402 ebook ISBN: 9781909344396
In one of the most beautiful corners of England, something very ugly is about to take place. A sniper with a mission… a young cop with nothing to lose… a CSI with everything to prove… a teenage girl with a terrifying obsession… There’s a killer on the loose in the Lake District, and the calm of an English summer is shattered. For newly qualified Crime Scene Investigator Grace McColl, it’s both the start of a nightmare and the chance to prove herself after a mistake that cost a life. For Detective Constable Nick Weston, recently transferred from London, it’s an opportunity to recover his nerve after a disastrous undercover operation left him for dead. And for a lonely, loveless teenage girl, Edith, it’s the start of a twisted fantasy— one she never dreamed might come true.