A Timeline of Some of the Significant Female Eyes, and the Date of their First Appearance
“If it’s that delicate,… maybe you need a lady detective.”
— Marlowe in The Little Sister (1949)
No business for a lady, indeed…
Despite various bimbo eyes whose pulchritudinous assets often far outweighed their mental equipment (to paraphrase one critic), competent women eyes have been around for a long time now—“Lady Detectives” were all the rage in the latter part of the nineteenth century–and the nineteen-eighties saw a major resurgence; a veritable tsunami of them breaking upon the shores of what had become an almost exclusively male bastion.
That they’ve finally come into their own (again)–and that simply being female is no in itself a major attraction–is something we should all be grateful for. After all, they have helped rejuvenate the entire private eye genre and given it new depth. It’s about time.
Here are some of the major players…
- Trixie Meehan & Mike Harris by T.T. Flynn
Make no mistake — big, rugged Mike was the lead here, but his “pert sidekick” Trixie was what made these stories, which appeared in Detective Fiction Weekly, so special.
- Grace Culver by Roswell Brown
One of the first female eyes in the pulps, Grace appeared in the back pages of The Shadow. She worked for the Noonan Detective Agency as a secretary and sometime-op, and while she wasn’t exactly hard-boiled, she was smart, brave and independant. Think of her as the great grandmother of Kinsey, Sharon et al.
- Nora Charles by Dashiell Hammett
Smart, tough when she had to be, but always a woman. And she knew how to drink. Both Asta and Nick rate her highly.
- Violet McDade & Nevada Alvarado by Cleve F. Adams
Arguably the first hard-boiled lady eye, Violet McDade, and her partner, Nevada Alvarado, slugged their way through a string of stories in the pulp.
- Sarah Watson by D.B. McCandless
Another pulp eye, this one “medium-boiled,” although she admits she’d like to “beat up a man proper, for once!”
- Torchy Blane by Frederick Nebel (sorta)
The movies transformed Nebel’s drunken reporter Kennedy into fast-talkin’ girl newshawk Torchy Blane, in a successful and entetaing series of films starring Glenda Farrell.
- Carrie Cashin by Theodore Tinsley
The most popular of the female pulp eyes by a long shot, and arguably the most popular female hero in all the pulps. Attractive as sin and hardboiled as hell, she appeared in over three dozen pulp stories.
- Dol Bonner by Rex Stout
A Hand in the Glove (1937) may have been the first novel featuring a woman private detective of the hard-boiled era. Although the book never had a sequel, Dol showed up later in several of Stout’s Nero Wolfe books.
- Mary Carner by Zelda F. Popkin
One of the first, if not the first, series of novels to feature a professional (private) female detective, department store dick Carner appeared in five novels, along with her detective husband Chris.
- Carole Trevor by Hugh Pentecost
Headstrong socialite Carole Trevor runs the Old Towne Detective Agency with her goofy playboy ex-husband Maxwell Blythe in two novels and supposedly several short stories in Detective Fiction Weekly, boasting a little bit of something for everyone: some two-fisted pulp action, a little screwball comedy, and some rather unexpected–for the time–liberal social commentary.
- Bertha Cool by A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)
With All Grass Isn’t Green, her last book, published in 1970, this remains (so far) the longest-running series featuring a female private eye.
- Gale Gallagher by Gale Gallagher (Will Ourseler and Margaret Scott)
One of the first female private eye novels written (well, co-written) by a woman. An important milestone
- Eli Donovan by James L. Rubel
One of the first attempts at writing a more down-to-earth woman detective in book form, Eli only appeared in one novel, No Business for a Lady, but it was a good one.
- Mavis Seidlitz by Carter Brown
The Mother of All Bimbo Eyes. If I were Carter Brown, I wouldn’t write under my own name either.
- Honey West by G.G. Fickling
Another bimbo, but this one was co-perpetrated by a woman! “Honey, are you O.K.? Where’s your clothes?” At least this one was supposed to be funny.
- Marla Trent by Henry Kane
Uh-oh. The blurbs offered such liberated praise as “a beautiful body with a brain to match.” And rape is a learning experience?
- Cordelia Gray by P.D. James
The return of respect. A great, too-often overlooked eye, the mother of the current scene. No wink-wink girlishness here, just a real woman doing her job. Think of Anna Lee, Kinsey, V.I., Sharon, et al, as her children.
- Delilah West by Maxine O’Callahan
Delilah first appeared in a short story in AHMM, thereby predating Marcia Muller by a few years, and making her the longest running female detective series written by a woman.
- Angela Harpe by James D. Lawrence
The first black female P.I. series, featuring a high-priced Manhattan eye. Unfortunately, these were produced from the same folks who brought you Nick Carter-Killmaster, and the books are generally considered racist, sexist, sadistic trash, etc.
- Charlie’s Angels by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, although producer Aaron Spelling left his stink all over this one…
One step forward, two steps back… Major, or just major embarrassment? After Cordelia and Delilah, one might have thought we were beyond this. We weren’t. Bimbos on the Airwaves!
- Madge Hatchett by Lee McGraw
Carrying on in the hard-boiled tradition of Violet McDade and Carrie Cashin, and anticipating the arrival of fellow Windy City eye Ms Tree. Was author McGraw male or female?
- Sharon McCone by Marcia Muller
Generally credited with being the first “realistic” female private eye series written by a woman.
- Helen Keremos by Eve Zaremba
The first lesbian sleuth by a mainstream publisher (in paperback).
- Anna Jugedinski by Phyllis Swan
- Sara Scott by Karl Alexander
A one-shot novel, and an above-average made-for-television movie, with Elizabeth Montgomery.
- Anna Lee by Liza Cody
Like Maxine O’Callahan, Cody is too often unfairly ignored, yet her Anna Lee books ignited the whole British wave of female eyes. Anna is refreshingly down to earth, and Cody’s one of the very best, right up there with Muller, Grafton and Paretsky. It’s too bad she abandoned the series.
- Ms. Tree by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty
The longest-running private eye comic book ever features tough-as-nails Chicago eye Michael Tree. Despite the medium, the stories are never less than intelligent, and routinely broke new ground in the private eye field, in ANY medium. And P.I. fans will love the sly winks, hidden tributes, shout-outs and gentle spoofs of the genre’s conventions, courtesy of super fan Collins..
1982: The Year the Dam Broke
- Kinsey Milhone by Sue Grafton
Probably the most popular current female eye, and if Grafton continues through the alphabet, one of the longest series.
- V.I. Warshawski by Sara Paretsky
The first of the mainstream female eyes to really go for the political jugular.
- Claire Conrad & Maggie Hill by Melodie Johnson Howe
An entertaining update of the Archie/Nero Wolfe thang.
- Lauren Laurano by Sandra Scoppettone
The first lesbian eye to be published as a mainstream hardcover.
- Kate Brannigan by Val McDermid
Politically aware and tough as all get out, Kate hails from Manchester, England.
- Stephanie Plum by Janet Evanovich
Evanovich mixed liberal doses of screwball farce and rom-com romance in with her often surprisingly hard-boiled books about heroine Jersey girl/bounty Stephanie Plum for one of the most entertaining and popular series around.
Respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith.