Queens of Crime: American and British female detective novels over the course of time

Academic Paper 2013 38 Pages

Literature - Comparative Literature


Table of Contents

1 Abstract

2 Introduction

3 The history of crime novels with special focus on female detective novels

4 Definitions and the ideal crime scheme

5 Typical elements of female detective novels
5.1 The lady detectives and female roles
5.2 The motives and topics
5.3 The adaption to male manner of speaking

6 The appeal of detective novels for women writers

7 Conclusion

8 Bibliography

1. Abstract

The present study is concerned with the analysis of female detective novels coming from the USA and Great Britain. Firstly, the history of female detective novels and the ideal crime scheme are explained in order to introduce the topic and to give basic information on it. In a second step the characteristics of female detective novels in opposite to male detective novels are highlighted whereas the analysis is focused on lady detectives and female roles, motives and topics and adaption to male manner of speaking. In a last step the appeal of detective novels for women writers is analysed. It was shown that female detective novels are not a separate sub-genre but a separate field within the genre of detective novels. However, women writer gave the genre new impulses helping to develop it.

2. Introduction

‘The detective story was invented by Edgar Allan Poe, but he wrote only four of them before he lost interest. The first “career” practitioner of the genre who is still important to us today is Arthur Conan Doyle. Agatha Christie, who began publishing detective fiction thirty-three years after Conan Doyle, elaborated upon the traditional rules of detective fiction, in sixty-six novels published between 1920 and 1983. According to a number of sources, her books have sold more than two billion copies, making her the most widely read novelist in history ’. [1]

The above quotation illustrates that although the genre of detective stories was invented by a man, the importance of female crime authors cannot be denied. Admittedly, Agatha Christie is an exception within the genre- a true ‘queen of crime ’ . [2] However, women were not always given the same recognition in former times and even Agatha Christie would have felt the consequences. In fact, it is not widely known that she considered publishing her first detective novel ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles ’ written in 1920 under a masculine pseudonym. However, she could neither decide in favour of the name Martin West nor of the name Mostyn Grey which is why she finally published the novel under her real name.[3] ….Agatha Christie was not the only female crime author with such concerns, so that it had been common usage to opt for a masculine pseudonym. The reason for this measure is simple: Detective novels written by a woman and with a ‘lady detective ’ (Keitel, 1998, 2) as the main character were highly unpopular among the male readership. Female crime writers generally used a narrator to tell the events and preferred a male detective. In retrospect, this strategy was the right one and it comes as no surprise that ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles ’ was the first crime novel with the famous detective Hercule Poirot (see Keitel, 2001, 26).

….Since then a considerable progress has been made and female authors have created a very individual way of writing detective novels. However, experts still disagree on a clear definition of the female crime novel. Some of them were interviewed by the newspaper ‘ Die Zeit ’ for a survey in 2002. Their answers to the question What are female crime novels? can be categorised into four different groups:

The first group said that female crime novels were a sociological category instead of a literary one. According to this group, the term is used in order to limit and sometimes to devaluate these novels.[4]

….The second group shared Sabine Deitmer`s opinion which states that female detective novels are just a marketing strategy and rejects the term as a ‘label ’.[5] Deitmer admitted that the readers did appreciate the labelling ‘female detective novels’ in bookshops, because they had the feeling that these books with female protagonists and living circumstances could interest them and that they could find themselves in these books.[6]

….The third group argued that female detective novels do not exist at all. The author Anne Chaplet commented laconically that she did not read female crime novels but good crime novels. The publisher Else Laudan even considered it possible that male authors wrote female detective novels. She admitted that she has not read such a book yet (see Gohlis, 2002). ….The last group agreed with Sabine Wilke´s definition on which this bachelor thesis is based: Female crime novels are crime novels which are written by women and which debate topics relevant for women or have women as their main characters.[7] With regard to the page numbers, this bachelor thesis focuses on the following aspects: lady detectives and female roles, motives and topics, adaption to male behaviour and characteristics of detective novels by female crime authors coming from the English-speaking countries.


[1] Joan Acocella, 2010. Queen of Crime - How Agatha Christie created the modern murder mystery. The New Yorker. <http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2010/08/16/100816crat_atla.rge_ acocella#ixzz1Swbc6eyN> (8.04.12)

[2] Evelyn Keitel, Vom Golden Age zum New Golden Age- Kriminalromane von Frauen für Frauen quoted from Frauen auf der Spur- Kriminalautorinnen aus Deutschland, Großbritannien und den USA [Tübingen: Stauffenburg Verlag, 2001], 20.[

[3] Evelyn Keitel, Kriminalliteratur von Frauen für Frauen- Unterhaltungsliteratur aus Amerika [Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1998], 21.

[4] Tobias Gohlis, Wozu ein "Frauenkrimipreis"? - Eine Umfrage unter Autoren, Kritikern und Lesern. Die Zeit 49/2002. <http://www.zeit.de/2002/49/frauenkrimi> (08.04.2012)

[5] Carmen Birkle, Frauen auf der Spur- Kriminalautorinnen aus Deutschland, Großbritannien und den USA [Tübingen: Stauffenburg Verlag, 2001], 4.

[6] Melina Pütz, Inwiefern bilden Frauenkrimis ein Subgenre innerhalb des Kriminalromans? [München: Ravensburg: Grin Verlag, 2003], 8.

[7] Sabine Wilke, 2001. Wilde Weiber und dominante Damen: Der Frauenkrimi als Verhandlungsort von Weiblichkeitsmythen quoted from Frauen auf der Spur- Kriminalautorinnen aus Deutschland. Großbritannien und den USA [Tübingen: Stauffenburg Verlag, 2001], 256.


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Detective Novels American Literature British Literature Women Writers Literary History



Title: Queens of Crime: American and British female detective novels over the course of time