The Baker's Dozen Best: Top Women's Mystery Writers for Summer Reading

Mystery Abounds in Mysterous Places

One of the authors in our list was a PhD. Egyptologist. The setting  of her mysteries was quite naturally Egypt. The golden mask in this illustration  is that  of the Pharaoh Psusennes I
One of the authors in our list was a PhD. Egyptologist. The setting of her mysteries was quite naturally Egypt. The golden mask in this illustration is that of the Pharaoh Psusennes I

The list contains short summaries for a baker's dozen of the best selling women writers in the United States and Britain with a short summary of their main series and who their character's protagonists and arch enemies are.

It will soon be summer and a time for lazy day reading in the park, the beach, or just the back yard.. The question becomes one of how to pick books which are interesting, engrossing, yet not too intellectually demanding. Here is a compiled a list of some of the top and bestselling women mystery writers, the "princesses and queens" of their profession. Well if not all are titled such as Dame Agatha Christe and Baroness P.D. James, they are still literary royalty. In In any case, I believe that this list includes the women authors whose novels and short stories a reader won’t want to put down.

Often the writer's main characters has a "history" in previous works. it’s a lot more fun starting out in their earliest case to get the character's background and then if you find that their investigative work is satisfactory, follow through the series. It's quite interesting to see how these characters change over time: in their attitudes, character, and their relationships.

Here is the "baker's dozen":

Cats Make Great Detectives

Cats like this one may look to Lillian Jackson Braun's Koko as role models.
Cats like this one may look to Lillian Jackson Braun's Koko as role models.

Lillian Jackson Braun

Jackson Braun's novels are a definite reading for cat lovers. The Cat Who…. and now the reader can add …Said Cheese, ...Came to Breakfasts, ...Knew a Cardinal, and the other 26 novels in the series, spanning the publishing years 1966 through 2007. A thirtieth novel was scheduled to be published in 2013, however it was canceled due to the death of Ms. Braun several weeks before her 98th birthday. The "Cat Who...." series features her "un-detective", James Qwilleran, a former news reporter who inherits a vast fortune, and his two lovable cats, KoKo and Yum Yum. KoKo is the true detective in this series who is actively involved in trying to give Qwilleran clues into whatever situation they happen to find themselves in Moose County "400 miles north of everywhere".

Taking a Rest From Writing?

Like all authors, this cat takes inspiration from the great author, "Sneakie Pie" Brown.
Like all authors, this cat takes inspiration from the great author, "Sneakie Pie" Brown.

Rita Mae Brown (& Sneakie Pie Brown)

Ms. Brown was a well known feminist writer before becoming noted as a writer of mystery fiction. She was best known for her first novel, Rubyfruit Jungle, published in 1973. Rita Mae Brown has since endeared herself in the crime mystery world with the publication of her first mystery novel in what is known as the “Mrs. Murphy” series in collaboration with her cat Sneakie Pie Brown in 1990. The main character of the series is Mary Minor Haristeen known as “Harry” who is assisted by her three animal companions: Mrs. Murphy, a grey cat; Tee Tucker, a Welsh corgi; and Pewter, the “fat cat” who loves to eat. Her adventures center in the horse country of northwestern Virginia. Sneakie Pie Brown, her cat, has also published her own cookbook, Sneaky Pie's Cookbook (1999).

A Scene From Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None"

Louis Hayward, C. Aubrey Smith, Barry Fitzgerald, Richard Haydn, Mischa Auer & Walter Huston in the 1945 film based on Agatha Christie's mystery.
Louis Hayward, C. Aubrey Smith, Barry Fitzgerald, Richard Haydn, Mischa Auer & Walter Huston in the 1945 film based on Agatha Christie's mystery.

Agatha Christie

Her name is synonymic with murder mystery. Translated into over one hundred languages, with over an estimated 4 billion copies in print, and more than 60 novels and 14 short story collections to choose from would suggest that she is should be on your list for a summer read.

Two of Christie's most famous characters are the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, introduced in the first successful novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) and Miss Marple, a shrewd and snoopy old English lady, introduced in a collection of short stories, The Thirteen Problems (1927). To become intrigued with one or the other or both of these sleuths may mean that a reader’s summertime reading could be covered for a number of years.

Dr. Kay Scarpetta Would Be Right at Home Here

Patricia Cornwell's Dr. Kay Scarpetta would be very familiar with drawers like these.
Patricia Cornwell's Dr. Kay Scarpetta would be very familiar with drawers like these.

Patricia Cornwell

Patricia Cornwell is the author of the Kay Scarpetta series. Kay is a medical examiner, thus there is an emphasis on forensic science which pervades the novels. Dr. Scarpetta however is not merely the expert when it comes to doing a postmorem on a murder victim. She is very, very much involved in solving the mystery of "who dunnit" quite often at the risk of life or limb. Not for the very squeamish of, but us but for the majority these mysteries of Ms.Cornwell are engrossing reads. as evidenced at more than 100 million copies sold.

Stephanie Plum's "Hometown" Trenton, New Jersey

Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum would be right at home here.
Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum would be right at home here.

Janet Evanovich

For a good summer and rather funny if not downright bizarre read one can follow Janet Evanovich's bounty hunter Stephanie Plum through a series of adventures in the “numbers series” (e.g. One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Ready, …Top Secret Twenty-one). The novels have a zany element to them combining some ethnic charm combined with a no-nonsense attitude that can best be found in urban places in the northeastern United States such as Trenton, New Jersey.

"I'm waiting for Jemima Shore and...."

Jemima Shore always considered television her calling.
Jemima Shore always considered television her calling.

Antonia Fraser

Lady Antonia Fraser was not unknown to the literary world, being the spouse of Harold Pinter, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Lady Fraser is an accomplished author in her own rite in both fiction and non-fiction( e.g. Mary, Queen of Scots).

Her significant fictional character is Jemima Shore who debuted in 1977 in As Quiet as A Nun and appears in nine other novels including Oxford Blood (1985) and The Cavalier Case (1990). Ms. Shore is television reported whose reporting often directly involves her in a particular mystery involving murder.

Lady Fraser's "them" for the novel often revolves around poetry. The title comes from a quote from William Wordsworth's poem, It Is a Beauteous Evening: "It is a beauteous evening calm and free, The holy time is quiet as a nun.". Again, a female mystery writer provides an avenue to "expand our horizons" while relaxing with an entertaining read.

I Think Kinsey Milhone Jogs Here

Sue Grafton's character Kinsey Milhone probably jog here inf fictitious Santa Teresa
Sue Grafton's character Kinsey Milhone probably jog here inf fictitious Santa Teresa

Sue Grafton

The fictional city of Santa Teresa, California which comes alive in this author's best known series of novels. Her detective, Kinsey Milhone is a likable but offbeat character. Orphaned after a tragic auto accident when Kinsey was young, she lives in a small studio apartment over a garage. A self-proclaimed junk food junkie, follow her through Ms. Grafton’s “alphabet series (e.g. “A” is for Alibi (published 1982), “B” is for Burglar, ….,”W" is for Wasted (published 2013) ).

P. D. James

One of the two British authors in this list, P.D. James is best known for her Adam Dalgliesh series. Adam is a Commander in the Metropolitan Police Service at New Scotland Yard and a published poet. What makes a P.D. James read such a delight is her use of a very extensive vocabulary which will make keeping a dictionary nearby helpful. Personally, I keep a pad of Post-It notes with me if I don't have the inclination to study the English language at that particular point in time.

One of the things to love about Baroness James’s novels is there is the “element of surprise” in that the perpetrator or the crime isn’t known until the very end.

If you want a lazy read (without the dictionary) consider her novel, Devices and Desires. I've created a vocabulary, foreign phrase, who's who guide published as, All About: P.J. James's Devices and Desires -- Plot, Places, Themes, and Vocabulary

The Desert Only Looks peaceful in Pictures

The desert is only peaceful in a patinting such as this by Henry Cheever Pratt. J.A. Jance's Sheriff Johanna Brady knows it often the scene of a brutal crime.
The desert is only peaceful in a patinting such as this by Henry Cheever Pratt. J.A. Jance's Sheriff Johanna Brady knows it often the scene of a brutal crime.

J. A. (Judith Ann) Jance

Is the author of several series of detective novels who knows her territory. She grew up in Bisbee, Arizona and is a part-year resident of Seattle. The two crime sleuths are J.P. Beaumont, a retired Seattle police officer who later takes a job with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office and Johanna Brady, a small town sheriff in Arizona. She relies on her lifetime experience of living in Arizona and Washington to set a true to life background. In her 10th Brady/16th Beaumont mystery, Partners in Crime, the two crime sleuths meet up to work on a case.

Tess Monahan's Home City - Balltimore, Maryland

Laura Lippman's new reporter Tess Monahan get quite a few news tips here in Baltimore's inner Harbor.
Laura Lippman's new reporter Tess Monahan get quite a few news tips here in Baltimore's inner Harbor.

Laura Lippman

Best known for the creation of her super sleuth, Tess Monahan, an out of work news reporter who becomes a private investigator in Baltimore, where the author was raised. The author's character follows her own career's experiences somewhat in that Ms. Lippman had worked for a now defucnt newspaper and worked for the Baltimore Sun, following in her father's footsteps. Her character, Tess Monahan is a tough minded but likable protagonist.

Lippman's works have won numerous fiction awards including the Agatha, Anthony, Edgar, Gumshoe, Nero, and Shamus awards.

Elizabeth Peters

Elizabeth Peters was one of the pen names used by Barbara Mertz. Dr. Mertz received her Ph.D. in Egyptology studies from the University of Chicago. Her novels are set in Egypt in the early years of the 20th Century. The series protagonist, Amelia Peabody, along with her Egyptologist husband Emerson and son Ramses, become involved in a series of mysteries involving crime amid the backdrop of the antiquities of Egypt. Her studies in Egyptology do add to the suspense her mysteries create and make it somewhat of a "learning experience" as well as a good fiction read.

Authors Rely Upon Life

This church, St. Mary Magdalene one of the models for Fenchurch St Paul in Dorothy L Sayers' detective mystery "The Nine Taylors".
This church, St. Mary Magdalene one of the models for Fenchurch St Paul in Dorothy L Sayers' detective mystery "The Nine Taylors".

Dorothy L. Sayres

The authoress who was credited with the phrase “It pays to advertise” and used the advertising industry as a background for one of her novels, Murder Must Advertise. Lord Peter Wimsey, her most famous detective, was first brought to life in the mystery Who's Body? published in 1923. Lord Peter would go on to star in was would become a series of eleven novels and several collections of short stories published in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Much of her fictional writing can be considered "period pieces" of that era.


Margaret Truman (1924-2008)

Margaret Truman in this official  government portrait. Probably in her early twenties.
Margaret Truman in this official government portrait. Probably in her early twenties.

Margaret Truman

Margaret Truman would have been famous in a sense if she never wrote a single word being the daughter of President Harry S. Truman and Margaret "Bess" Truman.

Margaret Truman's successful series of murder mysteries commencing with Murder at the White House (1980) whose later film version was entitled Murder at 1600. This novel would be followed yearly with a new murder mystery at a famous Washington, D.C. site (e.g. kennedy, Center, the Supreme Court, the National Cathedral, Ford's Theatre). The "Murders at...." stay elevated above the grizzly details and really involve the why, the circumstances which had precipitated them.

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