The best female sleuth mysteries from centuries past

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an engineer-turned-mystery-writer, and my taste in fiction is as unconventional as my career. I love books set in obscure periods of the past, with underdog characters who rise to the occasion through cleverness and grit. I write the kind of books I love to read, which explains why I set my novels in ancient Rome. The engineer side of my brain thrives on doing historical research while my creative side imagines quirky, imperfect characters who find unconventional ways to solve tricky mysteries. I hope you enjoy my list of clever, spunky sleuths from various periods who solve murders in unique ways. 


I wrote...

Death and a Crocodile

By Lisa E. Betz,

Book cover of Death and a Crocodile

What is my book about?

Respectable women don’t investigate crimes, but free-spirit Livia Aemilia and her spunky maidservant must find her father’s murderer before her innocent brother is executed for the crime and Livia is forced into the marriage of her nightmares. Will their meddling expose the culprit or lead them into mortal danger?

You’ll love this fast-paced mystery set in first-century Rome, featuring a feisty amateur sleuth, a cast of eccentric characters, a glimpse of the early church, and an unrepentant, sausage-snatching cat. Winner of multiple awards, including Golden Scroll Novel of the Year (2021).

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Ides of April

Lisa E. Betz Why did I love this book?

Reading a Lindsey Davis novel is a guilty pleasure. Why? She’s wickedly funny. She brings ancient Rome to vivid life, from the fancy fringe on a tunic hem to the steaming pile of donkey dung in the street. Her sleuth, a tough, no-nonsense woman named Flavia Albia, is assisted (whether she likes it or not) by an extended family of eccentric and sometimes meddlesome characters. I also appreciate how Davis adds just enough historical detail to bring the plot to life without bogging down the action. 

In this book, I particularly enjoyed the interplay between Albia and the officious aedile, Manlius Faustus, who turns out to be nicer (and more interesting) than he first appeared. While each novel is stand-alone, I recommend starting here to get the full backstory.

By Lindsey Davis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ides of April as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Chosen by The Times as one of the Top Ten Crime Novels Written by Women since 2000

Flavia Albia is the adopted daughter of a famous investigating family. In defiance of tradition, she lives alone on the colourful Aventine Hill, and battles out a solo career in a male-dominated world. As a woman and an outsider, Albia has special insight into the best, and worst, of life in ancient Rome.

A female client dies in mysterious circumstances. Albia investigates and discovers there have been many other strange deaths all over the city, yet she is warned off by the authorities.…


Book cover of The Beekeeper's Apprentice

Lisa E. Betz Why did I love this book?

There are plenty of Sherlock Holmes spinoffs, but this series is the cream of the crop. While Sherlock’s fame may be what draws readers to the book, Mary Russel is the star. She’s every bit as capable as Holmes, and not afraid to disagree with him or ignore his advice. (Although ignoring his advice may not be such a good idea.) Mary’s true love is scholarship, but when she sees injustice, she willingly sets aside her personal wishes and safety to thwart crime and protect the innocent. She is an inspiration to intelligent, independent females who yearn to have their worth acknowledged. 

While each novel is a stand-alone with its own unique charms (and often a unique setting), I recommend starting here and watching their crime-solving partnership unfold.

By Laurie R. King,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Beekeeper's Apprentice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1915, Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honeybees when a young woman literally stumbles into him on the Sussex Downs. Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, the young Mary Russell displays an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes--and match him wit for wit. Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern twentieth-century woman proves a deft protegee and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective. But even in their first case together, the pair face a truly cunning adversary who will stop at nothing to put an end to their partnership.


Book cover of The Last Camel Died at Noon

Lisa E. Betz Why did I love this book?

Amelia Peabody and her family are Egyptologists who attract trouble like treacle draws flies. When a crime occurs, Amelia eagerly wades in to solve it, with the help of her jangling belt of tools which is an amusing parody of a Victorian chatelaine. I appreciate her larger-than-life personality, her enthusiastic outlook, and her delight in arguments (er, energetic discussions) with her husband, Emerson. Amelia and her family are unconventional, and they know it. They’re ahead of their time and actively advocate for better practices in archeology and better treatment of the less powerful—mostly to deaf ears among the officials in power. This novel is a departure from Ms. Peter’s usual setting (Egypt), but I love the title and it remains typical of the series—filled with ancient treasures and sinister secrets.

By Elizabeth Peters,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Last Camel Died at Noon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Join our plucky Victorian Egyptologist, together with her devastatingly handsome and brilliant husband Radcliffe, in another exciting escapade

This time Amelia and her dashing husband Emerson set off for a promising archaeological site in the Sudan, only to be unwillingly drawn into the search for an African explorer and his young bride who went missing twelve years back.

They survive the rigours of the desert, the death of their camels, and the perfidy of their guides, only to find themselves taken prisoner in a lost city and civilisation. Amelia and Emerson must bravely continue making archaeological finds while doing their…


Book cover of Queen of Ambition

Lisa E. Betz Why did I love this book?

Who would expect a queen’s lady-in-waiting might be a spy? 

Ursula Blanchard is a genteel but penniless female trying to survive in the cut-throat world of Elizabethan court intrigue. She proves her intelligence and resourcefulness to Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, who takes her under his protective wing—a two-edged sword, since it means Ursula is often called into dangerous undercover missions. The vivid, impeccably researched backdrop of Elizabethan England adds to the drama and provides fascinating color.   

In addition to her ability to unravel complicated plots, I appreciate how Ursula often faces ethical dilemmas. In this novel, she is forced to choose between saving a friendship and protecting the queen. She also proves certain male “experts” wrong when she cracks a series of coded messages.

By Fiona Buckley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Queen of Ambition as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ursula Blanchard, loyal lady of the Queen's Presence Chamber and gifted sleuth, is at home amid the glittering complexities of the royal court. Now, Ursula has a new part to play in the service of her Queen -- a role that exposes her to hidden dangers in the famed university town of Cambridge. Assigned as a harbinger for the Queen's upcoming Summer Progress to Cambridge, Ursula is placed in charge of not only Her Majesty's comfort, but also her safety. For Ursula, that means undertaking menial employment in a pie shop to investigate rumored political perils behind a swashbuckling student…


Book cover of The Clerk's Tale

Lisa E. Betz Why did I love this book?

I love unusual combinations, like a medieval nun who’s also an experienced sleuth with a sharp tongue and an unflappable demeanor. To Dame Frevisse, murder is an unwanted disruption of the quiet life she craves, yet her nimble brain and passion for justice impel her to get involved. She will keep probing until the truth is found, even if that truth isn’t what others want to hear. 

In this book, Dame Frevisse is asked to investigate the death of a man she despised, which doesn’t help her attitude. One of the things I like best about Dame Frevisse is her rich inner life, as she struggles with not-so-godly attitudes and finds moments of deep peace while practicing what to us may look like dry, tedious, duties.

By Margaret Frazer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Clerk's Tale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A MAN HATED BY HIS WIFE, HIS CITY... AND HIS KILLER

In Margaret Frazer's latest medieval mystery, the "pious and perceptive" (New York Times) Dame Frevisse accompanies her prioress on a visit of mercy to a nunnery. St. Mary's nunnery is a place of prayer and healing for women - so it is surprising to see a man sprawled out in the cloister garden. Dead. Less surprising, to Dame Frevisse, was the identity of the victim: Master Montfort was not particularly liked by anyone in the town of Goring. Even his own wife and clerk despised him. And as royal…


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The Others

By Evette Davis,

Book cover of The Others

Evette Davis Author Of Woman King

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve worked in journalism, politics, and public policy for 30-plus years and watched as the extreme voices gained the most traction on either side of a debate. On social media, these minority views often dominate the discussion. 48 States is a stand-alone novel highlighting the problems of extremist viewpoints in a civil society. I also have another book series that features a political consultant who discovers she's a witch and joins a secret society that uses magic to manipulate elections to protect humanity. Bottom line: if I can’t fix political discourse for a living, I can write science fiction novels that contemplate how to do it.

Evette's book list on dystopian stories for the bada** feminist in us all

What is my book about?

True Blood meets Supernatural in the kickoff of this urban paranormal fantasy series from an acclaimed author. Readers enter a dystopian San Francisco filled with empaths and vampires embroiled in political unrest—and Book 1 is just the beginning.

Much as she wishes otherwise, superstar political consultant Olivia Shepherd was born a powerful empath. It’s a legacy she walked away from long ago—but when she wakes up one morning to find Elsa, a tenacious time-walker, standing in her kitchen, she realizes she can no longer ignore her gifts. She is quickly plunged into the hidden world of powerful “Others” and drafted to work for the Council, a shadowy organization that summons the fog to San Francisco to obscure their involvement in human affairs.

Complicating matters further is Olivia’s new love interest, William. A centuries-old vampire, William is far too jaded to take an interest in human affairs—but Olivia no longer has the luxury of remaining impartial. As shocking details from Olivia’s own past emerge and her role in the Council begins to take shape, will she rise to the challenge of her destiny?

The Others

By Evette Davis,

What is this book about?

True Blood meets Supernatural in the kickoff of this urban paranormal fantasy series from an acclaimed author. Readers enter a dystopian San Francisco filled with empaths and vampires embroiled in political unrest—and Book 1 is just the beginning.

Much as she wishes otherwise, superstar political consultant Olivia Shepherd was born a powerful empath. It’s a legacy she walked away from long ago—but when she wakes up one morning to find Elsa, a tenacious time-walker, standing in her kitchen, she realizes she can no longer ignore her gifts. She is quickly plunged into the hidden world of powerful “Others” and drafted…


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