The best mysteries starring unlikely female sleuths

Who am I?

I’ve always loved a good character-driven mystery, with people in all their wonder and weirdness at its heart. The perfect book to me is one that has enough of a puzzle to allow me to escape into it, while offering a sense of comfort that it will all come together in the end. My family moved around a lot when I was a child, before finally settling down in Chennai, India and books – particularly mystery novels – were a real constant in my life. I moved to Sydney, Australia as an adult and live here, where I write stories that celebrate my heritage and my love of a good mystery. 

I wrote...

The Disappearing Uncle: and other stories

By D.K. Rajagopalan,

Book cover of The Disappearing Uncle: and other stories

What is my book about?

“Come in. Sit down, do. Let me first make coffee, and then we can talk.”

Welcome to Shanthi Colony, where things move just a little bit slower. Neighbours pop over for a chat and coffee, friends are more like family and you can count on people coming together during good times and bad. But even in these lovely surroundings, there are mysteries galore. From missing cricket balls to missing husbands and everything in between. And at the heart of them all, solving even the most challenging of puzzles, is Kummi Paati, everyone’s favourite grandmother. One never knows what to expect in Shanthi Colony – but as long as Kummi Paati is around, there is always a way through.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

D.K. Rajagopalan Why did I love this book?

If you love a good cosy mystery and characters that unfold gently over time, this book is a must-read. Here, we meet Mma Precious Ramotswe, the only lady private detective in Botswana, as she solves the everyday mysteries of the people of Gabarone. 

The series centres around her and her particular approach to solving mysteries—through relaxed conversation over cups of tea. The surrounding cast of characters play a critical role in making the series shine. Seeing Botswana through Mma Ramotswe’s eyes is both honest and heart-warming. She recognises its beauty and strengths while acknowledging where her country still has the opportunity to grow. 

Read this on a rainy day with a cup of tea (red bush tea, naturally). You won’t regret it.

By Alexander McCall Smith,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Precious Ramotswe, a cheerful woman of traditional build, is the founder of Botswana's first and only ladies' detective agency. Here is a gentle interpretation of the detective role: solving her cases through her innate wisdom and understanding of human nature, she 'helps people with problems in their lives'. With a tone that is as elegant as that which is unfailingly used by his protagonist, Alexander McCall Smith tenderly unfolds a picture of life in Gaborone with a mastery of comic understatement and an evident sympathy for his subjects and their milieu. In the background of all this is Botswana, a…

Book cover of A Murder at Malabar Hill

D.K. Rajagopalan Why did I love this book?

Meet Perveen Mistry, the first female solicitor in 1921 Mumbai. In this book, she meets three widows who have inexplicably signed away their inheritance from their husband. As a lawyer, she’s curious. As a woman, she is the only person with legal training who is allowed to see them, since they practice purdah (where women stay secluded, only venturing out heavily veiled).

What follows is a murder mystery but through it, and through Perveen’s backstory, it is also an exploration of society’s expectations of women and the influence of the British in India. As an Indian, a woman, and a fan of a dead body (only within the pages of a book, I promise), there was much to love. 

Recommended if you like a historical, character-driven murder series. 

By Sujata Massey,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Murder at Malabar Hill as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner and Top Pick of the 2019 American Library Association Reading List for Mystery
Winner of the 2019 Mary Higgins Clark Award
Winner of the 2019 Lefty Award for Best Historical Novel
Winner of the the 2018 Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel
Finalist for the 2019 Shamus Award
Finalist for the 2019 Harper Lee Legal Fiction Prize

'Marvelously plotted, richly detailed . . . This is a first-rate performance inaugurating a most promising series.' The Washington Post

'Perveen Mistry has all the pluck you want in a sleuthing lawyer, as well as a not-so-surprising - but decidedly welcome -…

Book cover of The Man in the Brown Suit

D.K. Rajagopalan Why did I love this book?

While I do love Miss Marple (if you don’t, I’m not sure we can be friends), I also love a good romp, which is exactly what this is. Our heroine Anne Beddingfield is in search of an adventure. Heading up to London, she finds herself investigating a murder involving mysterious clues, stolen diamonds, and the Secret Service. Her investigation quickly leads to a one-way passage on the Killmordan Castle, a liner heading for South Africa.

She soon finds herself mired deep in a complex intrigue but is bright, resourceful, and just foolhardy enough to be believable as a complete amateur who unravels it (with a touch of kidnapping along the way). 

Read this if you’re looking for a book where the author subverts expectations to deliver a punchy, action-packed adventure. 

By Agatha Christie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Man in the Brown Suit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nadina, a dancer in Paris, receives a visit from Count Sergius Paulovitch. Both are in the service of "the Colonel", an international agent provocateur and criminal. "The Colonel" is retiring, leaving his agents high and dry. Nadina has a plan to blackmail the Colonel. Anne Beddingfeld is an orphan after the sudden death of her archaeologist father. Longing for adventure, she jumps at the chance live in London. Returning from an unsuccessful job interview, Anne is at Hyde Park Corner tube station when a man falls onto the live track, dying instantly. A doctor examines the man, pronounces him dead,…

Book cover of The Thursday Murder Club

D.K. Rajagopalan Why did I love this book?

Have you ever wondered how long it would take for a young woman who was stabbed three or four times, just under the breastbone, to die?

Elizabeth Best has. The book opens with her asking Joyce Meadowcroft, former nurse, this very question.

… And with that, we’re off. Welcome to the Thursday Murder Club, where four residents of Coopers Chase Retirement Village meet weekly to solve an unsolved murder. Each of them brings a lifetime of experience to the table (there’s a former spy, nurse, trade union leader and psychiatrist). They are easy to underestimate – particularly when Elizabeth and Joyce put on their best elderly lady impressions – but therein lies their greatest strength. 

Heads up: I stayed up all night finishing this book. Can’t say I didn’t warn you.

By Richard Osman,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked The Thursday Murder Club as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times bestseller | Soon to be a major motion picture from Steven Spielberg at Amblin Entertainment

"Witty, endearing and greatly entertaining." -Wall Street Journal

"Don't trust anyone, including the four septuagenarian sleuths in Osman's own laugh-out-loud whodunit." -Parade

Four septuagenarians with a few tricks up their sleeves
A female cop with her first big case
A brutal murder
Welcome to...

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room to discuss unsolved crimes; together they call themselves the Thursday Murder Club.

When a local developer is found dead…

Book cover of Gaudy Night

D.K. Rajagopalan Why did I love this book?

Dorothy L Sayers is most known for her amateur detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. In Gaudy Night, however, she hands the reins over to Harriet Vane, mystery writer and close friend of Lord Peter’s. Harriet is invited to her Alma Mater – Shrewsbury College, Oxford – and while there, is asked to investigate some recent poison pen messages and obscene vandalism. From there the mystery ramps up, eventually leading to an attack on Harriet herself.

Clues are dropped slowly throughout the book and the many threads are brought together satisfyingly at the end. Sayers also examines the challenges faced by the pioneers of women’s higher education, society’s expectations, and their own desire for independence. 

Also, if a slow-burn romance is your thing, I’d suggest starting with Strong Poison and Have His Carcass

By Dorothy L. Sayers,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Gaudy Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The twelfth book in Dorothy L Sayers' classic Lord Peter Wimsey series, introduced by actress Dame Harriet Mary Walter, DBE - a must-read for fans of Agatha Christie's Poirot and Margery Allingham's Campion Mysteries.

'D. L. Sayers is one of the best detective story writers' Daily Telegraph

Harriet Vane has never dared to return to her old Oxford college. Now, despite her scandalous life, she has been summoned back . . .

At first she thinks her worst fears have been fulfilled, as she encounters obscene graffiti, poison pen letters and a disgusting effigy when she arrives at sedate Shrewsbury…

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By Linda Kass,

Book cover of Bessie

Linda Kass Author Of Bessie

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Bookstore owner Learner Reader Historical novelist Long distance cyclist

Linda's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

In the bigoted milieu of 1945, six days after the official end of World War II, Bess Myerson, the daughter of poor Russian immigrants living in the Bronx, remarkably rises to become Miss America, the first —and to date only— Jewish woman to do so. At stake is a $5,000 scholarship for the winner.

An intimate fictional portrait of Bess Myerson’s early life, Bessie reveals the transformation of the nearly six-foot-tall, self-deprecating yet talented preteen into an exemplar of beauty, a peripheral quality in her world. It is the unfamiliar secular society of pageantry she must choose to escape her roots as she searches for love and acceptance, eager to make her mark on the world.


By Linda Kass,

What is this book about?

Just days after the close of World War II, Bess Myerson, the college-educated daughter of poor Russian Jewish immigrants living in the Bronx, is competing in the Miss America pageant. At stake: a $5,000 scholarship. The tension and excitement in Atlantic City's Warner Theatre is palpable, especially for traumatized Jews rooting for one of their own. So begins Bessie.

Drawing on biographical and historical sources, Bessie reimagines the early life of Bess Myerson, who, in 1945 at age twenty-one, remarkably rises to become one of the most famous women in America. This intimate fictional portrait reveals the transformation of the…

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