Senior Women Sleuths, Part Two
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Women of a certain age have been starring in mysteries for nearly a century, but the proliferation of this genre reached new significance as we neared the end of the twentieth century. During the past fifteen years, no less than 30 new senior women sleuths began solving murders and acquiring fans.
Several creators of these appealing older ladies were already established in the world of mystery writing when they introduced their senior female protagonist.
Carolyn Hart first presented her senior female protagonist, retired reporter turned amateur sleuth, Henrie O, in 1993. Hart's popular Death on Demand series, starring bookstore owner Annie Laurance, had debuted six years earlier. It is still selling successfully today with Annie and husband Max Darling (their relationship developed during the series) now sharing sleuthing skills. Their latest episode is the recently released "White Elephant Dead."
"I wrote Death on Demand, my first book in the series set in a mystery bookstore, because I wanted to remember wonderful mysteries, to tell everyone about these important books," said Hart in her letter to her readers on the home page of her Web site.
Hart honors this pledge in "The Christie Caper," a classic puzzle novel set at a convention in honor of the one hundredth birthday of Agatha Christie. She also pays homage to several writers of the Golden Age in "A Little Class on Murder." In this fun-filled adventure, Annie teaches a class on three of the great mystery writers: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Mary Roberts Rinehart.
Hart's senior sleuth, Henrietta (Henrie O) O'Dwyer Collins takes on her first case in the book, "Dead Man's Island." While chatting about her new protagonist, Hart said, "Henrie O is my response to those who think women over 60 are fluffy and feeble little old ladies. We need positive images of aging and to tear down stereotypes people might have. Society has a tendency to dismiss anyone over 45 or 50 as not germane or worthy of respect. Women must be valued not only when young and beautiful but when they age. I wanted a character that didn't have to pretend. There are more seasons to life than summer. It is the autumn years that I am depicting in the Henrie O mysteries."
"Death on the River Walk" is Henrie O's fifth and latest adventure.
M.C. Beaton is another author of some consequence whose senior woman sleuth made her first appearance in the recent past. The Beaton nom de plume is one of many used by Marion Chesney, a prolific writer of historical romances produced under her own name and several other pseudonyms. In 1980, Chesney began writing mysteries under the name M.C. Beaton. Her first series featured Hamish Macbeth, a village constable in the highlands of Scotland (Chesney's native country). This series continues today, with title number sixteen, "A Highland Christmas," appearing in bookstores just in time for the 1999 holidays.
Agatha Raisin, Beaton's senior woman sleuth, first appeared in 1992 in Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death. Beaton describes her Agatha as "a stocky middle-aged woman with good legs, a round face and small bear-like eyes which looked suspiciously out at the world. Her hair had always been her pride, thick and brown and glossy."
To this, an Amazon.com reviewer adds the following: "That description, which could also fit Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, tells us almost everything we need to know about Agatha Raisin, M.C. Beaton's smartly updated Miss Marple, who does most of her amateur sleuthing amidst the glowing stone villages of England's Cotswold district. Cozy without being the least bit cute, Beaton's books about this tough little Raisin cookie are well-made and smoothly oiled entertainment machines, working unexpected changes on familiar turf."
As with most of her writing, Beaton has been quite prolific with her Agatha Raisin series, producing ten titles in eight years. The most recent is Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam scheduled for publication in June, 2000.
Another mystery writer who may surprise you as having a senior woman protagonist is Joyce Christmas. Perhaps best-known for her Lady Margaret Priam series, Christmas has also penned, to date, a four book series featuring retired Connecticut office manager Betty Trenka.
Says reviewer Harriet Klausner about the latest Joyce Christmas senior sleuth title: "The fourth Betty Trenka cozy is a warm New England tale that fans of the Jessica Fletcher series will enjoy. Like the previous three tales, 'Mood to Murder,' is a character-driven story. Betty remains an intriguing individual whose philosophy on the whims of life is the key to her essence and the overall plot of the novel. The secondary characters add a husky New England flavor to the mix. Though the story line is entertaining, there is little action until the climax. As with her Lady Priam mysteries, Joyce Christmas provides a gift to those readers who enjoy a serene cozy."
The senior sleuths discussed here are only three of over 30 characters awaiting your light reading enjoyment. If you haven't yet discovered any of these delightful ladies, do start soon. The motto of the readers of the women of a certain age can easily be, "so many books, so little time."