Kiernan O'Shaughnessy
Created by Susan Dunlap

Here's proof that not all cantankerous crank private eyes are male.

As her own publisher puts it, and remember, this is pre-Kay Scarpetta, San Francisco's KIERNAN O'SHAUGHNESSY is a "female Quincy."

More like a severely pissed-off, freelance Jack Klugman in drag, if you ask me. Kiernan was coroner for San Francisco, when she screwed up big time and was forced to resign. Already toting a ton of psychological baggage (a strict Catholic upbringing, a childhood not exactly overflowing with love, the death of her beloved sister at an early age, her own obsessive and demanding personality, yada, yada, yada), Kiernan took off for points east, namely Asia, to "find herself" for a few years.

When she returned, her little house in San Francisco had tripled in value. She sold it, and bought a beach house in La Jolla with the proceeds, and then set about getting her life in order. After learning the ropes from San Diego P.I. Harry Scott, Kiernan hung up her own shingle as a high-priced private eye, specializing in cases with a medical background.

Kiernan seems to have, indeed, set her life in order, judging from all the nice toys she has to play with. Such as Brad Tchnernak, a 6'4", 240-pound ex-pro football player turned live-in houseboy and cook, her cherry-red Jeep, her sporty little Triumph sports car, and Ezra, her beloved Labrador-Irish Wolfhound.

In fact, it's too bad she's too obsessed, repressed, and posessed to enjoy it all. She seems to have a bone to pick with Catholics, almost any form of authority figure, slobs, people not as healthy as she is (she's a former gymnast) and a whole slew of others who don't quite measure up. She can be quite abrasive and pig-headed. Needless to say, then, her bedside manner also leaves something to be desired. Good thing, then, most of her patients are dead.

About the only thing Kiernan seems to confess to enjoying is breaking and entering. She admits to receiving an "almost sexual" thrill out of sneaking into other people's homes and offices. Lucky for her she has her gymnastic skills to make it all easier. I'd hate to think what she'd be like if she didn't have that outlet.

I found Kiernan to be one of the more unlikable private eyes of the nineties, yet she was quite popular, and appeared in several novels and short stories, and Dunlap herself, who's won both Anthony and Macavity awards, went on to create several other popular but occasionally prickly series characters, including beat cop Jill Smith and stunt double Darcy Lott. So what do I know?



  • "Death and Diamonds" (1991, A Woman's Eye; also 1996, Lethal Ladies)
  • "What's a Friend For?" (1994, Partners in Crime; co-written with Margaret Maron and featuring Maron's Deborah Knott)

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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