The June 1998
P.I. Poll Results


The topic was

No Business For a Lady?
Female Eyes


The title of this month's poll was swiped from a novel from a novel by James L. Rubel, one of the first to feature a female private eye as the protagonist. It's not Chandler, but there's a real attempt to make fledgling private eye Eli Donavan a believable female eye who isn't a cartoonish, frustrated 400-pound wrecking ball or an equally-cartoonish dim-witted bimbo whose favorite tools of deduction seem to be her mammary glands.



This was the most successful poll so far, and possibly the most illuminating. Eighty-two of you participated, and the comment were very interesting, and often enlightening. Part of the reason for the great response is that I finally got off my duff and joined Dorothy L, and invited members to participate.

Despite the fact there's way too much talk about recipes and cats on that list for my taste=, the Dorothys came through for me, and most of them knew their stuff...

One thing I've noticed is that there seems to be two types of readers of female P.I.s:

Those who read them because the heroes are P.I.s, and they'll read any good private eye (or any) novel, regardless of the gender of the protagonist or author.

Then there's those (mostly women) who read them because the heroes are women, and haven't got a clue what a private eye is, yet insist on telling me what's wrong with most P.I. novels (ie: those written by men): too much sex, violence, no detection at all, just brute force, rudeness, blah blah blah...

Then there's another group of private eye readers (mostly men) who won't read women eyes because they're full of wimpy, incompetent, politically-correct women who rely on their cop boyfriends to get them out of a jam, blah blah blah...
...

According to the poll,
your All-time favorite female private eyes are:

Sharon McCone by Marcia Muller (29 votes)

Kinsey Millhone by Sue Grafton (29)

Stephanie Plum by Janet Evanovich (23)

V.I. Warshawski by Sara Paretsky (19)

Carlotta Carlyle by Linda Barnes (18)

Lauren Laurano by Sandra Scoppetone (14)

Anna Lee by Liza Cody (12)

Kate Brannigan by Val McDermid (11)

Kat Colorado by Karen Kijewski (10)

Cordelia Gray by P.D. James (8)

Maggie Hill & Claire Conrad by Melodie Howe (7)

Ms. Tree by Max Allan Collins & Terry Beatty (7)

Bertha Cool by A.A. Fair (7)

Elizabeth Chase by Martha Lawrence (6)

Tamara Hayle by Valerie Wilson Wesley (5)

Phoebe Siegel by Sandra West Prowell (5)

Angela Matelli by Wendi Lee (5)

Others nominated
(4 votes or less)

 Madge Hatchett by Lee McGraw

Lydia Chin by S.J. Rozan

Tess Monaghan by Laura Lippman

Kate Baeier by Gillian Slovo

Kat Caliban by D.B. Borton

Saz Martin by Stella Duffy

Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn by Jan Grape

Claire McCarron (fromTV's Leg Work)

Sunny Childs by Ruth Birmingham

Cat Marsala by Barb D'Amato

Hannah Wolfe by Sarah Dunant

Kat Caliban by D.B. Borton

Laura Principal by Michelle Spring

Micky Knight by J.M. Redman

Alex Tanner by Anabel Donald

Sydney Sloane by Randeye Lordon

Catherine Sayler by Linda Grant

One vote each 

Maria Kallio by Leena Lehtolainen
(But who is she? Anyone?)

Tuppence Beresford by Agatha Christie
(Barely an eye...)

Sarah Kelling Bittersohn by Charlotte MacLeod
(Barely an eye, but what the hell!)

Well, as you can see Kinsey and Sharon came in tied at 29 votes each, and relative newcomer Stephanie Plum edged out the seemingly missing in action V.I. Warshawski (c'mon, Sara, bring her back!). There was a tie for highest ranking male-written female private eye: Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty's Michael Tree, and A.A. Fair (actually Erle Stanley Gardner)'s Bertha Cool. Terry Beatty's wife, Wendi Lee, also placed an eye on the list, her own Angela Matelli.

I was a little disappointed that historically significant Brit eyes Anna Lee and Cordelia Gray didn't place higher, since they are both such important figures in the development of female eyes. Of course, neither having appeared in a new adventure for quite a while surely plays a large part in that (re: V.I.)

Oh, and a handful of us remembered Claire McCarron from TV's short-lived Leg Work, the only non-literary eye to make the Best of list.
...

Your favorite pre-1980 female eye

Cordelia Gray by P.D. James (15)

Bertha Cool by A.A. Fair (9)

Madge Hatchett by Lee McGraw (5)

Also nominated

Dol Bonner by Rex Stout

Sara Scott by Karl Alexander

Miss Maud Silver by Patrica Wentworth

Sharon McCone by Marcia Muller

Tuppence Beresford by Agatha Christie

At least folks remembered Cordelia Gray in this category. Surprisingly, Sharon McCone only got one vote in this category--her first novel appeared in 1977.
...

The worst female eye ever

Charlie's Angels (10)

Honey West by G.G. Fickling

Sharon McCone by Marcia Muller

V.I. Warshawski by Sara Paretsky

Dol Bonner by Rex Stout

Charlie's Angels easily outdistanced all the others in this category. There was no real consensus on the others, just persoal dislike, as far as I could tell, although one person felt Dol Bonner wasn't really a female eye, but was merely a man in drag.
...

Best lesbian eye

O.K., asking may not be exactly P.C., but to ignore this sub-genre is worse. In tandem with the success of women sleuths in general, came the success of the lesbian eye. Who knew? In the early eighties, even as Kinsey, Sharon and V.I. assaulted the bestseller lists, in alternative and women's bookstores, readers were snapping them up by the armful. Mostly printed by small, independant presses (Naiad, Seal, Crossing), lesbian private eyes were soon everywhere.

Lauren Laurano by Sandra Scoppetone (19 votes)

Helen Keremos by Eve Zaremba (7 votes)

Also nominated

Saz Martin by Stella Duffy

Nell Fury by Elizabeth Pincus

Micky Knight by J.M. Redmann

This one wasn't much of a surprise...Sandra Scoppetone's Lauren Laurano was the first lesbian private eye series to be published by a mainstream house. While Naiad, New Victoria, Seal, Crossing and others were trying to stock women's bookstores, Lauren's publishers were busy stuffing racks at supermarkets, drugstores and bus stations. Location. Location. Location.
...

Best female eye written by a man

Bertha Cool by A.A. Fair (9 votes)

Ms. Tree by Max Allan Collins & Terry Beatty (5 votes)

The least popular category. Yet, the fact that the Bertha Cool series started way back in 1939, and that Ms. Tree's adventures are documented in a comic book shows that their fans, at least, are dedicated. A sad note is that more than one voter didn't know of any male-written female eyes, and that a few expressed doubt that men could even do a creditable job at it.
...

Who should play your favorite eye in film/television?

Joan Cusack as Stephanie Plum
(more than one person suggested this one!)

Sandra Bullock as Elizabeth Chase
(more than one person suggested this one!)

Glenn Close as V.I. Warshawsi

Elizabeth Perkins as Madge Hatchett

Cher as Stephanie Plum

Anne Hechte as Lauren Laurano

Julia Roberts as Lauren Laurano

Uma Thurman as Hannah Wolfe

Geena Davis as Kat Colorado

Kirstie Alley as Kinsey Milhone

Sally Field as Kate Brannigan

Tea Leoni as Stephanie Plum

Barbara Hershey as Sharon McCone

Geena Davis as Carlotta Carlyle

Rene Russo as Sharon McCone

Ally Sheedy as Micky Knight

Julia Roberts as Stephanie Plum

Diane Keaton as Kinsey Milhone

This was just for fun, but Julia Roberts?
...

Close, But No Cigar
Sorry, but some folks just don't get it...if you're not sure what a P.I. is, read this.

Kate Martinelli by Laurie King (police officer)

Kate Delafield by Katherine Forrest (police officer)

Amanda Pepper by Gillian Roberts (school teacher)

Lucy (Kay Scarpetta's FBI niece) by Patricia Cornwell (FBI agent)

Mrs. Columbo (amateur sleuth)

Jane Whitfield by Thomas Perry (government agent)

Mary Russell by Laurie King (amateur)

Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene (gifted amateur)

Kate Fansler by Amanda Cross (English professor)

Smilla Jespersen by Peter Hoeg (amateur-anthropologist?)

Amelia Peabody Emerson by Ellis Peters (archaeologist)

Miss Marple by Agatha Christie (no, she aint!)

***

Reader's Comments

.
From Julie Burns
Annoying is when they do stupid things, and are portrayed as typical weak females (like Kinsey Millhone in the N is for Noose and to be honest, like Kat Colorado can be). I like it when they have a sense of humor, play 'stupid, but are able to come out on top and actually have street smarts. Aren't afraid to play with the boys and often come out on top. I like the site! but most of these questions in the P.I. Poll were tough to answer cause I don't know any pre 1980 sleuths, don't know any lesbian sleuths, and don't know any male writers of female p.i.'s ... hmmm, I guess I don't get out much!

From ghoti (hmmm....something smells fishy here...ed.)
I prefer my PIs to concentrate more on the job than on relationships with S/O's. I don't like stories where the plot is advanced by the protagonist taking incredibly stupid risks. I am not answering question #6 because unless they can come up with something as good as the first three eps of Prime Suspect, it will be too disappointing.

From John Russell
Elizabeth Chase
, Martha Lawrence's psychic PI, is a wonderfully imagined protagonist. Martha weaves significant knowledge about the inner workings of relationships, psi ability, and most importantly, murder and its motivations into thoroughly engaging stories that will keep you turning the pages into the wee hours of the night! (John, have you met Art?--ed.)

From Art Hallman
I like Elizabeth Chase because she not only uses her brain, she uses her "whole" brain. I love PI novels, whether male or female. My criteria for a good PI is not based on gender, but on smarts, humor, courage and integrity. Oh, and Fantastic site. Thanks so much.
(Art, have you met John?--ed.)

From Erica Stewart
My favorite is Anna Lee (from the TV series, not the books). Go figure! Bertha Cool? My kinda gal! Favorite pre-1980 eye? Miss Marple (yes she was!) (no, she wasn't! - ed.) ..Worst Female Eye? Charlie's Angels (all of 'em)! As for casting, I would like to play all of them, but until we can come up with a time machine, I'm past it for Anna Lee and Tuppence. Can't we get past the Gothic, "it's late at night, storming, power has gone out, ooh, there's a noise from the cellar,I think I'll take a candle and investigate!" crap? Best thing, a different slant to investigating?

From Viccy Kemp
I didn't vote on worst P.I. because I never read the books if I don't like the characters. Nobody is holding a gun to your head -- put the book down and read something you like! By the way, great site! Lots of wonderful information -- I only read mysteries and this has given me lots of new names to try. I also subscribe to DorothyL, a listserv from Kent State which I highly recommend to anyone who loves mysteries.

From Judith Campbell Rosenberg
This was tough-- seemed like many strong female characters I came up with were cops. Of course I like Kinsey-- but I have been disappointed in some her outings recently. Some new voices are consistently good.

From Beeper
There aren't any purely intellectual female P.I.'s , a la Nero Wolfe. They all need to be kick boxers, or know some martial arts. give me just one who can solve the crime with her mind and doesn't need to compete with men physically and I will buy her books and tell my friends to do the same...

From Jim Doherty
I have to admit that I have a problem with female PI characters, where I don't have a problem with female detectives in other sub-genres for one particular reason: the hard-boiled PI is not a realistic character, but a fantasy character that does not have a counterpart in real-life. Female cops in police procedurals make sense because police procedurals try (or should try) to portray law enforcement as realistically as possible, and there have been females in the police profession since the 19th Century. Female spies, likewise. Hard-boiled PIs, on the other hand, are purely fantasy figures, and the fantasy is essentially a *male* one. Female "cozy amateur sleuths" are also fantasy figures, but there, the fantasy is essentially female, so it works. Too many female PIs in fiction come across as Mike Hammer with feminine anatomy. Females masquerading as males (opr maybe vice versa). Having said that, I eagerly look forward to every Kinsey Millhone book, and I eagerly awaited every issue of Ms. Tree. There are all kinds of other female PI characters I also enjoy. A well-written story with a well-conceived character will always overcome my prejudice. Oh, and theWorst Female Eye? Everybody who ever worked for Charlie on Charlie's Angels finishes in a dead heat.

From Jane Hastings
Great site! I printed out all your lists to take to the library. Catching up on 60 years of P-Eyes!! Clearly a labor of love.

From Jane Maranghi
I always give extra points for humor, wit, and laughs. I like Steph Plum, Kat Colorado, Carlotta Carlyle, Sara Bittersohn, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles,Veronica Stallwood, MC Beaton, and others, not all exactly PIs.

From Fr. John Wooley
If Mary Russell, the narrator of Laurie King's Sherlock Holmes books counts as a PI, put her down instead of Cordelia Gray (in best female eye category).
(Sorry, Father, I'm just not that familiar with the series, but I know she narrates some of Holmes' cases, but I don't think that qualifies her. Ditto for Watson. But I'm willing to hear arguments...-.ed)

From Wookie
I'm not aware of any female pre-1980 PI's. The best thing about female PI's is the brain work involved in solving cases. While the majority of modern, post-Hammett, male PI's ultimately rely on brawn over grey matter, the female PI's are tough enough to deal with the tough stuff when it happens but rely on brains to resolve their cases more often than not.

From Laurie
Sharon McCone
? I hate her! I would like to see Mel Harris as Amanda Pepper. I love both Vic and Kinsey, but they use their pick locks *way* too much! None of the evidence they find could ever be admissable in court because of illegal search and seizure. I enjoy Gillian Roberts' Amanda Pepper because she has a healthy relationship with a man. Many female eyes have very bad taste in men.
(Unfortunately, Laurie, Amanda is a school teacher, not a private eye, although she certainly sounds worth checking out.-ed.)

From Darwin
I'm almost embarrassed to say that I read no female PI series. Perhaps, this poll will point me in the direction of a good read or two.
(That's what we're here for...I hope.-ed.)

From Tom Marks
She doesn't qualify as a P.I., but my favorite female character of recent memory is Thomas Perry's Jane Whitefield. I'm also fond of Kate Delafield, but she's a cop, not a P.I.

Don't like the results? Then you should've voted!


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