The Magnificent Seven Female Detectives by ANTONY JOHNSTON

Written by Antony Johnston

MY NEW BOOK, The Dog Sitter Detective, stars Guinevere ‘Gwinny’ Tuffel – a retired actress who suddenly finds herself looking after her best friend’s expensive salukis when the friend in question is accused of murder on her wedding day.

Gwinny is smart, driven, and determined to prove her friend’s innocence by uncovering the true culprit. But she’s not a police officer, or even a private investigator. Gwinny falls squarely in the camp of the amateur detective, joining the ranks of many others like her who are so beloved of readers, myself included. Amateur sleuths have been a staple of my reading, not to mention TV viewing, since I first devoured The Famous Fivebooks as a child.

To celebrate, here are my magnificent seven female amateur detectives:


1: Miss Marple

It’s unthinkable to have a list like this without Aunt Jane, of course. From the somewhat cheeky village know-it-all of Agatha Christie’s books and short stories (twelve of the former, more than twenty of the latter), to the understated classic portrayal by Joan Hickson, and even the more recent (and rather cheeky again) version with Geraldine McEwan, the murder maven of St Mary Mead remains everyone’s favourite amateur sleuth for good reason.


2: Rosemary & Thyme

I was initially unsure about these gardening gumshoes when they first appeared on TV screens, but across three short seasons they won me over. The actual mysteries can be a bit shaky (even despite Peter Lovesey acting as consultant), but the charismatic performances of Felicity Kendal and Pam Ferris, playing wonderfully rough-edged characters, are a delight to watch. As are the writers’ continually inventive ways for gardeners to stumble over a body…!


3: Agatha Raisin

Speaking of rough edges, they don’t come much rougher than MC Beaton’s classic and prolific sleuth, star of a full thirty books before Beaton’s death in 2019. Agatha sets up a detective agency halfway through the series, but to me she’ll always be the hilariously bitter amateur of Carsely village, bewildered by country life yet somehow solving the most bizarre and baffling murders through keen observation and a refusal to back down.


4: Poppy Denby

Let’s get metropolitan for a moment; Poppy Denby is a young woman making her way as a reporter in 1920s London, a place filled with bounders, crime… and even worse, suffragettes. A modern woman of the roaring twenties (on which author Fiona Veitch Smith is something of an expert), Poppy is delightfully hard-headed and equally determined to break both her cases and society’s glass ceiling. Six books await investigation.


5: Jessica Fletcher

She may be from across the pond, but Angela Lansbury’s iconic author-slash-detective transcends borders. Much imitated (what was Castle, if not Murder: He Wrote?) but never bettered, Jessica even has an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for ‘Most prolific amateur sleuth’ – hardly surprising, given she features in more than two hundred and sixty episodes of TV. Ignore those scandalous theories that Cabot Cove was only deadly because Jessica herself was the killer (!) and lose yourself in a classic comfort watch.


6: Delilah Metcalfe

The star of Julia Chapman’s Dales Detective Agency series (eight books and counting), Delilah is not just an amateur – she’s not even technically a detective. That role falls to her aptly-named friend and tenant, Samson. But as is the way of things, Delilah continually finds herself dragged into cases for one reason or another, and handles them with typical no-nonsense Yorkshire grit. The village of Bruncliffe is fictional, but anyone familiar with the Dales will recognise its colourful inhabitants.


7: Abby Knight

Another sleuth from across the pond, Abby Knight is the infamously-meddling heroine of Kate Collins’ Flower Shop Mysteries, a potent mix of soap opera and murders that somehow always involve a florist – currently at twenty books and showing no sign of stopping. American cosy (or rather ‘cozy’) crime specialises in the sub-sub-genre of ‘single woman struggles to run a quirky independent business while solving murders’, and Abby is the epitome of such characters.


Bonus Entry: DI Vera Stanhope

Not an amateur, obviously; Vera is a redoubtable Detective Inspector, with decades of experience on the Northumberland force! But this always-underestimated, no-nonsense copper is such a great and well-realised character, both in Ann Cleeves’ ten books and as portrayed on TV for twelve years by Brenda Blethyn, that I couldn’t resist including her. 


There you have it, my magnificent seven female amateur detectives (plus one interloper). Your seven may be quite different, of course! But whether or not you agree, I hope you’ll check out The Dog Sitter Detective – and who knows, perhaps Gwinny Tuffel will rank somewhere on your own list.


The Dog Sitter Detective

Published by Allison & Busby 18th May 2023 

Hbk £16.99, as an eBook and as an audiobook


“A tail-wagging, wet-nosed delight of a book!” — Fiona Veitch Smith (author of the Poppy Denby Investigation series.


Photo © 2023 Mike Stotter

Antony Johnston

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