Happy Birthday, Sara!

Wikipedia tells me it’s Sara Paretsky‘s birthday today. I thought I’d blow the dust off my blog and wish her all the best. I am happy she writes a strong woman protagonist with heart and soul and a social conscience. I love the themes that animate her stories and the brio with which she tackles the issues.

It’s also the 25th anniversary of the founding of Sisters in Crime. Well, not today exactly, but this year, and we’ll be celebrating at Bouchercon and at various chapter meetings throughout the year. One of the things I want to do in September, in the run-up to Bouchercon in St. Louis, is encourage bloggers to write about their favorite women crime fiction authors or their favorite mysteries by women. So book bloggers – you’re on notice.

Meanwhile, if you’re curious about the founding of Sisters in Crime, you can get primary sources from the Rutgers University Archives (which holds the organization’s papers) or from the Newberry Library in Chicago, which has Paretsky’s papers in their manuscript collection. Both places were incredibly helpful when I was putting together a presentation for the Popular Culture Association annual meeting about the first quarter century of the organization, which you can find here if you are curious.

As I prepare to blog about my favorite women writers, which (off the top of my head) include Denise Mina, Karin Fossum, Reggie Nadelson, Kate Atkinson, Val McDermid (her standalones, particularly), Carol O’Connell, Kris Nelscott, Minette Walters, Alex Carr …. not to mention the writers who I started with many years ago – Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh – and the women who transformed the genre: Liza Cody, Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton, and Sara herself – I wonder who I am missing? Who should I be reading before we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Sisters in Crime this September?

photo of the author courtesy of Fairfax County Public Library; I took the other one myself while waiting for a train at the Ashland station of the Green Line El.


10 Responses to Happy Birthday, Sara!

  1. Bernadette says:

    I have a real soft spot for Sara Paretsky (and Sue Grafton who I discovered at the same time). I really thought I’d have to give up reading the mysteries I’d loved as a teenager because once I stopped reading ‘kids’ books (where strong female characters were in abundence – Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon, George from Famous Five) and started on the adult stuff it was all blokes blokes blokes. I couldn’t seem to find any that featured women – or not women who were interesting anyway (at 18 I really didn’t appreciate the finer points of Miss Marple’s character) but a librarian pointed me towards Sara and Sue and I never looked back.

    You’ve a fine list of favourite women crime writers there but I do note a lack of Australians so I’ll fly the flag. I’d recommend Katherine Howell (am reading her fourth book at the moment and truly do think she is on the top tier of writers producing compelling plots with some extra meat to them), Kathryn Fox is good to – especially her last book DEATH MASK which tackeld the subject of violence perpetrated by sports stars – very credible and not as sensationalist as it could have been. Leah Giarratano is a personal favourite too.

    • Barbara says:

      Leah Giarratano has been on my “to be read” list for far too long. I’ll fix that soon – and take a look at Katherine Howell and Kathryn Fox while I’m at it. Thanks! I hadn’t thought about that transition from kid’s books to adult reading (and the rise of “blokes blokes blokes”! but I do remember feeling a loss of adventure and intrigue – which I didn’t rediscover until I started reading mysteries again. I suspect, now that you’ve pointed it out, that I’d also missed having protagonists I could identify with. Fascinating.

  2. kathy d. says:

    Happy Birthday Sara Paretsky, writer of my favorite woman protagonist, V.I. Warshawski, for all of the reasons listed above. I have read every one of the books featuring V.I., going back years, enjoy them, love the character and the social issues, on which I agree completely. (And I then also read Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller.)
    A friend of mine, a sister reader told me recently — when we were discussing political and social issues raised in crime fiction, “We need more Sara Paretsky’s.” Amen to that, although I expect to be reading her books for many years to come, enjoying them and passing them on to friends.

  3. Craig says:

    Good list of female writers there Barbara. From a New Zealand perspective (you’ve already mentioned Ngaio Marsh, fantastic), you could add Vanda Symon, Joan Druett, Alix Bosco, Paddy Richardson, Donna Malane and Andrea Jutson from recent years. Not that I’d expect you to try all of them, but you should try at least a couple.

    Other than Kiwis, you might want to give Swedes Liza Marklund, Camilla Lackberg, and Karin Alvetgen a go.

  4. Maxine says:

    My favourite female crime writers: Asa Larsson, Karin Alvtegen, Helene Tursten, Karin Fossum, Mary Higgins Clark (;-), but yes, really), Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy (but not so much her later work), Camilla Ceder is a promising new author, Liza Marklund, Ann Cleeves, Saskia Noort, Petra Hammesfahr’s The Sinner, Sue Grafton, Sara P (of course! But I prefer her earlier books), Jane Casey, Catherine Sampson, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Simone van der Vlught, Maj Sjowall, one (can’t recall which!) of the Eprhons (half of G Ephron) and Nicci Gerard (French) if you allow halves of pair-authors. There are other authors I like too, perhaps not quite as much as the preceding, eg Camilla Lackberg, Mari Jungstedt, and some of the Aussie ones mentioned by Bernadette. I keep discovering new ones too, eg just read my first Dana Stabenow which I liked.

  5. Maxine says:

    BTW I am with you on Liza Cody. Such a pity she stopped writing – or at least, have not seen an Anna Lee book for ages. (the Bucket Nut character was great, too).

  6. Barbara says:

    Thanks all! Terrific suggestions. Quite a few have cause head smacking “well, of course!” moments here. Others are on my bucket list (which indicates I will live to be 250 to finish all those books).

    Loved Bucket Nut! funny and touching.

  7. kathy d. says:

    L.R. Wright (Laurali Rose), wrote a police detective series set in W. British Columbia. Felony and Mayhem Press have reprinted 3, and I believe will print more. “The Suspect” is excellent, her first. She won the Edgar in the mid-1980s, competing with Ruth Rendell.
    Oh, and of course, Barbara Fister’s books are great, set in my childhood hometown, making them even more important to me.
    There’s Linda Barnes of Boston, good series. And there’s Donna Leon’s series set in Venice, although not a male main character, women loom large here. And there’s Fred Vargas of France. Although her main character is a male police detective, no one writes like she does, with great imagination, quirky, but grounded in logic. She’s won the Dagger three times and is a nominee this year.

  8. kathy d. says:

    Sorry, meant to see that Leon’s books do not feature a female protagonist, but many women characters are included in the series.

    • Barbara says:

      Good to know about L.R. Wright – I’d heard the name, but not much about her work. I’ll look it up. I should give Donna Leon a whirl, too… why have I not read them? I think I picked one up some time ago, it didn’t grab me at the time, and I haven’t been back. Time I did.

      Thanks, too, for the kind words about my books. :)

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