Book Review: Female detectives as portrayed by male authors

Caroline Vandriel’s monthly column reviewing recent reads

Every now and again it feels like my life and my brain get stuck in a bit of a groove that makes me see an interconnectedness of things, or themes. Lately it has been how women are portrayed.

About a month ago, I picked up Ashley Grahams’s memoire, A New Model. In it, she reveals the journey she’s taken towards the recognition of plus-sized models, culminating in her appearance on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.

This struck me both as a huge achievement and grossly superficial. For years, models and actors have been valued for their slender, to scrawny frames. It’s about time that the fashion industry recognizes women come in all shapes and sizes, and that those previously chosen for high profile shows and shoots did not represent the average North American woman at all. But why is a woman’s appearance so often a deciding factor in her value?

What does this have to do with female detectives? The next two novels I read were both detective stories with female protagonists, written by male authors. One of them succeeded in portraying a rationale heroine, the other did not. At all.

Leonard Goldberg penned a successful novel, The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes. I think part of his success was due to the lineage of the character and the style in which he chose to write. How could any offspring of Sherlock Holmes be anything but rationale and exceedingly gifted in the art of deduction? Most, if not all modern interpretations hold to the coldly scientific nature of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original, from television series, to films, plays, and novels, like Laurie King’s series about Mary Russell, the wife of Sherlock Holmes.

Another aspect of Goldberg’s success is his ability to stay true to the style of the original writing. A number of times as I read, a phrase or description struck me as being incredibly familiar. I was recently involved in a production of Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet, with Central Alberta Theatre, so I’ve been reading the original stories again. Of course, there are differences between Conan’s Holmes and any descendant; there have to be. A female in the role of Holmes would need to have softer characteristics so as not to be ridiculed as a bluestocking. Educated women were not often appreciated in the 18th century.

One would think that women have come a long way since then, but not so in Death by Pumpkin Spice by Alex Erickson. The novel opens with the Krissy baking cookies. She has low-self esteem, yet forces herself into a police investigation because she’s been involved in two murders in the past, which apparently makes her an expert. Her process of deduction is lamentable, often making guesses and/or accusations that are hit or miss. Krissy has three men vying for her affections, compared to the gentle romance in The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes. I can easily see why John Watson Jr. would fall head over heels in love with Joanna. I can’t understand how Krissy manages to have three men swarming her like bees.

Female detectives by male authors can be done quite well. They can be smart, self-assured, with a pleasing outward appearance as well, as is the case in Goldberg’s Watson and Holmes tale. Others, like Erickson, seem to have put far less thought and care into creating any depth of character. Death by Pumpkin Spice may be a fun, mindless read, but in the end, poorly drawn women will always be less than satisfying

Just Posted

Mentoring program celebrates successful year

FCSS Mentoring Program took the kids bowling Dec. 13

Local author releases brand new international thriller

Retired teacher Larry Stewart hosting a book launch this

Christmas Bureau thankful of community support, generosity

The Christmas Bureau has been helping families in Sylvan Lake for more than 20 years

Public hearing for bylaw cancelled due to clerical error

The public meeting has been resheduled for Council’s next meeting, Jan. 8

UPDATE: Motorist dies near Ponoka after loose tire collides with vehicle

Ponoka RCMP seek assistance in locating vehicle belonging to the tire

Google searches suggest 2017 a tough year

What were Canadians were curious about: Google searches suggest 2017 a tough year

Democrat wins stunning red-state Alabama Senate upset

Democrat Doug Jones wins stunning red-state Alabama Senate upset against Roy Moore

New fighter-jet competition to have national ‘economic interest’ requirement

Trudeau government wants to replace Canada’s aging CF-18s with 88 new fighters by as early as 2025

The top-binged shows on Netflix in 2017

Which show did you cheat on your spouse with by watching ahead?

2017 word of the year: Feminism

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017: ‘Feminism’

200 Russians to compete in Olympics as neutrals

The Russian Olympic Committee expects 200 to compete in South Korea

Researchers claim the ‘man flu’ does exist

Review of scientific studies suggests ‘man flu’ may be more intense: researcher

Trudeau appoints Supreme Court chief justice

Prime Minister Trudeau appoints Richard Wagner as Supreme Court chief justice

Most Read