11 Feisty female detectives at the forefront of television crime

Anna Walker

We’re counting down our favourite female detectives, from retired English teachers, to schoolgirls and from tough as nails to kind and calm—these sleuths are as diverse and unpredictable as the cases they solve.

Laure Berthaud - Spiral

The sensational French crime drama Spiral has been running since 2005, but almost a decade on has only just appeared on the radar here in the UK. Known as one of the darkest shows on television, audiences have been gripped by its taut drama and memorable villains during the show’s airings on BBC 4. No doubt a big part of Spiral's international success is down to the show’s lead, Laure Berthaud, a kick-ass Police Captain who will do anything to protect her team.

A skilled officer known for her tenacity and energy, as well as her borderline methods, Laure struggles to build relationships in her personal life, but on the job she is fiercely committed.

 

Miss Marple

Agatha Christie’s best-loved sleuth has all the appearance of an elderly homebody, with about as much fight as a tea-cozy. How wrong appearances can be! In defense of her own crime-fighting credentials, Marple explains that old women ‘ have a lot of time on their hands, and their chief interest is usually other people. So, you see, they get to be what one might call experts.’

You don’t mess with Marple!
Buy Here

 

Veronica Mars

The ultimate teen detective, Veronica is a 17-year-old student with an after-school job working with her Private Investigator father.

As the series develops, Mars transforms from innocent yet spirited high schooler to hardened and cynical sleuth. The character was so popular that despite being refused funding by Warner Brothers, a Veronica Mars film was released in 2014 through a Kickstarter page, where the project raised their $2million goal via fan donations in just ten hours!

 

Marge Gunderson - Fargo

This Coen Brothers comedy crime caper centers on Marge Gunderson, a heavily pregnant police chief who investigates an escalating series of local homicides.

Slicing through the mystery of the crimes with a calm, competent hand, Gunderson defies all the stereotypes of the tortured, lonely detective, with humour and a true sense of kindness. Frances McDormand won as Oscar for her portrayal of the detective.

 

Cagney and Lacey

Police detectives Cagney and Lacey couldn’t be more different. Christine Cagney is a driven single woman focused on her career, whilst Mary Lacey is a married working mother.

After learning through feminist theorists recommended by his girlfriend that there had never been a female buddy film, producer Barney Rosenzweig set out to make one. When no studio would take the idea, he transposed it to television and the rest is history! The duo became role models for a generation of women, strong and tough whilst kind and funny.  
Buy Now

 

Velma Dinkley and Daphne Black - Scooby Doo

It didn’t take a genius to realize who the brains behind the Mystery Gang operation were. No making sandwiches for these sleuthing ladies, while Shaggy was serving up Scooby snacks, they were serving justice.

Velma’s tenacity and nose for no-gooders only ever went off the scent when she lost her all-important glasses. Daphne too was more than a pretty face, and appeared in more adaptations than any of the other characters, besides Scooby Doo himself. Jinkies!
Buy Now

 

Jane Tennison - Prime Suspect

Dame Helen Mirren was the star of the ITV police procedural, Prime Suspect as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, one of the first women to take the role in the London Metropolitan Police Service.

Jane is tough as nails and always gets the job done, setting the TV mould for female cops struggling in a male-dominated workplace.
Buy Now

 

Jessica Fletcher - Murder She Wrote

What’s a greatest detectives list without good old Jessica Fletcher? Portrayed by Angela Lansbury, retired English teacher Fletcher is now a noted crime author and lecturer in criminology, who solves the various murder cases of Cabot Cove in her downtime.

Based on the number of murders occurring in the city, it has one of the highest murder rates of any city depicted on television, with an expected murder rate for a city roughly 20 times its size. It’s a tough gig, but nothing Jessica can’t handle…
Buy Now

 

Lydia Adams - Southland

Detective Lydia Adams is refreshingly selfish, strong and intelligent in a genre that tends to play women as tough but essentially vulnerable characters. She is portrayed by Regina King who not only starred in the show, but also took a turn as director. With Ann Biderman acting as the creative force behind the series, Southland is a female led force to be reckoned with!

 

Stella Gibson - The Fall

London Metropolitan Police Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (that’s one mouthful of a job title!) arrives in Belfast to conduct a 28-day review into a murder case that had no suspects, and is going nowhere.

Gibson sets out with total determination and begins to unravel the mystery thanks to her driven, even obsessive nature.
Buy Now

 

Kima Greggs - The Wire

Detective Shakima Greggs works within the Baltimore Police Department and played a role in all of the show’s key cases.

Her determined work persona is played off against her personal issues, which include infidelity within her lesbian relationships and reliance upon alcohol. Originally intended to die within the first season, Greggs was such a popular characters that the show kept her on board.
Buy Now

To hear further discussion of our favourite detectives and why we’re hooked on Spiral, check out the Reader’s Digest podcast.

Want more girl power? Check out our top films about female friendship
Shop the female detectives collection