Women in crime fiction – Joan Fleming

Joan Fleming, twice winner of the CWA Gold Dagger, creates female characters who often prove to be more than a match for the men who try to threaten and exploit them.

Orion Crime’s Most Wanted book of the week this week is Becky Masterman’s Rage Against the Dying. The novel features one of the most engaging and exciting protagonists that I have encountered for quite some time. Ex-FBI agent Brigid Quinn breaks all the rules: of her own profession and of the ‘law’ that says female protagonists should be young, perky and in thrall to their male counterparts.

Ingénue, victim, sex symbol, second fiddle: Quinn is none of these. Not only is she in late middle age, but she is seen to have both a physically active and psychologically nuanced personal relationship in which she is, if anything, the dominant partner. A far cry from the cardboard cutout victim or femme fatale of much classic and traditional contemporary crime.


But look a little harder, particularly among the female crime writers of the early half of the twentieth century, and it’s perfectly possible to find some unexpected surprises in their representations of women. One author in particular who embodies a much more subtle approach than some of her male counterparts was Joan Fleming. Hugely respected by her crime-writing colleagues and highly successful, she twice won the CWA Gold Dagger and fully deserves to be discovered by a new generation of readers.

Try The Man Who Looked Back and Maiden’s Prayer for two women who turn out to be more than a match for the men who try to threaten and exploit them.