Sapphic Sleuths: 10 Mystery and Crime Novels Starring Queer Ladies

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Most of Tirzah Price’s life decisions have been motivated by a desire to read as many books as humanly possible. Tirzah holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and has worked as an independent bookseller and librarian. She’s also the author of the Jane Austen Murder Mysteries, published by HarperTeen, and Bibliologist at TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations. Follow her on Twitter @TirzahPrice.

I love a good mystery as much as the next person, and I especially love mystery novels where we get a sense for the detective or sleuth’s character — they’re more than just a figurehead asking the questions, but a fully formed person whose thoughts, opinions, and experiences have a direct impact on the mystery. LGBTQ+ people almost always go through the world experiencing life through a slightly different lens than those who are cis and straight, so queer characters solving crimes seems like an obviously intriguing setup to me! However, finding those queer characters in the mystery genre hasn’t always been simple, and I feel like it’s a mark of progress when we can find really great genre fiction starring queer protagonists whose queerness is tangential to the plot: their identities aren’t the point of the story, but their identities do have an impact on how they inveterate a crime. I’ve been collecting a list of mystery and crime novels starring LGBTQ+ women for a couple of years now, and I am especially pleased to see that my own list is long enough to warrant a post — this was definitely not the case when I first started to seek out LGBTQ+ mysteries around 2016!

The following books are all written for adult audiences, and they even span genre lines, with a few sci-fi and historical fiction mash-ups! But all of them are, at their core, a mystery novel with a queer lady solving the crime. From Oklahoma to Australia, these books cover a lot of ground and a wide range of crimes. Some have a romantic subplot or focus, and for some, the character’s queer identity is kept out of focus. All are really excellent, and there’s a nice variety in terms of the mystery, for whatever floats your boat!

Blood Sisters cover

Blood Sisters by Vanessa Lillie

Syd is an archeologist, working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Her job is to preserve the past, but she’s happy to have left her own past behind. Except when she gets a call from her hometown, which she hasn’t visited in 15 years, with the news that her sister is missing and an old badge of hers was found near a skull, she finds herself traveling back to Oklahoma to try and save her sister. But not everyone is happy that she’s back…

cover image for The Last Place You Lookcover image for The Last Place You Look

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

Roxane Weary is a PI who is grieving the loss of her father when the sister of a Death Row inmate begs her to revisit the case that put her brother in prison — in the weeks leading up to his execution. Roxane agrees but doesn’t expect her investigation to change much until she stumbles upon evidence that certain things were overlooked, and realizes that a man may have been wrongfully convicted. This is the first in the Roxane Weary series, and all of the subsequent mysteries are as compelling as the first!

The dime coverThe dime cover

The Dime by Kathleen Kent

Betty Rhyzyk is a Brooklyn cop transplanted to Dallas, Texas, to be closer to her girlfriend’s family, and she’s having a bit of a hard time adjusting. When her first big case goes sideways, Betty finds herself relying on every ounce of Brooklyn grit to thwart drug runners and crime bosses to make it out alive. Don’t miss the sequels, The Burn and The Pledge.

Scorched Grace Book CoverScorched Grace Book Cover

Scorched Grace by Margot Douaihy

Sister Holiday is not your conventional nun. Tattooed, chain-smoking, and queer, she took her vows as penance for past hurt and never looked back. Then, someone burns down part of the school she teaches at, leaving one man dead and narrowly avoiding two teens’ deaths. Sister Holiday is bent on figuring out who is responsible, and even teams up with the local fire investigator to do so. A sequel, Blessed Waters, is out this month!

cover of Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia: a Black woman with her hair styled in a finger wave wearing a blue gown with a fur collar and white gloves. She is holding a cigarette in one hand and reclining in a chair, background contains a chandelier and large ferncover of Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia: a Black woman with her hair styled in a finger wave wearing a blue gown with a fur collar and white gloves. She is holding a cigarette in one hand and reclining in a chair, background contains a chandelier and large fern

Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia

Louise has a past she’d rather not speak of, but she’s pretty content with her life in 1920s Harlem: she’s got a good job, community, and a girlfriend. But when a string of murders rocks the neighborhood, and Louise is arrested, she faces a choice between helping find the murderer or getting locked up for good. She decides to help the police, but what she finds is a killer who has no plans of stopping. Check out the sequels Harlem Sunset and A Lethal Lady, out in July.

cover image for Never Name the Deadcover image for Never Name the Dead

Never Name the Dead by D.M. Rowell

Mae left everything behind the minute she graduated and has since built a successful life for herself. But when her beloved grandfather calls her home, she hops on the first plane to Oklahoma. When she lands, she’s shocked to discover that her grandfather has disappeared, along with a priceless tribe artifact, and more than one person has questions about what really happened. With multiple people closing in, Mae has just a day to find out what happened to her grandfather and recover the tribe’s lost artifact.

Book cover of Who Is Vera Kelly?Book cover of Who Is Vera Kelly?

Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht

Vera Kelly is working for the CIA in Argentina in the 1960s, befriending radical students and transcribing endless conversations. When the CIA abruptly withdraws from the country, Vera is left alone in Buenos Aires, trying not to blow her cover but harboring a major secret. It’s up to her to get herself out, and maybe expose a terrorist plot along the way. While this book is more of a spy thriller, the sequels Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery and Vera Kelly: Lost and Found are more traditional PI detective stories.

cover of The Verifiers by Jane Pek; illustration of a woman in black walking towards the Brooklyn Bridgecover of The Verifiers by Jane Pek; illustration of a woman in black walking towards the Brooklyn Bridge

The Verifiers by Jane Pek

Claudia is an underemployed twenty-something who isn’t out to her family, and she’s working for a dating app that boasts that their “verifiers” take the guesswork out of online dating by verifying personal details about their users. When one of their clients is killed, Claudia becomes certain that the killer found her via the app and begins to investigate at great personal risk. A sequel, The Rivals, is forthcoming.

The Mimicking of Known Successes coverThe Mimicking of Known Successes cover

The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older

In this genre-bending mystery, Pleiti and Mossa are exes who live on Jupiter, where humanity has retreated after life on Earth became unsustainable. When Mossa arrives on the station Pleiti lives on, Pleiti is surprised to see her old lover but soon learns that Mossa is tracking down a missing man. The two work together to collect evidence and uncover an unexpected plot…and feelings for each other they thought long dormant. A sequel, The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles, was released last month.

cover of Dirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenorcover of Dirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenor

Dirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenor

When a 12-year-old girl goes missing in a small Australian town, Sarah Michaels arrives from Sydney to lead the investigation, fresh from a bad breakup. But as she begins to dig deeper into the case, the conflicting stories she collects from the people in the town has her wondering what really happened — and who might be leading her astray.

Looking for more great reads? Check out 10 LGBTQ+ mysteries for more recommendations.

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