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Genre Kryptonite: Queer Ladies Solving Crime

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Tirzah Price

Senior Contributing Editor

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.

Today is The Human Rights Campaign’s National Coming Out Day, and to celebrate we are spending the day featuring LGBTQ+ voices. Enjoy all the posts here!

Happy National Coming Out Day! Whether you’re out, not out, or just figuring things out, your identity matters and deserves to be recognized, which is why books with diverse representation are super important. And not just books that are about coming out, but all kinds of books! I’m especially eager for genre fiction that centers queer people in the narrative without making the issue of their sexual orientations or coming out experiences the hinge of the story. We’ve come a long way (but I still want so much more genre fiction!).

One of my favorite (sub)genres is crime novels/police procedurals. Tragically, there aren’t many starring queer ladies. Fortunately, I have three novels to get you going with the promise of more to come!

The Dime by Kathleen Kent

When Brooklyn-born cop Betty Rhyzk relocates to Dallas to be with her long-time girlfriend, she finds that Dallas crime is a different flavor than what she’s used to. As her first investigation stumbles, Betty finds that there are dangerous layers to the crimes she’s uncovered, and they’ll lead her to the unlikeliest places throughout Texas. And only when she’s in the absolute thick of it will she find that evil is evil no matter where you are, and she’ll have to rely on her roots in order to make it out alive.

This is one of my favorite books of 2017. Betty is the perfect balance between tough and vulnerable, and she’s refreshingly not super self-destructive. She’s got her hang-ups to be sure, but she’s just a woman doing her absolute best in any given day, battling casual and not-so-casual sexism and homophobia. I also loved that her relationship with her girlfriend was generally healthy and supportive, even though they do have some challenges to work through. (Sidenote: in the official summary of the book, Betty’s girlfriend is described as “unsupportive” and I disagree with this. Vehemently.) Kent does an incredible job of ratcheting up the personal and professional stakes for Betty, and I cannot wait to see where Betty goes next—and yes, I did message the author to ask if there would be more Betty books. Good news: the answer is yes! Sad news: no release date, but stay tuned!

Even more amazing news? The Dime is coming to TV! 

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

Roxane Weary is a PI whose life has taken a bit of a downward turn since her larger-than-life cop father died in the line of duty. Then she receives a seemingly impossible case: Sarah Cook, missing ever since the night of her parents’ murders, has allegedly been spotted locally. Sarah’s boyfriend Brad is on death row for the murders, but Brad’s sister hires Roxane to find Sarah in a last-ditch attempt to save her brother’s life. Roxane doesn’t expect much from her investigation, but she needs the money. As she peels back the layers of the case—and discovers her dad’s connection to it—she becomes unsettled. What if there is something the police missed all those years ago?

Roxane is bisexual, and in her current state of not-exactly-making-healthy-choices, she has simultaneous relationships with both a man and a woman, and yet Lepionka does a really good job of not letting Roxane falling into the trope of the loose, undecided bisexual. Lepionka treats Roxane’s pain with real affection and nuance, and she ties in Roxane’s struggle with self-doubt and the desire to honor her dad with how Roxane approaches the case. This is a slow-burn kind of mystery, with the pieces coming together slowly until suddenly the whole picture is frightfully clear—and when Roxane does see it, she doesn’t hesitate to act. I was rooting for her the entire time, and I am positively thrilled that we’ll be getting another Roxane Weary book in May 2018—What You Want to See!

A Grave Talent by Laurie R. King

We’re throwing it back to the early ’90s with this recommendation! A Grave Talent is the first in a series of books about Kate Martinelli, a lesbian detective in San Francisco. Kate’s been assigned to a high-profile murder investigation involving small children who have been killed and left in a private mountainside community, implicating one of its reclusive residents. Kate is ready to give her all to the case, and so is her new partner Al, but in order to solve the crime and catch a killer, Kate will have to be open and vulnerable in a way she’s never been before—in a way that has the potential to end her career.

Kate isn’t technically out in the novel, but she is in a committed relationship with another woman—a fact that the author tries to obscure as a little mystery for the first hundred pages or so. What can I say? It was published in 1993. But Kate’s coming out is not pivotal to the story, and reading this book I couldn’t help but sympathize with the awkwardness of starting a new job and getting to know new co-workers, of weighing the pros and cons of when and if you should come out to them, of deciding just how much of your personal life you should bring to your work. Ultimately, Kate does come out (mild spoiler, I promise) and it’s all cool and good and you have four more books in her series to look forward to!

Have any good queer ladies solving crime recommendations? Send them my way!