The Mystery Novel and a Realistic Modern Heroine

By Sharon Ward

Every mystery novel has to have an appealing heroine or protagonist, and recently, the Miss Demeanors were talking about our protagonists’ super powers in our respective mystery novel series, and I was complaining about how many female protagonists are written as though they were “Jack Reacher in a dress.” 

Most women, as people in the real world know, don’t act like Jack Reacher in one of Lee Child’s thriller novels. (Neither do most men.)

Now, I love Jack Reacher. I eagerly await each new installment to find out how he is going to right the wrongs he encounters, and to vicariously enjoy the mayhem he creates while doing it.

But Jack Reacher is a big guy. If he wants to kick the snot out of the bad guys, he’s got the brawn to do it.

Which is why it makes me crazy when I read a mystery novel or a thriller with a so-called ‘modern heroine” where the petite protagonist hides behind the door and manages to best the bad guys purely because of her superior fighting skills and the element of surprise when she jumps out from behind the door. 

No weapons. Bare hands.

I think not.

Or how about this one.

A female spy is hiding in a safe house, and a strange man knocks on her door. Instead of—oh, I don’t know—not answering at all, she decides the ONLY way to keep the guy at the door from remembering her face is to open the door naked. 

Again, I think not.

Many women alone in a strange place wouldn’t open the door at all. If, for the arcane reasons given in the book I felt I had to open the door, I might consider slathering my face in some gooey face cream. Or pushing all my hair into my face and pulling on a floppy hat. 

I have to say the very last idea that would enter my mind is to open the door naked. A picture containing person, standing, red, posing

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Just wouldn’t happen. I bet most real-world women are with me on this.

There’ve been a lot of books recently about the heroine’s journey, based on stories from mythology. They certainly make more sense than these two tales (honest to God, these are real books.) But they still don’t strike me as a modern heroine who should be the main character in a mystery novel.

Women today are all heroines. They work hard. They develop their skills (not necessarily weaponry and fisticuffs). They nurture family and friends. Most of all, they get the job done.

I for one would love to see more books written with a realistic modern heroine. 

Not a woman on a hero’s journey. 

A woman forging her own path, true to herself. Not afraid to admit she’s not the biggest and baddest, although she may just be the smartest.

She doesn’t have to take off her clothes or shake her booty to get the job done. Her skills are as real as Jack Reacher’s, albeit entirely different. To me, that’s a real modern heroine.

Mystery Author Sharon Ward Sharon Ward is the author of mystery novels In Deep and Sunken Death–and the soon to be released Dark Tide. 

Get started reading the Fin Fleming Sea Adventure Thriller series. 

One comment

  1. Women’s fiction has some real heroines, although, they aren’t portrayed as having superpowers. I agree that some of the things women characters do are a bit rediculous! But, apparently, that’s what publishers think sells.

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