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August 2, 2014

A few weeks ago I read Robert Galbraith’s novel Silkworm.  In this excellent mystery, the second in the series featuring English private investigator Comoran Strike, the detective has a serious handicap:  he was wounded in the war in Afghanistan and has a prosthetic left leg from his knee down.

Somehow that got me to wondering about other fictional detectives with physical or emotional handicaps.  I knew a few of them–a blind detective (Max Carrados by Ernest Bramah), those missing a limb (Dan Fortune by Michael Collins, Sid Halley by Dick Francis), a deaf detective (Joe Binney by Jack Livingston), those with emotional challenges (Adrian Monk by Andrew Breckman, Ian Rutledge by Charles Todd), and a quadriplegic former policeman turned scientist (Lincoln Rhyme by Jeffrey Deaver).  

But in going over the list available at thrilling, there was a notable shortage of handicapped female detectives.  Then I found one on my own, Fiona Griffiths by Harry Bingham.  She has Cotard’s Syndrome, a delusion in which the sufferer believes that she/he is dead or missing body parts.

The question in my mind is, why do so many of the male detectives we read about have physical or mental problems but not the women?  There are certainly enough books featuring women detectives for a few of them to have some of the issues that their male counterparts have.  But strangely enough, they don’t.

I’m familiar with only two women detectives with major physical issues and none other than Fiona Griffiths with a mental handicap.  First there is Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone.  Sharon is shot by an assailant in Locked In and is unable to move any part of her body except her eyelids.  She struggles to rehabilitate herself in this novel and its follow-up, Coming Back.  (Spoiler alert:  Sharon doesn’t begin the series with a handicap, and she is rehabilitated; her physical problem is not permanent.)

The second is Rita Mondragon, not as well known to mystery readers, who is the owner of a Santa Fe detective agency and is in a wheelchair.  The main protagonist in Walter Satterthwait’s series is Joshua Croft, but Rita also has a substantial role.

There are a few other mysteries featuring handicapped women sleuths, but such authors (Jane A. Adams, Brigette Aubert, and Hialeah Jackson) are hardly household names and have not written novels in years.  Certainly none is well known enough to be thought of without spending significant time with a search engine.

Do authors, both male and female, feel that being a woman in a “man’s field” is handicap enough?  Or is the idea of a woman being blind, or losing a limb, too difficult for people to write about?  I don’t know the answer, I just find it an interesting question.





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