Friday, August 14, 2020

Three Girl Detectives

Vintage Nancy Drew
My first detective was —naturally — Nancy Drew.  The everlasting girl sleuth made her first appearance in 1930. Nancy Drew books kept being updated for generation after generation of readers, and eventually for film and TV watchers. At age 10 or 11, on summer days, I could walk to the nearby library, check out my max of three Nancy Drew mysteries (disapproved by the librarians), read them in a day or so, and go back for more.

Over the years, I’ve read lots of  mysteries of various kinds that featured both men and women detectives. Or sleuths, as Carolyn Keene, fictitious author of Nancy Drew would have it. So much has been written about Nancy Drew and her influence that I have nothing to add here, except that I've been thinking about girl detectives because my current reading has featured a couple of 1990s female detectives, Aimee Leduc and Lydia Chin.

The novels I read are the creations of authors Cara Black and S.J. Rozen. Black's Aimee is a private investigator in Paris. Rozan's Lydia investigates in New York, with a focus on Chinatown. Both of these characters are highly intelligent, strong, young, good looking, brave, and resourceful. I have a feeling that their invincible and unflappable personalities are particularly representative of the ideals of the 1990s, though both authors have continued to write many more novels featuring these detectives. Their abilities defy the imagination: they are just too perfect!

Murder in the Marais by
Cara Black (published 1997,
set in 1993.
While I've read several of the Lydia Chin novels in the past, and posted reviews of several of them, Aimee Leduc is new to me: she's a favorite of my friend Mary, who recommended them and loaned them to me. In the first novel of the series, Murder in the Marais, Aimee is depicted as a real superwoman, able to cope with events that would presumably defeat anyone else, and able to cope with the threats that occur in this suspenseful tale.

Aimee uses ingenious and convincing disguises for every occasion. She has a huge wardrobe of remarkable haute couture clothing, as well as special-purpose clothes for slumming and other situations. Mostly these come from thrift shops where she makes incredible finds from famous Paris designers. However, on one occasion she simply stole an entire outfit from a factory. It's ok: she had to get new clothes in order to escape a pursuer.

Aimee's brilliance includes a range of computer skills appropriate for the novel's 1993 setting. Using equipment that's now long obsolete, she can hack into any government or industry computer and find out what she needs to know: often while fighting off bad guys. Her various confrontations with dangerous violent men show her to be intrepid -- including shooting the worst of them off a roof when he was shooting at her with a night-vision weapon.

Witnessing deaths or finding bodies doesn't cause her to lose her calm demeanor. She effortlessly navigates the streets, metro, and sewers of Paris. Above all, Aimee knows where to find the most delicious onion soup, hot apple tart, and good coffee in Paris. What a remarkable woman!

Mandarin Plaid by
S.J. Rozan (1997)
S.J. Rozan's Lydia Chin is a Chinese American, a child of immigrants. She lives with her mother -- who would prefer a more submissive and conventional behavior of her daughter. In Mandarin Plaid, the second in the series, Lydia uses her knowledge of Chinese language, immigrants, and diverse customs in her work as a private eye, partnering with a conventional detective named Bill Smith. Like Aimee, Lydia has remarkable computer skills (appropriate for her time). She also has an uncanny ability to judge character and guess people's motives or weaknesses. She's also similarly capable of staying cool while threats and dangers lurk all over New York.

Although Lydia's wardrobe isn't as versatile or stylish as that of Aimee in Paris, she thinks hard about dressing to fit into a variety of low-life bars, trendy restaurants, and other settings where her detective duties take her. She uses Asian martial arts in hand-to-hand fighting with the bad guys -- her gun comes in handy as well. She works out at a dojo to keep in shape mentally and physically:

"Practicing form, repeating the traditional moves in their prescribed combinations, again, again, again, with no involvement with anyone else, nothing but the relentless, exhausting effort to perfect yourself: that helped." (p. 173).
Food, especially the most appealing foods of Chinatown, is often on Lydia's mind. She stops for tea often, and enjoys several specific types. She's also a helpful shopper for her mother: before going out detecting one morning, she has to do some marketing:
"Water spinach, in Chinatown on a bright weekday morning, is not hard to find. Fruit and vegetable sellers weight their sidewalk stands down with shiny oranges and ugly misshapen jackfruit, crowded beside bundles of foot-long beans as thin as a shoelace and surrounded by bunches of deep green leaves, some rounded, some serrated, all glistening with water sprinkled enthusiastically over them by the sharp-eyed merchants and their fresh-off-the-boat assistants." (p. 84).
At an up and coming trendy Chinese restaurant (remember, this is the early 1990s!), she ordered "a platter of sizzling oysters in a garlic and scallion sauce. ... I tasted them. They were wonderful, something bitter in the sauce setting off the richness of the oysters perfectly." For her second course: "a whole perch, steamed and glistening in a ginger-scallion sauce, topped with delicate strands of carrot, red pepper, and bean thread. With it came a platter of watercress sauteed with garlic, and a large covered bowl of fragrant rice." (p. 141-143).

These days, the library isn't a place I'm going (in fact, I don't think it's open, only delivering books for pre-arranged pick-up). Borrowing books from a friend like Mary is exceptional. E-books are my mainstay! But lazy reading about girl sleuths is still a great way to spend a hot summer afternoon.

This review post © 2020 by mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com. 
If you see this at another blog, it's been pirated!


Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I met Cara Black at the Texas Book Festival when I was her author escort and heard her speak. She conducts tours in Paris of all the places her books are set. Wouldn't that be fun? I've never read her books (!) though I have two of them here. I must read her next Paris in July.

Jeanie said...

I love the Aimee Leduc books -- I probably have at least 10 of them and should catch up with the more recent ones. They're especially fun when you know the neighborhoods about which she is writing, though the plots are solid enough that if you don't, it doesn't mess up the book. I saw Deb's comment -- I'd love to do one of her tours. (What a good way for an author to pick up a bit of income between books!)

eileeninmd said...


I just love the ebooks, there have been so many to choose from, especially the mysteries. I have an endless supply of book to read. Thank to your post, I have a few new authors to read. Thanks for sharing. Take care! Enjoy your day, wishing you a great weekend.

A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

I've not heard of either of these series but Nancy Drew were also my first mysteries after graduating from the Bobbsey Twins LOL>

Tandy | Lavender and Lime ( said...

I enjoy books life Murder in the Marais if I know the streets and area is set in.

My name is Erika. said...

Nice collection of girl detective books. Nancy Drew is such an inspiration to get more women in detective print. I am off to Amazon to check out these titles. Happy weekend. By the way, your breakfast looks yummy. Especially the herring.

Claudia said...

I also enjoy the lady sleuths, and started with Nancy Drew, all those many years ago. Thanks, I've now added a few to my list. I reserve at the library online, then go pick them up at the front door:) Times we live in!

ECW777 said...

I’ve been reading Cara Black lately too. She’s a friend of a grad school friend of mine, but it took me forever to get around to trying her books.
I started in the middle. Once I get to the end I’ll maybe I’ll read the earlier ones too. For now,I think I’ll read her stand alone 3 Hours in Paris