Today’s Los Angeles Times pays tribute, in a lengthy profile, to MWA Grandmaster Marcia Muller, who created the first female private eye, Sharon McCone, blazing a trail that Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky and others have followed with great success.
"McCone’s development is kind of the history of where women were from the ’70s
to the ’80s, where we were still fumbling our ways into some of these roles,"
says Paretsky, whose Chicago private detective V.I. Warshawski debuted in 1982.
"The year I published my first book was the first year the Chicago police force
let women be part of the regular force, as opposed to matrons. It’s kind of hard
to believe it’s only been 20 years and everybody takes [female police] so much
It’s likely, critics say, that modern female hard-boiled
detectives would have entered fiction without Muller, though probably a few
years later. "What we were looking for in our culture were models for how women
could best be not only strong emotionally, but more independent and alone — like
Raymond Chandler’s concept of man defining himself," said Jerrilyn Farmer, who
teaches mystery writing through the UCLA Extension and is the author of seven
Los Angeles-based mysteries featuring caterer Madeline Bean.
there first, an arrival she ascribes to luck: She found a willing publisher,
though it took her four more years to sell her second book. And while Muller has
been successful, with about 3.5 million books in print, her readership pales
next to that of Grafton, author of 17 Millhone novels, the last four of which
have nearly matched Muller’s career sales, according to estimates by Publishers
Grafton, though, credits Muller with helping make her own success
"She paved the way for the rest of us," Grafton says. "She was
doing what had not been done. I know there are antecedents in terms of other
women doing mystery fiction years before, but Sharon McCone recast the part. She
sort of brought us into the 20th century."