20 historical mysteries featuring feisty female protagonists

One of my favorite genres, chock-full of amazing heroines to root for, is historical mystery. Historical settings showcase a heroine’s gumption and independence as she shirks expectations for women of her era. Mysteries provide a reason for our heroines to engage in traditionally “male pursuits” like investigation, education, or crime-fighting.

So today I’m sharing 20 feisty female protagonists who epitomize strong characterization. Some are brash, bold, and bossy. Others are quiet, cerebral, and strong. Most of them drink copious amounts of tea, and all of them are absolute badasses.

1. Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs Mysteries Series Book 1) by Jacqueline Winspear

Meet Maisie Dobbs as she trades wartime nursing for her own private investigation practice at the end of WWI. Her first case appears to be run-of-the-mill infidelity, but something tells her to look deeper. When she finds disturbing secrets connected to the Great War, she is forced to confront her own trauma in order to solve the case. Maisie’s strong empathy and nurse’s training make her uniquely suited to detective work, and learning more about her is just as delightful as following the mystery. Note: this series is excellent on audio. Read More.
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2. A Curious Beginning: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery by Deanna Raybourn

This is our September Book Club pick. Veronica Speedwell travels the world hunting beautiful butterfly specimens and the occasional romantic dalliance. When her guardian dies, the orphaned Veronica expects to embark on a grand scientific adventure. But Veronica quickly realizes that with her guardian’s death, she is no longer safe—and she begins to unravel the mystery of why she poses a threat to dangerous men. Read More.
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3. Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

Clever, daring, and ahead-of-her-time, Constance Kopp has no interest in being traditional. Family secrets have kept her isolated from the world until an unfortunate buggy accident brings trouble to her doorstep. When a gang-member threatens her sisters and the family farm, she teams up with local law enforcement to take down the criminals. I love the way Stewart brings her leading lady to life in this mostly-true story about America’s first female sheriff. Read More.
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4. The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

This YA novel features a top-secret, all-female investigative unit in Victorian London. After being saved from the gallows, Mary Quinn is sent to Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, where she learns high society manners and how to spy. When Mary turns 17, she is ready to test her mettle. Disguised as a lady’s maid in a rich merchant’s home, she uses her skills to trace the merchant’s missing cargo ships. Danger follows her around every corner as she finds herself in a house filled with secrets. Add some witty dialogue, a little bit of romance, and you have a fast-paced spy novel that appeals to adult readers, too. Read More.
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5. A Study In Scarlet Women (The Lady Sherlock Series) by Sherry Thomas

This gender-bending Sherlock Holmes series is completely clever. Charlotte Holmes has never been comfortable with high society’s expectations for well-bred women, so she hatches an escape plan. By posing as Sherlock Holmes, Charlotte uses her incredible intellect to solve mysteries and secures the freedom to live as she pleases. When her family falls under suspicion for a series of London murders, Charlotte puts her skills to work to find the real killer and gathers new friends, and enemies, along the way. Read More.
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