Kick-Ass or Quiet? Female Sleuths From Miss Marple to V.I. Warshawski

Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker are thriller and mystery writers who have, between them, published a whopping 19 books. When they realized Jess’s thriller, Salem’s Cipher, and Shannon’s mystery, Stripped Bare, were set to launch on the same day, September 6, these friends joined forces for the Lourey/Baker Double Booked Tour.  Doesn’t that sound delicious? (I promise you it’s better than double chocolate, chocolate-chip cookies!)

Today this awesome writing duo is  discussing whether female sleuths need to be alpha-heroes for today’s readers or if the old-fashioned, Ms. Marple-type character still works? We hope you readers will chime in and let us know what you think, too!

Jess and Shannon are giving away a copy of Salem’s Cipher and Stripped Bare. For a chance to win tell us your favorite women protagonist or leave a comment.


Many of you readers have seen the delightful Shannon here several times before. It’s a pleasure to welcome her back and to get to know Jess even better. So, now, I must ask, can the modern female sleuth be soft and savvy, or do contemporary readers demand she be an alpha, martial arts expert, ready to mow down men in a single  blow?

Shannon: Thanks, Diana, for letting us drop by. I hear a lot about the “kick-ass” woman detective or sleuth when people talk about women protagonists in crime fiction — and while I’m glad the crime writing world has progressed far beyond the idea of women protagonists only knitting and sipping tea — I’m not sure all women crime fighters need to be tough, gun-toting mamas. So today Jess and I are going to answer the question about our women protagonists—Miss Marple or V.I Warshawski?

Shannon and Jess


When I started writing about Kate Fox, the star of my new series, I didn’t set out to write a tough crime fighter in the Nebraska Sandhills. In fact, Kate walked right into my life, and like meeting a new friend, I’ve been getting to know who she is. Kate is a person, who happens to be a woman and accidently falls into a new career. One she never expected, or wanted.

For me, writing a character is a lot like raising a child. You give them guidance and discipline, love them and nurture them, and maybe prod them along, but they come out of the womb already loaded with who they are. I can push Kate into situations that test her mettle, but she’s going to react according to who she is, with very little help from me. (I know, writers are crazy, and explaining how would take much longer than we have space for in this blog.)

Diana: I love that Shannon! Your characters in the book are so vivid and real. You also had me laughing all the way through with your over-the-top cowgirl repartee. I adored the husband’s ex-girlfriend, Kate’s mother-in-law, and her laid back parents. I didn’t want to put it down. How would you characterize your heroine, Kate?

Shannon: I don’t think of Kate as kick-ass. She doesn’t go looking for trouble. In fact, she goes to great lengths to avoid it. She’s smack in the middle of eight brothers and sisters, so there’s always some crisis brewing. Her MO is to duck and weave.

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But she doesn’t run from a problem. She might clench her teeth and bow her neck and barrel in reluctantly, but she’s always one to turn to when things get dicey.

I like Kate a lot. She’s smart and has a sense of humor. When her life turns south, she doesn’t despair. She straightens her spine and does whatever it takes.

She’s more V.I. than Miss Marple, but she’s Kate, a product of the rural west and her quirky family. I feel lucky to get to hang out with her.

Diana: Shannon, I really like Kate, too. You’ve achieved a great balance and she feels very real.  And your ending was absolutely five stars! I think if Agatha Christie had been writing now, and also a much younger character, she’d have come out a lot like Kate. 🙂

Jess, your book grabbed me from the first sentence. It’s definitely a page-turner and reminded me of the DaVinci Code, but with a really cool, impaired female heroine. You also pushed the boundaries of expectation and kept the “thrill” in your thriller. Please tell my readers a little bit about your character, Salem Wiley in your wonderful book, Salem’s Cipher. 

Jess: Salem starts out as an agoraphobic Miss Marple, but by the end of the book, she is full-on V.I. Warshawski. Unlike you, Salem Wiley didn’t come to me as a friend. Instead, I set out very deliberately to write a thriller with strong women at its core. Thrillers are a sub-genre that are often associated with male authors and male protags—the larger than life Jack Reacher is a great example—and I enjoy those books, but wanted to play with the genre’s tropes (breakneck action, violence, brilliant minds, larger-than-life scenarios) using a female protagonist.


I asked what sort of woman would find herself in a position to save the world. She’d need to have mad computer skills, I decided, a shadowy past, and a strong desire to hide from the world because conflict is at the core of good fiction. At the time I started writing the book, I was interested in how it affects a child when his/her parent commits suicide, and I explored that through Salem Wiley, which explains her agoraphobia. The cryptology genius she displays comes natural to her, and the choices made by her mother and many powerful women before her are what sets the plot in motion.

Through a series of trials, Salem grows into herself. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when she finds herself on a plane getting unwanted attention from a fellow passenger. American culture teaches women not to make a scene, that they’re supposed to appreciate any sort of male attention, and that’s the route Salem had always chosen. Not this time. She’s been chased across the country by a serial killer as well as the FBI, and she’s had enough. She tells the man harassing her what she thinks of him in no uncertain terms. I agree with Shannon that the best we can do is get their characters on their feet and follow them, and I have to tell you, I cheered when Salem found her inner V.I.

Diana: I have to say I love both the softer and the alpha side of both your characters and look forward to watching them continue to grow in future books in the series.

Jess and Shannon are giving away a copy of Salem’s Cipher and Stripped Bare. For a chance to win tell us your favorite women protagonist or leave a comment. 

And here’s a great extra: If you order either book before September 6, 2016, you can get a bonus short story and be automatically entered in a drawing to win a 50-book gift basket! Go to the author’s websites below for more more details!


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Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft’s 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship, and leads interactive writing workshops all over the world. Salem’s Cipher, the first in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016. You can find out more at or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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Shannon Baker writes the Kate Fox mystery series (September 2016 from Tor/Forge). Stripped Bare, the first in the series, features a sheriff in rural Nebraska and has been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. Baker also writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Baker was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2104 Writer of the Year. She writes from the Colorado Rockies to the Nebraska Sandhills, the peaks of Flagstaff and the deserts of Tucson. Visit Shannon at



42 thoughts on “Kick-Ass or Quiet? Female Sleuths From Miss Marple to V.I. Warshawski

  1. Thanks for being here Shannon and Jess! Jess I wanted to ask you about your villain. Does the condition where he can rearrange the bones in his face really exist?

    1. Thank you for hosting us on your gorgeous blog, Diana! As far as I know, Jason’s ability to rearrange his face is completely fictional. I wanted to play with the boundaries between fiction and magic in creating him, but I also wanted it to be grounded in science, so I did deep research into what morphological abilities a person could conceivably possess. The Sharpey’s fibers option seemed the most plausible, so I used that.

  2. Another great post–and you’ve helped me think a bit more about my protagonist. My favorite female sleuths? I have so many! I love V.I., of course, and also Stephanie Plum. Other favorites include Odelia Grey, Mary Russell, Rebecka Martinsson (in Asa Larsson’s series), and so many more!

    1. Rochelle, you’re also the winner of a copy of Salem’s Cipher for your comment on Do Some Damage yesterday. Woot! Can you please send me your home address via email or a private Facebook message?

      See all? Regular folks really do win. 🙂

      1. Hey, Jess, Rochelle was also a winner of Stripped Bare on a previous stop, and I’ve got her address. For a promise of a good joke at Bouchercon when I see you in a couple of weeks, I’ll happily send it to you.

  3. These stories sound great! I’m glad to see women standing up and taking their place as the heroines of their own fates rather than counting on men to always save the day 🙂
    I vary in my favorites, the new television series Quantico has some really kickass heroines, as does Blacklist. But I also like the quieter, get it done protagonists like Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote.

      1. Hi Barbara,
        Because I hate conflict — when my brother and sister fought I’d be the one in the corner crying — in my real life, I wait and see if things will work themselves out. That’s why I love writing about women who aren’t afraid to take action!

  4. How long does it take the two of you to research your books? And how much of the facts do you make up?

      1. Hi Jessica,
        I suffer from a lack of creativity and a fear of being found out, so I stick pretty closely to facts. I have altered geography from time to time, for instance putting a courthouse in the middle of Flagstaff and making a kiosk disappear on Mt. Evans. Just today I have a bunt force trauma to someone’s head and I’m going to have to look it up to make sure what the medical treatment will be.

        1. Jessica, I’m the opposite of Shannon. She research facts to put into fiction. I research facts so I can twist them into fiction. That’s not so opposite of her as it is adjacent, I suppose. But to answer your specific question, for my Murder-by-Month mysteries, I do almost no research. For Salem’s Cipher, however, I researched for months, and I’m a crazy efficient researcher. There was so much to know about the history of cryptography, and Andrew Jackson, and Emily Dickinson, all of which figured heavily in the plot. I loved every minute (well, most minutes) of that research and can’t wait to get started on the next book in the series, which will almost certainly require a trip to Europe.

          Thanks for the great question!

    1. Yes, both books are excellent, but really different. Shannon’s writing is a bit like Janet Evanovich’s in as much as it is humorous and filled with crazy characters. Jess is more like the DaVinci Code from the view point of an ardent feminist. Both are well worth reading.

    2. Thanks, Lena! That is kind of you to say. Also, you’ve been entered to win either a copy of Salem’s Cipher or Stripped Bare (which is a FABULOUS book).

  5. We’ll keep the contest open until tomorrow so keep those comments coming! Please check the comments tomorrow to see who’s won.

    Thanks Jess and Shannon for joining me today. Can you please tell us the rest of your schedule? I know we’ll all want to tune in!

  6. Great interview, and thanks so much ladies for sharing your insights into your ‘process’. For me this is the best part of the book because you let us see a small part of who you are and what goes into the ‘making of’, which adds a wonderful flavor when we finally get to read the books.

    As for which types of characters I personally prefer, I’ve found that while I enjoy both types of main characters, my very favorites are the strong supporting female characters (think Lula in Janet Evanovich’s novels) who are willing to step up & kick things (or ‘bad guys’) around when our main gal needs a hand.

  7. Thanks so much for having us over, Diana. Here’s the rest of the tour: Aug 26 Femme Fatales
    Aug 29 Sirens of Suspense
    Aug 31 Authors on the Air with Pam Stack
    Sept 1 Stilleto Gang
    Sept 2 Mysteristas
    Sept 6 Dru Ann Love

    We’re standing by to send those books to the lucky winners!

  8. Okay, while comments aren’t closed, the prize drawing for those who have commented is now over. The winner of Stripped Bare by Shannon Baker is Bella! And the winner of Salem’s Cipher by Jess Lourey is Lena Diaz! Please contact the authors directly at the addresses above.

    Thanks everyone. Don’t forget you can get extra bonus content for each of the books. Check the author’s websites for more details.

    Keep Reading!

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