I read a few Michael Connelly mystery books and other similar novels throughout college. I’m currently working through another hard-boiled mystery, Privileged Lives, the first in the Vincent Cardozo novels by Edward Stewart. I love the gritty, dirty mood and feel these novels provide. I like rough around the edges detectives who are kind of jerks, especially to bad guys, but deep down they’re really passionate about their job of protecting people and finding justice, even if they are a bit jaded after decades on the job. I love skeevy settings and shady characters. I love the down in the dirt crimes and seeing the worst of humanity. It’s a weird wheelhouse, but I know I’m not alone.
What I don’t love about most of these books though, is that they also come with a healthy helping of sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and racism. There’s something about the hard-boiled detective that makes writers turn to tropes of womanizing, prejudice, and “just being honest.” I get it. These novels are made for a hypermasculine audience. That’s their appeal.
And yet, the more I read them, the less and less I can stomach dialogue that blatantly uses slurs and stereotypes to convey the image of hardened police officers who are just macho men. That’s just what these detectives do. They rough up criminals, drink straight Scotch, and spend too much introspection time on pondering the length of a broad’s legs and the attractive shape of her waist to hip ratio.
I guess what I’m getting at here is recommendations from fellow readers. For those like me who love the gritty, hard-boiled mystery but without the bigotry, I’d like to invite you all to tell me what some of your favorites are. I’m still all for the gruff detective who won’t let go of the case that haunts his nightmares, and in the end gets the girl. I just want less of that man’s man mentality that leads to toxic masculinity. I’d really like a female detective lead that has those same qualities that a male character is allowed to have, and still be loved by the reader.
You could say I’m looking for Jessica Jones read-alikes. I think that’s what really appealed to me about that character and show. She was a flawed and terrible protagonist who acted like she didn’t care about anyone, but she still did the P.I. job because the truth was she did care. It’s probably the only time I’ve seen a female anti-hero that fans love and want more of her story.
Though I’m a big fan of the character and the show, I don’t just want to read J. Jones comic books. I want other novels and mysteries in that vein that give me the seedy side of humanity without the outright prejudice. I know that sounds contradictory, but it’s clearly possible if the creators of Jessica Jones could make it happen.
So if anyone out there has suggestions to help me get my fix of the hard-boiled detective mystery without bigotry, I’d greatly appreciate it. Let me know your recommendations in the comments!