A lesbian mystery today can be and is about anything an author wants to write about, and the only thing lesbian about it may be that the main character is lesbian (and has lots of lesbian sex). I think it can be argued that in the earlier era, what made a book a lesbian mystery was how the hero’s lesbianism impacted the plot. The cases she worked on, the forces she encountered, all had some bearing on her lesbianism.
Sometimes, as Ellen Hart observed, a poorly constructed mystery was hung around the neck of a feminist polemic, while today, sometimes poorly constructed mysteries are propping up what are essentially romance novels. Perhaps for many writers, just telling our stories as lesbians was and is more important than the conventions of the mystery genre itself; we’ve molded it into whatever shape fits the time and the taste of not only the writer, but, presumably, the readers as well.
Bold Strokes Books publisher Len Barot says: “The work of KV Forrest, JM Redmann and others brought the ‘lesbian hero’ as an archetype onto the stage. These new heroes gave us the positive, affirming reflections of ourselves we had long been missing in popular culture. The mystery and romantic intrigue genres remain among the most popular in lesbian fiction today as the role of women in our world expands to include heroes of all forms.”
The other big difference between then and now is the sheer number of lesbian mystery/action/intrigue/suspense novels being published today. I clung to M.F. Beale’s Angel Dance in 1977 not so much because I loved the book, but because it was the only game in town. Now there are extremely active publishers of lesbian books such as Bella Books and Bold Strokes Books and others who publish scores of novels each year, many of them in these genres. There are works from seasoned authors such as JM Redmann, Claire McNab and Ellen Hart (St. Martin’s Press), where the traditional mystery is expertly done, and their series characters dearly loved.
There are also untold numbers of books by authors writing everything from the amateur sleuth with a cat whodunit to wildly sexy vampire thrillers. And they are all, in their own way, lesbian mysteries. That today’s reader has moved from the position of taking what she can get to picking only what she wants is a sign of triumph in itself.
Anne Laughlin is the author of “Sometimes Quickly” and “Veritas,” as well as many short stories published in a number of lesbian anthologies. “Veritas” won a 2010 Goldie award for Best Mystery.