- Hardboiled & High Heeled: The Woman Detective in Popular Culture
Linda Mizejewski, in Hardboiled & High Heeled, provides a general overview of the woman detective across three different media: the novel, television, and film. Such a general analysis is long overdue, and she constructs a clearly written book that is organized into these three preceding sections and seven detailed chapters.
The first two chapters introduce us to the importance of a group of female-centered detective novels that have been written since the [End Page 239] 1980s. In chapter 1, Mizejewski analyzes both the subject matter of women's detective fiction and, by means of the subtitle "Fans and Fantasies," introduces the dominant theoretical stance of her book, admitting that she is both a critic and an admirer of these novels. In order to maintain a fan's bearing, Mizejewski buries most of her academic research within footnotes listed at the back of the book although she has clearly done her homework and there are fifteen pages worth of single-spaced notes to prove it. Her book's argument unfolds from the perspective of an aficionada who illustrates various female fantasies located within detective fictions. For instance, by identifying a particular drugstore used in Silence of the Lambs (1991) as an actual location found in her Pennsylvania hometown, Mizejewski starts off her book admitting to a real-life personal connection to fictional, hardboiled female detectives like Clarice Starling.
Chapter 2 continues its interest in fan culture by providing an overview of female detective novels from the 1980s to the present, focusing on Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell, and Sara Paretsky. While admitting that the female detectives of the 1980s have developed a wide appeal among various general reading circles and chat groups, Mizejewski also argues that these characters are protofeminist characters. For example, the author celebrates the idea that "[t]he refusal of wife/mother roles certainly aligns [the detectives] with non-traditional women's stories" (23). Mizejewski also rejoices at each author's bestseller status and the amount of support that publishers have given to female detective novelists throughout the 1990s. She ends the chapter by analyzing issues of lesbianism and the detective's role as an outsider, arguing, "the professional female investigator is always doubly suspect as a woman in the man's place, female authority in a male legal/police world" (46) and that such written narratives allow women to analyze various facets of their personal identity.
The remainder of Hardboiled & High Heeled focuses on the visual text, either by means of television detectives (chapters 3–4) or film detectives (chapters 5–7). Mizejewski has both a fondness and an embarrassment over the cultural history of television's female detectives. She admits that many of the women of the 1960s and 1970s sitcoms were in plot situations that were heavy on either the camp or "jiggle" factor (54). In other words, they were stories about women who looked culturally attractive in bathing suits or high-heels. Yet, accepting that we live in a contradictory world, she also claims, "network prime time has offered more opportunities for women's roles and performances than movies have" (53) and forwards the assertion that many women obtained economic and popular power from starring in these vehicles. She begins her analysis with an overview of the cutting-edge ABC detective show Honey West (1965–66) [End Page 240] and then shows how cultural history and viewer desires combined to create additional female detective shows throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Among the shows she discusses in this chapter are shows like Get Christie Love (1974–75), Police Woman (1974–78), and Charlie's Angels (1976–81). Despite the potential for taking such television shows as mere entertainment, Mizejewski instead finds a cultural power in their characters and narratives. She quotes Susan J. Douglas on the covert importance of Charlie's Angels in that this show revealed "women working together to solve a problem and capture, and sometimes kill, really awful, sadistic men, while having great hairdos and clothes" (69). Parallel to the hardboiled...