What Do you Like and Not Like in a Heroine in a Mystery?

I just finished reading a book which will remain nameless and I didn't like the heroine at all. She was intelligent, nice looking, but seemed absolutely clueless about her own peril.

You've all heard of the heroine they call too dumb to live. You know, the one who knows a killer is on the loose, hears a noise in the basement and goes down there with no weapon nor light--or if she takes a flashlight, the battery dies. There is only one reason a woman would go down in the basement like that would be if her child were down there.

In the book I just read, though this woman was a psychiatrist she didn't seem to know anything about people. She lived in one of the most remote places possible and even when she knew someone was after her, didn't leave. Now this house didn't even have an inside bathroom--so she always went to the bathroom just before locking up at night. Then she left all the lights on (she was afraid of the dark) but had no curtains on her windows. Of course this meant that the person stalking her could see everything she was doing.

Going back to the outside bathroom, which was down a path away from the house, I really expected something bad to happen while she was going there, in there, or on her way back--but it didn't. I can't imagine having a bathroom so far away except when you're tent camping--and I don't do that anymore.

The story itself was plenty exciting, but all the time I was reading, I kept thinking, "What is wrong with this woman?" Yes, she was grieving the death of her husband--but surely that didn't cancel all of her common sense.

I don't mind when a  heroine takes chances to save someone, but I want there to be a really good reason to do something that will put her in peril.

I love brave heroines but I want them to be realistic too. In the book I've been reading, the heroine wasn't brave--she just ignored all the warnings, including those from the police. Since she was supposed to be well-educated, I had a hard time believing she'd behave the way she was portrayed.

Of course I've written about heroines who've made mistakes that put them in danger and because the heroines in both my series are in law enforcement at times they have to step out even when they know what they are about to do will be dangerous--but it is part of the job.

So tell me what do you like in a heroine? And what bugs you?



Patricia Gligor said…
Interesting question, Marilyn. Like you, I want the heroine to be a realistic person, which means she'll have flaws and make mistakes, like the rest of us. As long as what she does is in keeping with her personality characteristics, I'm satisfied. I especially like to see a heroine grow and/or learn as the book progresses or at least by the end.
GBPool said…
Marilyn, Movie/TV heroines are always fighting off guys twice their size, which the law of physics would say was impossible. In books, especially the more cozy variety, too often there is no common sense shown. Little Betty Homemaker or Suzy Secretary is in so far above her head, but she "cutes" her way out of the mess.

When the author gives her real smarts, I totally enjoy the genre. I'd rather see her use a lead pipe or for once, not go into the basement. She should be fairly smart going into the mystery, if she wants to get out alive.
Lorna Collins - said…
AMEN! The heroine as victim makes me SO angry! I'm editing a book right now where, halfway through on the first edit, I added a comment that I not only didn't like the heroine, but that she didn't deserve to live. she was supposed to have been a cop, but she didn't take any precautions. so she wasn't smart, and that annoyed me!
Like Patricia, I like to see heroines/sleuths develop and grow as a book or a series progresses. Everyone has blind spots. If a sleuth/heroine is acting rashly because of her blind spots, then her behavior is believable.

What is a psychiatrist doing, living in the wilderness? Doesn't she need patients?
Jean Henry Mead said…
I like inntelligent women with a sense of humor, who can outsmart the villain. I dislike female protagonists who stand around wringing their hands instead of taking action.
Sally Carpenter said…
I don't like the heroines who are basically a man's personality in a skirt. They're so cold, strong and unfeeling they have no personality. On the other extreme is the stupid, ditzy cozy heroine who gets caught by the bad guy and someone else has to rescue her. I like women who are smart, funny, strong (but not butch), likeable and can wiggle out of a predicament (I like this in male heroes, too)..
Marilyn L. this psychiatrist had an office in the city and her cabin where she lived was at the beach in a remote area. She drove back and forth to work.
Dr Bob Rich said…
Marilyn, I agree with your comment, but want to enlarge on it. Your problem was that the author created a make-believe reality that had such unrealistic features that you were unable to buy into it. Our job as writers is to create an illusion the reader will happily get lost in.
With good writing, your hero or heroine can have 3 arms and 3 legs, green skin and no head -- and you can get lost in that person's life. (If you don't believe this, have a read at http://bobswriting.com/bipeds.html ).
Or the person can be a plant that walks around on 8 legs.

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