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Top 10 Female Detectives in TV Shows

VO: Lisa
Script written by Joey Turner These sleuths can crack any case – and bust any punk – in their wake. Join MsMojo as we countdown down our picks for the Top 10 Female Detectives in TV. For this list, we’re not just looking at women who hold the detective post in their respective police departments; we’re focusing on those ladies whose examination and evaluation skills help solve crimes and catch criminals. We’ll only be handling the live-action ladies here, so animated snoops like the gals from the Scooby-Doo gang will be on a different list. Special thanks to our user ibriers 1 for submitting the idea on our Interactive Suggestion Tool at

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Top 10 Female Detectives in TV Shows

#10: Emily Prentiss
“Criminal Minds” (2005-)

When Agent Elle Greenaway quits the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, Emily Prentiss steps in to fill her shoes. As the daughter of a U.S. ambassador, Prentiss has picked up some impressive skills: she speaks several languages, understands various cultures and can put sleazy guys in their place. Since she’s the new kid on the block – and is used to more covert operations – getting close to her new team doesn’t come easily; but over time she proves loyal, often putting the safety of her coworkers before her own. Her connection with the others makes it all the more bittersweet when she leaves the BAU for Interpol. However, every ending is also a beginning, so we may see her again someday.

#9: Jessica Jones
“Jessica Jones” (2015-)

Marvel has brought some very interesting characters to the big and small screens in recent years, and this PI is no exception. Jessica Jones – played by Krysten Ritter – is the freelance detective for New York City’s “Alias Investigations.” Gifted with superhuman strength, she chooses to keep a low profile with regards to her powers… unless of course she’s pushed too far. Her sleuthing skills are extra sharp, and she’ll need them if she wants to beat a mind-controlling maniac like Kilgrave. Jessica’s a darker hero than most, with a history of terrible deeds and a penchant for consuming alcohol to handle her PTSD. But warts and all, we love seeing a superhero lady in a lead role on such a kickass show.

#8: Sarah Linden
“The Killing” (2011-14)

Based on a character in the Danish crime drama of the same name, Sarah Linden cannot wait to return to her private life after her last day with the Seattle Police Department. When a mystery involving the death of a teenage girl pops up, however, Sarah is roped back in to investigate the possible murder – with an unpredictable and belligerent new partner accompanying her along the way. Linden is a relentless inspector, finding the things in cases that don’t quite add up and working towards a solution. Try as she might to keep her personal life separate from her job and the horrors she has to examine, her innate skills as a detective keep her coming back for more.

#7: Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan
“Bones” (2005-)

Whoever says a forensic scientist can’t do detective work hasn’t met Dr. Temperance Brennan. Based on author Kathy Reichs, Brennan is an anthropologist in Washington, D.C. Her expertise in analyzing murder remains – even if there’s nothing left but rotten flesh and old bones – led her associate Seeley Booth of the FBI to call her “Bones,” a nickname she warms up to – eventually. Bones may be a bit stubborn and socially awkward, but she’s an incredibly hard worker, with best-selling author, martial arts expert, and even tightrope walker on her vast list of accomplishments. With Booth’s help, Bones is finally able to come out of her shell and grow closer to her team of ‘squints.’ Well, she’s closer to some more than others.

#6: Veronica Mars
“Veronica Mars” (2004-07)

If you had Veronica Mars’ history, you’d think life was a bitch too. This high school outcast’s family and life crumbles when her dad gets involved in a scandal surrounding her best friend’s murder. But rather than sit there and take it on the chin, Veronica – played by Kristen Bell – steps up and follows in her dad’s footsteps as a private investigator, tackling the mysteries brewing in Neptune, California. She juggles being a P.I. with going to high school, having to deal with memories of an awful night in her past, as well as going from a popular girl to social pariah. Veronica’s wise beyond her years, sharp-witted and edgy. Though she’s sometimes cynical, we know deep down she’s just a soft marshmallow.

#5: Jessica Fletcher
“Murder, She Wrote” (1984-96)

Jessica Fletcher was just a retired English teacher from Maine who loved writing mystery novels. The books turn are a hit, and prove that Fletcher has an instinct for sleuthing; so much so that she ends up getting called in to solve actual murder cases as an amateur detective. And, oddly, her small town has way more than its fair share of murders. At times Jessica proves even more competent and thorough than the professionals, on par with pros like “Magnum, P.I.” Later in the series, Ms. Fletcher imparts her mystery-solving knowledge to others by teaching a criminology class in NYC. Spunky, energetic and whip-smart, Jessica Fletcher was named the “most prolific amateur sleuth” by Guinness World Records. Can’t argue with that.

#4: Kate Beckett
“Castle” (2009-16)

After the violent death of her beloved mother, Kate Beckett goes on to become a homicide detective for the NYPD. Though still haunted by the tragic event, Beckett is a force to be reckoned with: smart, strong-willed, and resourceful. Her cleverness shines through in the series opener, when she connects the style of a series of murders to novels penned by eccentric mystery writer, Richard Castle. Beckett and Castle’s clashing personalities make for some unexpected but excellent chemistry, and time after time the mismatched partners prove they make a great team. Not only is Beckett an inspirational figure for the audience; she also inspires Castle, who immortalizes her as Nikki Heat in a new series.

#3: Brenda Leigh Johnson
“The Closer” (2005-12)

Brenda Leigh Johnson is the new Deputy Chief of the LAPD; unfortunately, she doesn’t get a warm welcome her first day on the job. Maybe that’s because her methods are… uh, let’s call them unorthodox. Because of this, there are plenty of people on the force who work against her, like Major Crimes Captain Sharon Raydor; but even they can’t argue with the fact that she gets results. Brenda’s intelligent, determined, and exacting, able to squeeze a confession out of even the tightest of lips. She’ll never stop until she successfully closes a case, which earns her the moniker “the closer.” Johnson has gone through hardships aplenty, but never seems to lose her resolve or her drive to keep fighting the good fight.

#2: Jane Tennison
“Prime Suspect” (1991-2006)

Sorry boys, but sometimes an investigation needs a lady’s touch. After the untimely death of the original Senior Investigator of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, Jane Tennison steps in as the new Detective Chief Inspector. Jane is a no-nonsense DCI working in a male-dominated office. While that doesn’t make her very popular, it won’t stop her from getting the job done. However, despite her tough exterior, she’s not unbreakable, although sexism in the office is the least of her worries when tackling her own personal demons. With every season comes a new challenge for Jane to face, from racism to child abuse to her own alcoholism. But, while her coworkers may doubt her, Jane’s more than prepared to prove them wrong.

Before we reveal our number one detective, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Miss Marple
“Miss Marple” (1984-92)

- Kalinda Sharma
“The Good Wife” (2009-16)

- Molly Solverson
“Fargo” (2014-)

- Stella Gibson
“The Fall” (2013-)

- Debra Morgan
“Dexter” (2006-13)

- Lillian ‘Lilly’ Rush
“Cold Case” (2003-10)

#1: Olivia Benson
“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (1999-)

With over 1,000 episodes and multiple spin-offs, the “Law & Order” franchise has introduced one memorable female detective after another, like Anita Van Buren. But our personal favorite is Olivia Benson of the Special Victims Unit. If a sexual assault is reported, Olivia and her crew are brought in to investigate. And, as she has a history of abuse herself, Olivia shows sympathy towards victims. Though each new experience leaves a mark, Olivia still tries to remain the calm and collected member of the unit. But make no mistake: get on her bad side and she will make you regret it. With investigative expertise and first-hand experience, Benson’s a role model and an icon on one of the most quintessential crime drama franchises on TV.

Do you agree with our list? Who’s your favorite female detective? For more sleuthy Top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to MsMojo.

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