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Two women stand on a snowy hilltop in this image from Peligrosa.
“True Detective: Night Country” features two female leads, Jodie Foster and Kali Reis, for the first time in the anthology series’ history. (Image: Peligrosa)

TV detectives have been popular for ages. From amateur sleuths breaking the typical teen drama formula to investigators on proper police procedural dramas, the modern era of detective shows portrays its fair share of powerful female leads. Whether in a limited run or a multiple-season series, these leading ladies have proven their ability to investigate and close a case with the best of ’em.

I’m no private eye, but my ability to identify and round up the best crime-driven TV mysteries is also proven. Have you seen how dark I skew in my Watch THIS Wednesday picks? If you’re like me and always looking for acclaimed, thought-provoking crime dramas with powerful women at the center, don’t miss these 15 female TV detectives and their shows, ranked by each detective’s sleuth skills.

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15. Darby Hart: ‘A Murder at the End of the World’ (2023)

A woman wearing a coat peers from behind a rocky cliff in this image from Mysterium Valley.
Darby Hart (Emma Corrin) is low-key but effective in Hulu’s limited series “A Murder at the End of the World.” (Image: Mysterium Valley)

The amateur sleuth TV trope has a new Gen Z investigator: Darby Hart (Emma Corrin). In Hulu’s miniseries “A Murder at the End of the World,” Hart’s fame as an author after solving her first case earns her an invite to a billionaire’s mysterious retreat at a freezing, remote location designed for privacy. Cue the murder! Hart uses her hacker and detective skills to insert herself into the investigation and eventually crack the case, bringing her solved case count to two. Solid sleuthing, but there’s room to grow.

Fortunately, the plot’s resolution provides the opportunity for more storytelling if creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij secure a sophomore season. I’d watch Darby Hart solve cases anywhere in the world!

Investigate “A Murder at the End of the World” on Hulu.

14. Charlie Cale: ‘Poker Face’ (2023 to Present)

A woman examines an instant photo as a man looks on in this image from Zucks.
Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) has a special skill that lends itself to solving crimes in Peacock’s “Poker Face.” (Image: Zucks.)

Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) isn’t necessarily a detective, but her sleuth skills are impressive in “Poker Face,” my favorite new show from 2023. Charlie possesses a strange skill: She can always tell when someone is lying. It leads to situations that force Charlie into hiding as she travels across the country, encountering and solving murders as she goes.

“Poker Face” has already been renewed for a second season, giving Charlie plenty of opportunity to advance her sleuth score in the episodes to come.

Inform your watchlist that “Poker Face” is streaming on Peacock.

13. Nancy Drew: ‘Nancy Drew’ (2019 to 2023)

A woman exclaiming with her hands stands in front of a bulletin board in this image from Warm Bloody Sunday Productions.
Nancy Drew’s (Kennedy McMann) track record makes her a shoo-in as a leading gumshoe. (Image: Warm Bloody Sunday Productions)

It wouldn’t be a female detective list without Nancy Drew. She’s the heroine of the long-running mystery book series beloved by generations — including me, as evidenced by my complete collection of the hardcover series. There are older TV series that featured the titular detective, but the CW adapted the most recent version in 2019. The ensemble cast works together to solve cases loosely based on titles and plot points from the books.

Former teen sleuth Nancy Drew (Kennedy McMann) took a break from solving mysteries, but she’s pulled back in when the Drew Crew, composed of Nancy and her friends, become suspects in a murder. The series incorporates dark themes and the supernatural, and it eventually has Drew forming an actual detective agency of her own. She’s no Sherlock Holmes (yet), but she’s proven her sleuth game is strong.

Get your whodunit fix: “Nancy Drew” is available to stream on Max.

12. Veronica Mars: ‘Veronica Mars’ (2004 to 2007, 2019)

A young woman sits outdoors looking satisfied in this image from Stu Segall Productions.
Kristen Bell played fan-favorite private investigator Veronica Mars in an original TV series, a streaming revival, and a film. (Image: Stu Segall Productions)

“Veronica Mars” hits close to home, literally, since it was filmed in my hometown of San Diego. Kristen Bell stars as private investigator Veronica Mars, who gets her crime-solving start as a high school junior in the fictional seaside town of Neptune. “The O.C.” this is not!

Combining a case-of-the-week formula with serialized season-long mysteries keeps the show engaging, smart, and loved by critics. Given the success of the “Veronica Mars”-verse, which includes a feature film and a Hulu revival, this female sleuth ranks just behind the OG detective who’s next on my list.

Evidence points to “Veronica Mars” streaming on Hulu.


Behind the Scenes: The 2013 Kickstarter campaign to revive “Veronica Mars” for a film is the online fundraising site’s most-backed film project to date. The initial fundraising goal of $2 million was met within hours and the effort ultimately surpassed $5.7 million. The movie was released in 2014.

11. Jessica Fletcher: ‘Murder, She Wrote’ (1984 to 1996)

A woman peers out a door with a flashlight in her hand in this image from Universal Television.
The original amateur TV sleuth Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) finds her niche as a respected detective. (Image: Universal Television)

Named the most prolific amateur sleuth by Guinness World Records, Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) and “Murder, She Wrote” paved the way for strong female lead detectives. Fletcher, a murder mystery novelist, helps solve homicide cases in her hometown of Cabot Cove, Maine. Her initial involvement is often due to happenstance and proximity to the case.

Throughout 264 episodes, Fletcher evolves into a formal consultant leveraged by the town sheriff, Scotland Yard, the FBI, and MI6. The author-turned-detective’s uncanny ability to uncover guilty parties ranks her higher on the sleuth scale than other amateurs on this list.

Crack a case alongside Fletcher and stream “Murder, She Wrote” on Peacock.

10. Liz Danvers and Evangeline Navarro: ‘True Detective: Night Country’ (2024)

Two women face each other dramatically in this image from Peligrosa.
Navarro (Kali Reis) and Danvers (Jodie Foster) overcome their personal conflict to work together and solve a spooky supernatural mystery in Alaska. (Image: Peligrosa)

The strong pairing of Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) and Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) in “True Detective: Night Country” leads them to uncover an unexpected truth in the anthology series' Season 4 mystery.

Danvers and Navarro take point on a mysterious case centering on the disappearance of research scientists in Alaska. Set in the all-day darkness of polar winter and teeming with supernatural elements, the cold and chilling environment is a character of its own. Just cracking the top 10 on my sleuth scale is fitting for this promising duo, since, although clearly talented, they have just a single season and one primary case to date.

It’s no mystery that Max is the only place to stream “True Detective: Night Country.”

9. Marianne ‘Mare’ Sheehan: ‘Mare of Easttown’ (2021)

Led by Kate Winslet, “Mare of Easttown” ran for only one exceptional single season. (Image: Zobot Projects)

The representation of women in HBO’s limited series “Mare of Easttown” and the strong sleuthing skills of Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) land her just outside the top half of my sleuth scale. Charged with investigating a murder in her hometown, Sheehan aptly employs her detective skills and general bada**ery to unravel the case of a slain teen mother, all while battling deep grief and her inner demons. Winslet won an Emmy for the role.

Get clued in to “Mare of Easttown” on Max.

8. Marcella Backland: ‘Marcella’ (2016 to 2021)

A woman takes a photo with a cell phone in this image from Buccaneer Media.
You can always count on a British crime drama for a thrilling ride, and “Marcella” delivers. (Image: Buccaneer Media)

British crime drama “Marcella” brings the darkness and detective vibes. Former London Metropolitan police officer Marcella (Anna Friel) proves her sleuthing skills when investigating a cold-case murder that appears to be linked to a current crime. Amid a struggling marriage and alarming blackouts, Marcella successfully solves cases throughout the show’s three-season run.

Stream “Marcella” on Netflix.

7. Carrie Mathison: ‘Homeland’ (2011 to 2020)

A woman sits in thought in front of a wall covered in photographs in this image from Teakwood Lane Productions.
CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is a force to be reckoned with in “Homeland.” (Image: Teakwood Lane Productions)

Showtime’s “Homeland” skews more spy thriller–drama than an outright detective show, but CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) lifts a heavy investigatory load nonetheless. Dealing with highly secretive national-security issues and threats of terror is a typical day in the life of this highly charged character who also struggles with bipolar disorder.

Mathison’s ability to assess and eliminate threats gives her a major edge on my sleuth scale. Her unpredictability, however, keeps her hovering near the middle of the list.

Get in on the “Homeland” action on Hulu.

6. Angela Abar: ‘Watchmen’ (2019)

A masked woman with a badge on her hip stands in front of a person in this image from White Rabbit.
“Watchmen” is a powerful dystopian series delivering strong and dark police detective vibes. (Image: White Rabbit)

Detective superhero Angela Abar (Regina King) leads HBO’s miniseries “Watchmen,” created by Damon Lindelof and based on the DC Comics series of the same name. Abar adopts the identity of Sister Night as she investigates a white supremacist terror group’s resurgence. The dystopian drama earns Abar a higher ranking, since high stakes and heroism are both in play.

Stream “Watchmen” on Max.

5. Stella Gibson: ‘The Fall’ (2013 to 2016)

A woman looks at something off camera in this image from Fables Limited.
Gillian Anderson takes on a twisted serial killer in the dark psychological thriller “The Fall.” (Image: Fables Limited)

When it comes to crime dramas, the darker the better. “The Fall” is one of the darkest psychological thrillers around. Gillian Anderson plays Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson in Northern Ireland, where she and her team are tasked with catching serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), a seemingly normal family man. As with many detectives, some of whom are on this list, Gibson struggles with internal battles across the three-season series.

“The Fall” isn’t Anderson’s first detective rodeo. Playing Agent Dana Scully on “The X-Files” earns her extra sleuth credit in my book.

Stream the two-time BAFTA TV Awards nominee “The Fall” free on Pluto TV or on Prime Video.

4. Lilly Rush: ‘Cold Case’ (2003 to 2010)

A woman stands in front of a suspect in an interrogation room in this image from Jerry Bruckheimer Television.
It takes special skills to solve cold cases, and Lilly Rush (Kathryn Morris) ranks among the best to ever do it. (Image: Jerry Bruckheimer Television)

Slotting in near the top of my sleuth scale, Detective Lilly Rush (Kathryn Morris) and her knack for uncovering the truth in long-unsolved murder cases is unmatched. Impeccable sleuthing skills are mandatory to solve years- and decades-old cases, and Rush proves time and again she’s a true expert in her field.

Test your cold-case skills and stream all seven seasons of the Philadelphia-set crime drama “Cold Case” on Max.

3. Emily Prentiss: ‘Criminal Minds’ (2005 to 2020, 2022 to Present)

A woman draws a gun in this image from Entertainment One.
Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) gets extra points for her exceptional intelligence and fearless approach to her job. (Image: Entertainment One)

“Criminal Minds” is one of my favorite series of all time across all genres. Various FBI agents have led the esteemed Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) during the series and its spinoff, “Criminal Minds: Evolution,” but only one leading lady deserves a top-three spot on this list.

Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) is the current BAU boss and a top-notch sleuth known for her detective and profiling prowess, no matter the heaviness of the crime. She’s had her fair share of ups and downs and absences throughout the seasons, but her ability to overcome obstacles and competently solve cases makes her a standout. She’s respected by everyone who works with her.

Special mentions go to her equally fierce female colleagues, Jennifer “JJ” Jareau (A.J. Cook), Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), and Dr. Tara Lewis (Aisha Tyler).

Get ready for wheels up and stream “Criminal Minds” and “Criminal Minds: Evolution” on Paramount+ and Hulu.

2. Mary Beth Lacey and Christine Cagney: ‘Cagney & Lacey’ (1982 to 1988)

A pair of female police officers stand against a car in this image from Orion Television.
The classic TV detective show “Cagney & Lacey” set the tone for female leads in the genre. (Image: Orion Television)

Throwing it back to a 1980s series, we have “Cagney & Lacey.” The pair of New York City police detectives, played by Tyne Daly as Lacey and (mostly) Sharon Gless as Cagney, beat the bad guys and combat patriarchal vibes. Their starring roles as fearless female detectives broke TV barriers, since the vast majority of police series at the time were dominated by men.

Both Daly and Gless earned multiple Emmy awards for Best Lead Actress in a Drama for their work in the police procedural series. The second spot on my ranking makes all the sense in the (crime) world for this ahead-of-its-time crime-solving duo.

“Cagney & Lacey” is available to stream on MGM+ and Pluto TV.

1. Olivia Benson: ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ (1999 to Present)

A woman leans with her arms crossed in an interrogation room in this image from Wolf Entertainment.
Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) continues to dominate the detective world in her 25th season of “Law & Order: SVU.” (Image: Wolf Entertainment)

Topping my list with stellar sleuthing skills and an exceptional solve rate is none other than Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) of “Law & Order: SVU.” The fiercely dedicated Benson uses her vast expertise and her own trauma to deeply empathize with and advocate for sexual assault victims, leading to her natural place as captain of the NYPD’s elite special victims squad.

Since the departure of her original partner Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), Benson has been front and center in the series, solving all the cases with unrivaled mastery. I also have to give a shoutout to Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish) for her longtime, strong sleuth showing across the series alongside her boss, whom she affectionately calls “Liv.” Extra credit goes to Hargitay for also executive producing and sometimes directing the show.

Stream “Law & Order: SVU” on Hulu or Peacock.


In the Spotlight:
Hargitay won an Emmy award in 2006 for her role as Detective Benson, making her the first series regular in the “Law & Order” universe to earn an Emmy trophy. She unquestionably deserves top billing on the sleuth scale.

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