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Women of Mystery

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"From candid discussions to surprising views on the nature of crime and justice. Highly recommended."
***1/2 (out of four stars)
Video Librarian

Full Review:

Collectively, Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton, and Sara Paretsky have created indelible worlds of detective fiction dominated by tough and wily female private eyes. In the late 1970s, Marcia Muller introduced ace legal investigator, Sharon McCone, and in 1982 both Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky followed suit with still grittier heroines, the now-famous Kinsey Millhone, a hard-boiled cop-turned-detective, and V. I. Warshawski, a street-smart private investigator. For their legions of fans, this keenly crafted triple portrait is a treat, probing the fertile mind of each author as she conducts her research and discusses her craft. Narrated by JoBeth Williams, filmmakers Pamela Beere Briggs and William McDonald's Women of Mystery features each author providing a short reading from one of her works (accompanied by dramatizations that capture familiar characters and themes from the novels), casual footage of each author rambling through her heroine's home turf--from San Francisco to Chicago--providing intriguing insights, and finally, engaging interviews that reveal the complex relationship each author has developed with her heroine. Budding writers and ardent mystery fans will enjoy intelligent conversation, from candid discussions of childhood events that influenced the writers' craft, to surprising views on the nature of crime and justice. A well-paced, revealing study, this is highly recommended for women's studies and literature collections. Audience: High School, Colleges & Universities, Public Libraries. (A. Cantu)


"ABSORBING! The authors are candid and revealing on issues of truthfulness...and use the emotions of their characters to stir readers into reflecting on their own fears and instincts."
Nicole Campos
Los Angeles Weekly

Full Review:

(January 26-February 1, 2001) Pamela Beere Briggs' documentary is anchored by the personal perspectives of three of detective fiction's leading female novelists: Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller and Sara Paretsky. Each delivers an absorbing look into her individual methods of research, inspiration and even a few cathartic hobbies; Muller, for example, enjoys building scale models of locations from her novels in order to help get the creative juices flowing. Paretsky is especially entertaining as she desribes pulling place names and big-city flavor from her own experiences in Chicago and weaving them into her V.I. Warshawski novels. The authors are candid and revealing on issues of truthfulness -- however murky a road it may put their heroines on -- and use the emotions of their characters to stir readers into reflecting on their own fears and instincts. Briggs also includes a well-charged history of women and women's roles in the genre, beginning with the passive, victimized heroines of the 18th and 19-century gothic novels, and moving forward to their antitheses, the powerful, scheming firebrands of sensation fiction who would thwart the restrictions placed upon them by society at any cost. And we mustn't forget preternaturally perfect gumshoe Nancy Drew. (Nicole Campos)


"WOMEN OF MYSTERY has been an incredible success! I urge anyone who does public programming to consider this one. You will not be disappointed."
Programming librarian
San Diego Public Library


"Ideal for courses in women writers, popular culture, and women's studies; its narrative compression and complexity as well as the provocative comments by the three writers, should prompt lively discussion among students."
Maureen Reddy, Professor English and Women's Studies Rhode Island College


"One of ten OUTSTANDING VIDEOS, chosen from programs reviewed over the past five years highlighting the contributions of women throughout history."


"Our attendance was the largest [our library] has ever had for a program of any sort."
Programming librarian
Shasta County Library

  Charles Champlin, Arts Editor Emeritus
Los Angeles Times

Full Review:

Writers are most devilishly difficult to get on film credibly and interestingly. But in Women of Mystery, Pamela Beere Briggs and William McDonald have created an engrossing triple portrait of three writers who launched a new direction in crime fiction. The woman as private eye, a refreshing change from the tough guys walking the mean streets, owes everything to Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky, and the fine documentary illuminates the women, their work and its historical importance.