Val McDermid, Lesfic Pioneer

May 27, 2024 | Sapphic | 0 comments

Ever heard of Val McDermid? Even if you’re not into thrillers, you’ll surely know that Val’s an out and proud lesbian and, btw, a world-class crime writer. According to her website, to date she has sold over 19 million books across the globe and has been translated into more than 40 languages. She’s won countless awards, including  the DIVA Literary Award for Crime for Insidious Intent in 2017. Her popular crime series have been adapted for TV, including Wire in the Blood, Traces, A Place Of Execution and most recently, a series featuring cold case specialist, Inspector Karen Pirie. Last year saw the appearance of Past Lying, the 7th title in the Pirie series, and the next one, Silent Bones, is due to come out in October 2024. 

Of course, you know all that. But do you know what’s coming next? Nearly forty (yes, 40!) years ago Val was a lesfic pioneer setting out on the path to global fame by daring to write a novel featuring the UK’s first openly lesbian detective, Lindsay Gordon. Ultimately the lezzie Lindsay books would stretch to a series of six, first published by the Women’s Press. In an article* Val recalled, “The Women’s Press was a small feminist publishing house whose output went largely unreviewed by the mainstream press and was ignored by chain booksellers. Back then, the notion that a commercial house would publish a novel that featured a lesbian protagonist was laughable. I knew that I’d never make a living as a writer if I stuck to writing about Lindsay.”

Luckily for crime fans around the world, Val flexed her fingers, branched out into crime thrillers (with straight and/or male protagonists) and her career took off. But luckily for me, and many other lesbians back in the late 1980s seeking our sort of protagonist to identify with, Val’s feisty Lindsay Gordon came out in Report for Murder. I discovered the reporter-turned-detective on the shelves of the feminist bookshop in Amsterdam,  Xantippe and fell in love with her at once. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), I devoured every tasty new Lindsay title as soon as it appeared and collected the lot.

The Lindsay Gordon series is still so popular today, it is still in print nearly forty (yes 40!) years later.

Book 1 – Report for Murder (Women’s Press, 1987)
Book 2 – Common Murder (Women’s Press, 1989)
Book 3 – Final Edition (Women’s Press, 1991)
Book 4 – Union Jack/Conferences are Murder (US) (Women’s Press, 1993)
Book 5 – Booked for Murder (Women’s Press, 1996)
Book 6 – Hostage to Murder (Harper Collins, 2003)

* Fascinating further reading
“Niche off the leash: Val McDermid on progress in lesbian fiction” – Independent, Sept 2010
“A decade ago, she was told that writing a novel with a lesbian theme would be ‘commercial suicide’. Now, gay writers are mainstream. Here, Val McDermid charts the cultural shift that began with Radclyffe Hall.”

Footnote (with thanks to Doris Hermanns)
And now… after all these years of writing world-class thrillers, Val has returned to her sapphic roots, writing about a lesbian protagonist in her new Allie Burns series, 1979 (Sphere, 2021) and 1989 (Sphere, 2023). In the DIVA review of the second book, publisher Linda Riley wrote: “The journalist who, in the first book in this series – 1979 – took her first, tentative baby steps into those two great “isms” –  journalism and lesbianism – returns ten years later in 1989 as a fully fledged doyenne of a gay scene battered by ten years of Thatcherism and decimated by the cruel plague that came to be known as AIDS. We are reminded of the part that lesbians played in supporting their gay brothers during this horrendous time – a contribution so often overlooked in the telling of the HIV/AIDS story – watching in horror as Allie’s friends fall victim to the relentless march of the disease.”




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