BOOKS: Cops with Machisma

Three gritty tough-girl mysteries show how far female thriller writers have moved from old-fashioned teacup rattlers

Reading crime novels in mixed company, now that some of the toughest and raunchiest fictional cops, detectives and villains are women, has become a delicate exercise in sexual politics. We can imagine Spenser, Robert B. Parker's tough-guy hero, paging through a thriller one evening, log fire burning and six-pack of Sam Adams at the ready, when his girlfriend Susan Silverman senses trouble. She speaks: "You're looking all choked up and strange, Slugger." He explains sheepishly that he is reading a detective story. "Yes ... ?" "Well, so there's this wounded guy, and suddenly the detective whips off, um, her panty hose...

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