“Here’s a question for Casey. I’m wondering if there are any mysteries with bi+ protagonists (of any gender) that I can recommend to my mother. She loves mysteries, from cozy to suspenseful, and she loves (but doesn’t totally get) me, her bi daughter. She did read The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo (not on my rec) but it was a little too violent for her.”
What a wonderful question! I love this idea of giving fiction to a loved one to help them understand you better. And who knows, maybe you are a bi+ person who wants to get to know YOURSELF better and these books can help with that too. I know fiction has been a great venue for me to explore my own identities as well as learn about others’.
As far as queer genre fiction goes, mystery is unfortunately not the most diverse: in terms of underrepresented queer identities and authors/characters of color, as well as in subgenre. This list is not as varied as I would like! Take note publishing, please provide us with more bi+ BIPOC characters and authors in mystery novels, especially cozy mysteries. I wasn’t able to find ANY currently available cozy mysteries with a confirmed bi+ protagonist. (That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but if a lesbrarian can’t hunt them down, they are definitely hard to find).
But, onto the books I DID find. We’ve got mystery thrillers, historical mysteries, fantasy mysteries, graphic novel mysteries, and we’ve got Latine, Indian, and Black bi+ characters!
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
Kayla recommended including this fantasy mystery book for its “chaotic private investigator protagonist” and I agree! Said chaotic PI is Ivy, who is hired to investigate the murder of a faculty member at the magical academy where her estranged twin sister Tabitha is a teacher. Ivy, in contrast to her sister, doesn’t have a drop of magical ability. Ivy’s jealousy and hurt from her sister leaving home at a young age have made her bitter and resentful. Cue family drama as well as high school drama while Ivy earns the trust of students and staff as she investigates. While Ivy’s sexuality is never explicitly stated, queerness is woven throughout the book, which was written by a queer and nonbinary author. Tabitha is queer, and a previous queer relationship of hers makes for the emotional hook of the mystery, and Ivy’s main love interest is an Indian bisexual man. But the focus here is the mystery — this is more a mystery with added magic rather than a fantasy with a mystery element. Professors and students alike are keeping their secrets close and as much as Ivy drinks a bit too much and indulges in self-sabotaging, she is also an excellent sleuth.
Miss Timmins’ School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy
This historical mystery set in 1970s India opens with a flash forward to the death that is central to the novel. Then, the story begins with Charu, a middle class 21-year-old “good Brahmin girl” whose parents reluctantly let her go work as a teacher at a British boarding school tucked in a mountainous monsoon-prone corner of the country. Charu’s previously sheltered life is shattered, especially when she meets and falls in love with a white lesbian who’s grown up in India. Then, the death interrupts her late coming of age story. Was it an accident? Was it a murder? What do the teen girls at the boarding school know? Were any of them involved? How? The boarding school is in a remote part of the world, so there are a limited number of suspects…
The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka
This ongoing detective series starring bisexual private investigator Roxane Weary is one of my personal favorites! In the first installment, Roxane is still coping with the death of her cop dad, with whom she had a complicated relationship. Complicated relationships are something she’s good at, in fact: she’s sort of seeing her dad’s work partner in their shared grief but also still holding a candle for her charismatic but fickle ex-girlfriend. The case in this book begins with a possible sighting of a missing person, related to an old double murder. The sister of the man convicted of the murders — who has always maintained his innocence — hires Roxane hoping the PI can prove her brother’s innocence before he’s executed.
Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand
The first book in the Cass Neary series, Generation Loss is about a self-destructive 48-year-old bisexual has-been whose photography career peaked in the 1970s punk movement in New York. When an acquaintance convinces Cass to take a job to go interview a famous aging reclusive photographer who lives on an island off the coast of Maine, Cass finds herself with a old, horrific mystery on her hands. Her knowledge of art and photography helps her get into the mindset of an artist who has taken their craft to an appalling extreme. The mood here is dark, gritty, and bleak, just like the bitterly cold seaside Maine winter it’s set in. If you enjoy unlikable yet compelling queer characters written without even a whiff of concern about respectability politics, this is the mystery for you.
The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco
This historical mystery is set in the 1880s in the Pacific Northwest and the dark underworld of opium smuggling. Our bisexual, gender fluid, cross dressing, Latine protagonist is Alma, a former Pinkerton spy who has crossed over to the “dark side.” Her boss — a queer Black woman named Delphine who is the mastermind behind a huge smuggling ring — has sent Alma on assignment to a Washington Territory outpost. Alma has been told to track down missing opium. There’s a leak in the chain somewhere and Alma is going to find out where. This novel not only has a compelling mystery plot, it also has a vibrant historical setting and some steamy sex scenes! Right here on Autostraddle, you can read about the author’s research into the real historical queer figures who inspired the representation in the book.
Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht
The first book in this ongoing historical spy series, Who Is Vera Kelly? is half coming of age story and half CIA thriller/mystery. The book alternates between 1950s Maryland and New Jersey as Vera is growing up, and Vera’s adulthood, where working at a radio station in 1960s Greenwich village leads her to being recruited by the CIA. By 1966, she’s in Argentina with instructions to infiltrate a group of student activists and wiretap a congressman. Will she find the KGB influences she’s been told are rampant in the country’s Marxists? Things take a drastic turn for the worst when there’s a military coup d’etat. Suddenly Vera has been betrayed — but by who? And how will she figure out how to escape the country now that she’s trapped? This is a satisfying character study with rich historical details alongside a twisty spy plot.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
This horror-influenced YA mystery thriller has serious dark academia vibes. At an almost all white private, prestigious high school, two queer Black students (a bi girl named Chiamaka and a gay guy named Devon) begin to receive anonymous intimidating messages from someone who calls themselves “Aces.” They threaten to reveal secrets that could ruin both students. Despite being on opposite ends of the social spectrum, Chiamaka and Devon band together to investigate who is sending the messages and what their motivation could be. Who would want to ruin their academic and professional ambitions? Why? This is a tightly plotted fast paced mystery that will have you desperate to solve the puzzle.
Bury The Lede by Gaby Dunn and Claire Roe
In this graphic novel mystery, bespectacled bisexual Madison is a new intern at a Boston newspaper. She does any and all grunt work that the senior reporters tell her to; it’s grueling, thankless, and not exactly moving her own journalism career forward like she had hoped. So when she hears about a gruesome murder on the police scanner, she races down to the scene of the crime hoping to be able to break the story. There, a socialite named Dahlia is covered in blood and accused of killing her family. It seems like a clear cut case. But is it? Madison becomes deeply involved when it turns out that Dahlia won’t talk to anyone in the media … except her.
As previously mentioned, there aren’t any cozy mysteries on this list but I’m going to sneak some in here. For lesbian and/or undefined queer women characters in cozy mysteries, try Death Before Dessert by A.E. Radley, which won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ mystery last year or the longstanding Jane Lawless series by Ellen Hart, which is on its 27th book! Also check out this article about the dearth of quozies — queer cozy mysteries — as it predicts a long overdue upswing for this sub-sub-genre and mentions a cozy mystery coming out in May featuring a bi woman called Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies.
For more queer mysteries / crime books recommendations from me, check out these previous lesbrarian book lists: Eight Crime Books Featuring Women Loving Women and Other Queers and Dark Lesbian Mysteries and Thrillers.