Everyone loves a great mystery. Whether you’re settling down to relax with a good book or binge watching a TV series, detective fiction transcends all boundaries and tastes by allowing you to actively take part in piecing the answers together along with the protagonist.
Whether you prefer your detectives with quirks or love the hardboiled approach, below we’ve assembled some of our favourite detectives who have appeared in comics, books and television over the years.
Adrian Monk brought a new quirk to the popular police procedural genre due to his obsessive compulsive disorder and vast list of phobias (including, but not limited to, milk, ladybugs, harmonicas, heights, driving, food touching on his plates, messes, and risk).
While this went some way to allowing him to pick up on evidence and clues others would miss due to his sharp memory and attention to detail, it inevitably had its drawbacks leading him to tamper with crime scenes and be unable to pursue suspects.
While a pleasant change to the hardboiled, hard drinking detectives we’re traditionally used to, Monk’s OCD was caused by tragic circumstances due to the murder of his wife, which caused him to have a nervous breakdown and leave the San Francisco Police Department. As such, his time on the TV show is spent consulting his former partners in a private detective role, aided by his watchful nurse.
Quote: “It’s a gift and a curse.”
Okay, we get no points for originality but no list would be complete without arguably the most popular and influential detective ever created.
Having been adapted into every form of entertainment imaginable – with varying degrees of authenticity to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories – practically every fictional detective created has paid homage to Holmes in some shape or form over the past 100 years.
Lacking any type of empathy and with his cases noted down by friend and colleague John Watson, Holmes is a calculating and analytical thinker who solves crime for the love of the challenge rather than any plaudits or monetary reasons.
Quote: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Okay, so maybe he’s not who you immediately think of when you read the words ‘greatest detective’ but for proof all you need to do is pick up a few graphic novels. Also, the fact that DC, the publisher of Batman, state quite matter of factly that he’s ‘the World’s Greatest Detective.’
Though arguably anyone can solve crimes when they have a plethora of supercomputers, gadgets, vehicles and companions backing you up, Batman (or Bruce Wayne) has the kind of analytical mind and abilities that could easily match Sherlock Holmes. As a result he is routinely aiding the city’s police in uncovering mysteries and stopping schemes, as well as finding and apprehending some of the most colourful and imaginative villains ever created.
Quote: “I am Vengeance. I am the Night. I am Batman”
A mystery writer who solves mysteries? How meta! Though not a detective in the traditional sense, Jessica Fletcher seems to find herself in the maelstrom of murder at every turn… eerily these murders seem to be contingent on her being in the vicinity, leading many to theorise she’s actually some sort of murderous mastermind pinning it on some hapless patsy at the end of each episode.
A busybody for lack of a better term, Jessica invariably proves more perceptive than the official investigators and always manages to trap the real culprit.
Chances are you have the theme tune to ‘Murder, She Wrote’ stuck in your head now and for that I can only apologise.
Quote: “I don’t want to alarm you but something very sinister is going on here.”
Whereas Sherlock Holmes might be the archetypal fictional detective, Marlowe is the character who all of the hardboiled and gritty detectives over the past 60 years have drawn their traits from – a hard-drinking and hard-smoking loner who has a way with the damsels in distress who usually frequent his office, Marlowe also has a more nuanced side with his prickly personality rounded out by interests in poetry and chess.
With a smart mouth, clever approach, and tough as nails attitude, Marlowe has one of the most fun and distinctive voices in fiction thanks to the penmanship of author Raymond Chandler.
Quote: “As honest as you can expect a man to be in a world where it’s going out of style.”
Quietly unassuming, annoyingly sociable, and very very talkative, Columbo’s slept-in appearance (rounded out by his creased mac and half-smoked cigar) and general demeanour ensure that every single one of his suspects will underestimate him over the course of an episode.
Though viewers would see the infamous whodunnit at the beginning of every episode, we’d watch just to see how Columbo would piece it all together. With a keen attention to detail, quick wit, and disarming manner, Columbo would let his subjects think they’d gotten away with murder prior to tripping them up with his famous catchphrase–
Quote: “Oh, just one more thing…”
If you are in interested in learning more about real-life criminals and the profiling behind their convictions why not study our Psychology of Criminal Profiling course?