Detective fiction is generally traced back to nineteenth-century sleuth C. Auguste Dupin, the creation of one Edgar Allan Poe. Since then, there have been innumerable detectives characters from a range of authors. Sherlock Holmes, the invention of Arthur Conan Doyle, is probably the most famous, with a range of spin-offs in culture, most significantly the magnificent Sherlock. Adaptations often serve to bring a detective to a wider audience, as exhibited in Agatha Christie’s renowned characters Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, Colin Dexter’s Endeavour Morse, and James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers. In short, the crime genre is booming in a variety of media, with plenty of top-class detectives to show for it.
The original – C. Auguste Dupin
Edgar Allan Poe wrote in a range of genres, but arguably the one he contributed to most significantly was crime. Dupin appeared in three stories – The Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt a year later, and The Purloined Letter in 1844. Dupin was the embodiment of the liberal value of rationalism, and a clear product of the Age of Reason. Many of Dupin’s qualities – his aloof skills of deduction for instance – can be seen to have endured in the later work of Conan Doyle.
The classic – Sherlock Holmes
Probably the world’s best known detective (and certainly he most famous consulting detective), Arthur Conan Doyle’s character appeared in 60 stories and countless spin-offs. Popular from his conception, at times Holmes seemed more mechanical than human, but had several significant character flaws. Perhaps that is what drew people to him: the empirical genius who for all his skill still experienced a very human dependency. Regardless, Holmes is widely seen as the detective, and the yardstick against whom all others are measured.
The thriller detective – Richard Hannay and Jack Reacher
Masters of the easy read, Buchanan and Child effortlessly merge the two genres and create stories that don’t require too much attention to enjoy. That being said, they portray plenty of action to keep the interest of their readers, and write all-action detectives in Hannay and Reacher who grab the reader’s attention from start to finish.
The ‘eccentric foreigner’ – Hercule Poirot
With his obsession with his moustache and his little grey cells, alongside his old-school code of honour, Poirot held a strong appeal for the British when he first appeared in 1921. The fact that Poirot so clearly understood the British manner and was willing to use those who possessed a ‘little Englander’ attitude to his advantage was likely a further appeal. Easily underestimated, Poirot is both endearing and enduring and remains a highly enjoyable read even almost 100 years later.
The mild-mannered clergy – Father Brown and Sidney Chambers
Father Brown and Sidney Chambers are two of the most prominent cases of the clergy dabbling in detective work. The public’s love of such amateur detectives quite possibly stems from a desire to humanise two professions (the clergy and law enforcement) in which people can seem aloof and superior. Both Chesterton and Runcie do so to perfection, and both create lovable pictures of rural country life as well as good detective yarns.