Another week, another set of posts from our GAD blogging collective, running down their own personal favourites of the great detectives of fiction.
First over the line this week was Kate — steward’s enquiry pending, as she actually posted on Monday (“It is already Tuesday in other parts of the world…”, a.k.a. Drinking Rules) — with a set of criteria so esoteric I’m not even going to attempt to classify it and shall instead simply give you her verbatim explanation:
My choices for today’s sleuths have several things in common: they’re all male, they’ve all had some experience in teaching, (though some more than others), they’re all comical sleuths in their own way and their sleuthing is more of a hobby or pastime than a life’s work and above all they like to do things their own way, for better or for worse.
A great contrasting of two of my favourites there, with Roger Sheringham and Gervase Fen being characters I love equally for the very different reasons Kate outlines so well (the less said about my reading of Alice Tilton the better…).
At Clothes in Books, Moira gave us the Battle of the Biddies: Miss Marple vs Miss Silver, highlighting an initial similarity in their approaches that should be anathema to detection fans, in spite of which the two characters maintain a high level of popularity:
Neither of the two lady sleuths is very good at showing her working: they seem to pick their solutions out of thin air, and there isn’t much in the way of proper detection and clue-hunting. Both of them spend a lot of time talking to the suspects however, which does make for enjoyable reading.
Puzzle Doctor widened the scope of this endeavour at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, bringing us probably the detection-entry character responsible for more genre nerds that even Hercule Poirot — Velma Dinkley of Scooby-Doo fame:
As with the great sleuths’ ability to spot a murder where the local constabulary assume accident or murder, Dinkley spots straight away that there is a mystery to be solved when local authorities, faced with a number of raids on local shipping, have simply assumed that it’s the ghost of Redbeard the Pirate. Refusing to write it off as just an attack by a spectral brigand, Velma and friends are determined to find the truth.
Given how much TV played a part in popularising the genre — I’m an Ironside fan myself, and won’t hear a word against it — it’s great to see other media being pulled into this examination.
That said, even I thought Noah was on shaky ground when he rolled out Murder, She Wrote‘s Jessica Fletcher for his post. But, well, he’s got a good case for the popularity of the series itself, and acknowledges the core issues it shares with many of the GAD stories that spawned it:
But everywhere she goes, from Saskatchewan (Showdown in Saskatchewan, season 4) to Moscow (From Russia With Blood, season 5) to cyberspace (A Virtual Murder, season 10) Jessica’s presence is like the kiss of death for someone. At least 264 someones, making Jessica Fletcher the Angel of Death around the world.
Plus, well, there’s mention in there of a decent loked room trick in an early MSW episode…and I’m not made of stone enough to resist that.
Brad…well, Brad’s of a more creative inclination than the rest of us, so he’s making his case for a junior sleuth in his own inimitable style.
Like every major metropolitan newspaper, the Idaville Gazette had a book reviewer. Bernice Sturgess, whose son Cicero was Idaville’s leading child actor, wrote a column that appeared every Thursday. Her tastes ran to romance authors and non-fiction, so it was no surprise when a review appeared for a book called 100 Greatest Literary Detectives…
Finally for this week, Bev brought us some professional detectives, and hit the nail bang on with her examination of what makes this era of reading so compelling for someone like me — the wealth of accidental detail we get that gives insight into how things were done when these novels were contemporary fiction.
Helen Reilly’s Inspector Christopher McKee is on the other side of the world, heading up the Manhattan Murder Squad in New York City. In the early novels, he is an efficient leader of men with a strong personality, a vast storehouse of facts in his memory, and who strikes an imposing figure when confronting suspects. He figures in one of the earliest police procedural series by a female author and his stories feature the line-up, the radio room, the morgue, the mysterious depths of the fingerprint department–all the varied and exciting activities of one of the greatest police departments in the world on full view in mysteries of the 1930s.