Another week– where does the time go, eh? — another serving of reflections on the Great Detectives of Fiction from the blogosphere…
Puzzle Doctor kicked us off this week, with a piece on one of my favourite TV detectives of recent years, namely Adrian Monk:
Monk’s intuition is astonishing. He will spot a crime when the police believe it’s an accident or a suicide. Often he will spot very quickly who the guilty party is – “He’s the guy!” – and never let a little thing like a cast-iron alibi get in the way. And he has broken some strong alibis in his time. … And while you can draw similarities to that Sherlock Holmes bloke, it is rare that Monk provides elements to his reasoning that the viewer is not privy to.
I’ve lately been contemplating revisiting the Obsessive Compulsive Detective, and I’m going to take this as a sign.
Moira brought us some mid-century sleuths, and I was worried I was ging to have to hem and haw around her inclusion of Nicholas Blake’s Nigel Strangeways — as character whose popularity has never made sense to me — but she seems to find him as annoying as I do:
I chose Strangeways as one of my list of detectives, and was rather disappointed when I came to look at the books again – not as good as I’d remembered. He is as annoying as he would be in real life, without much in the way of humour or self-deprecation. However…he appeared in a fair number of books over 30 years, and so there is some sociological interest in reading them – the settings are interesting and varied, from the school, to a publishers’ office to a brewery to a country house to a holiday camp.
This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship…
Kate stuck to gender lines again and brought us some formiddable (and humorous) women, from the pens of Joan Coggins and Delano Ames, and adding yet another great-sounding couple to my TBB with Ames’ Jane and Dagobert Brown:
There are quite a few sleuthing couples in vintage crime fiction, to the extent it could always qualify as a subgenre. Yet I think the Browns are a very important component of this select group, as unlike some of the couples I think their relationship is described in such a way that they are a balanced couple, they can give as good as they get. Jane in no way idolises Dagobert and is no one’s door mat. Instead she has a wry way of describing the bumps in their relationship: ‘I have been married to Dagobert for nearly two years, and I have never had a dull moment. I could do with a dull moment.’
As a fan of the early Kelley Roos novels, I’m somewhat delighted by that quote; now I just need to track the books down…
Brad switched media on us and took a browse through the airwaves with some radio sleuths, a medium in which a huge amount of work has been done over the years by huge numbers of the great and good of GAD and beyond. And he’s right when he says that a change in medium in no way allows for a slackening in quality:
Any examination of the artistic depiction of classic detectives must include the Age of Radio, which coincided with the Golden Age of mysteries and favored crime dramas over almost any other genre. Listening to a radio program required a good ear and a lively imagination, and the best crime shows stimulated both with effective acting, suspenseful music and special effects, and, if one was lucky, excellent writing. It wasn’t enough that many of the greatest classic sleuths were the inspiration of this or that program. If the writing didn’t sparkle, if the puzzle wasn’t strong enough or the mean streets where a P.I. wandered wasn’t effectively rendered, then a program would fall flat and soon be cancelled.
And, finally, Curtis made a strong case for the good old-fashioned working policeman, taking one of my favourites in the shape of Leo Bruce’s Sergeant Wiliam Beef and Peter Lovesey’s Sergeant Cribb…who, I must confess, I do not know at all:
One reason I like to read about these two clever sleuths, Beef and Cribb, is that they are not from the posh snooty-toot school of Sayers, Allingham and Marsh. Now I too like reading about the British glamour boys created by these ladies, but as I explained at length in my book Masters of the Humdrum Mystery, I don’t believe all of British mystery should be defined them, as it has tended to be done for a long time in the hands of such analysts as PD James and Lucy Worsley.
6 thoughts on “#375: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – The Great Detectives – Week 3”
haha yes I do seem to have gone along gendered lines. Weirdly they just seemed to group that way. Got more ladies coming up next week as well. Given the priority you have for the puzzle within mystery fiction, I’d suggest reading earlier Ames than later, as after the first 5 I think characterisation and setting become more important to him. One key exception is Crime, Gentlemen, Please, but that is not an easy one to get a hold of. Thankfully the first four are relatively easily to find, though not always cheap.
Wilco on the Ames, many thanks for the heads up.
Interested in the Monk books? I’ve read all of them (unless one was released recently) and can offer a few recs. Most of the Goldberg ones are good and funny, and Mr. Monk Gets Cleaned Out is actually an impossible crime! I’d say that Mr. Monk in Trouble is the most complex, plot-wise. And Mr. Goes to the Firehouse has gotten good reviews from other mystery fans. Might start with those. Been a while since I read them,I admit.
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I have never read a TV series-inspired novel, in spite of one of my favourite authors ever (Jim Thompson) writing one for my favourite TV series ever (Ironside). Maybe could suffer to give one of these a go, especially as there’s an impossible crime in there…
Golden age detective writers are sometimes accused of snobbery, mostly unfairly. Having said that, Nigel Strangeways is the most unpleasantly elitist of all fictional detectives. And I’m the sort of reader who usually isn’t bothered by such things.
Strangeways gets to me because he’s meant as this heroic figure, when he’s actually a somewhat horrible person. Roger Sheringham is hideous and awful, but he was designed as a parody and so his failures (professionally and personally) are part of what makes him endearing. That Blake sat down, with a straight face, and wrote all those words about Strangeways and intended them seriously is part of what puts me off Blake’s detective fiction.
That said, I do have another in the queue, but it keeps getting knocked down and down and down…