#976: The World’s Favourite Golden Age Sleuth – Round 2

And then there were 32 — the first round of this vote to find the most popular sleuth of detective fiction’s Golden Age having whittled the original 64 names down to half that number, and the votes available for one week from today due to halve it again. So, who survived and who is out of the running?

Top Half

Two fairly clear walkovers in these first two votes — click on any of these images to see a bigger version, by the way — with top seed Dr. Gideon Fell rightly seeing off Supt. David Hadley (preferred by 26 people…) and the highfalutin’ Philo Vance knockin’ Anthony Gilbert’s Arthur Crook into a cocked hat or something equally witty and urbane. Leaving you with the following choice:

Nero Wolfe’s eyes and ears Archie Goodwin belied his low seeding to send Sergeant William Beef packing — much to the dismay of Lionel Townsend, who probably hoped to bask in some reflected prestige — and the Battle of Erle Stanley Garnder Characters was won, to the surprise of precisely no-one, by the belligerent lawyer Perry Mason. Counsel must, then, make the following decision:

Joining Archie in the second round is his boss Nero Wolfe — and you know full well that Archie would have made much of progressing on his own — who, after swatting aside Superintendent Battle, will face another Agatha Christie character in Tommy Beresford, (scandalously, to my mind) fairly routed Sir Clinton Driffield.

‘Handsome’ Roderick Alleyn was posed no threat by Patrick Quentin’s Iris Duluth, but might Lord Peter Wimsey, with an epic margin of victory over M. Hanaud in the most popular vote in the whole first round, prove a stiffer test?

Perhaps no great shocks in these two results, either, with Christianna Brand’s Inspector Cockrill making short work of Napoleon Bonaparte, and Michael Innes’ Sir John Appleby barely even noticing the challenge put up by Desmond Merrion. We expect the margins to get narrower as things progress, and I have a feeling this one is going to be neck and neck:

Fan I may well have become of Craig Rice’s John J. Malone novels, but I didn’t expect the lawyer to do brilliantly in this vote…and, sure enough, he was taught a lesson by Inspector Richard Queen..albeit with the fewest total votes of any of the top half run-offs. And John Rhode/Miles Burton’s Bright Young Men continue to fare poorly…but did anyone expect Jimmy Waghorn to triumph against M. Hercule Poirot? Well, 15 people did, but they’re perhaps the only ones.

Anthony Berkeley’s Ambrose Chitterwick is a meek and self-deprecating presence who would no doubt expect himself to lose out at this early stage, but I’d’ve liked to see him get at least a little further. And Josephine Tey’s Alan Grant did well to beat John Dickson Carr’s first sleuth, the abrasive Henri Bencolin, seeded some 20 places higher. This match-up will be a close one, I feel…

Carrying the rough and tumble P.I.’s fate on his cynical shoulders alone in the second round will be Philip Marlowe, despite a spirited resistance from Charlie Chan. And I’m very pleased to see Freeman Wills Crofts’ Joseph French pip Anthony Boucher’s Sister Ursula for the final berth in the top half. Game on!

So, with a total of 3,499 votes cast in the top half of the draw, how did the bottom half turn out?

Bottom Half

Ellery Queen was thoroughly untroubled by Superintendent Wilson, and Reggie Fortune comfortably saw of Helene Brand — you’ll notice the number of votes cast in this lower half is much lower than the previous demi-round, but these are still pretty comfortable victories.

Yes, the Continental Op failed to prevent Nigel Strangeways making his way through, I’m afraid, leaving you hardboiled nuts with only Marlowe to root for. And am I the only one surprised at how close the match being Roger Sheringham and Thomas Littlejohn went? I suppose Littlejohn’s case is boosted by a lost of recent reprints, but I expected Roger to trounce him.

It feels only right to me that Gervase Fen — detective — should see off Arthur Hastings — sidekick — but, well, this is a vote about popularity and I do understand the wealth of feeling people have for our clueless Captain, securing this head-to-head the joint highest number of votes in this half of the draw. On the other side, it’s incredible to think that even a couple of years ago Anthony Bathurst wouldn’t have gotten a mention in this sort of undertaking, but Hildegard Withers’ presence in the popular mindset saw her squeak through.

Presence in the mind of the average reader no doubt goes a long way, with my mate Edward Beale failing to stir much resistance against the Dr. Lancelot Priestley — frankly, I was delighted that Beale got the three votes he did to even get him into the poll in the first place. And did we really think Bobby Owen stood any sort of chance against Aunt Jane?

I always found Rogan Kincaid a bit bland — a dull character in two good books — so can’t say I’m surprised at his being put in his place by Jules Maigret. And, in the least popular vote in the entire poll, Peter Duluth triumphs over his seeding, edging out Jake Justus, going one better than his wife, and meaning Craig Rice doesn’t make it past the first round.

Tuppence Beresford joins her husband Tommy in the second round with a surprisingly close result over Inspector Robert Macdonald — reprints not helping his cause — and the scientific rigour and care of Dr. John Thorndyke displaces the prestidigitation of the Great Merlini…as, frankly, it should…!

God and science to head-to-head, with the intuitionist leanings of Father Brown all but wiping D.A. Doug Selby off the ballot paper — and with the joint-most votes in this half of the poll, to boot — and Dr. Basil Willing sending Ludovic Travers packing. So now you must pick a side…

Another Erle Stanley Gardner character crashes out, with Donald Lam this time losing a fight to an old lady — hardly a surprise, that — and, on the other side, no-one is surprised that the Old Man, Sir Henry Merrivale, sends Superintendent Humphrey Masters back to Scotland Yard, Bradley vs. Merrivale is very much the crossover novel I didnt know I needed until this moment…

Despite being open for the same amount of time, the bottom half secured a mere 2,369 votes — a 32% decrease on the top half and hopefully not a sign of flagging interest as there are still more than a few rounds to come. Lawks, can you imagine if no-one’s interested come the final?

Hopefully you got your votes in while reading this, but — just in case — don’t forget to vote and spread the word. Polls remain open until 12:01 am UK time on Saturday 22nd October 2022, and the third round will be here for your contemplation and voting pleasure on 5th November…so expect fireworks!

32 thoughts on “#976: The World’s Favourite Golden Age Sleuth – Round 2

  1. Done!
    Thank you for the fascinating commentary, which must have been time-consuming to do but which was entertaining and informative.
    The only really difficult decision was Merrivale vs Bradley. I dithered…

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    • I thought Merrivale would have a relatively easy run these first few rounds, but Dame Beatrice may yet unseat him…and I would consider that a huge upset!

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      • This was the one tough call for me as well. I chose Dame Beatrice because I do love her nearly as much as the old man and figured that she would likely lose and needed all the help she could get. Of course, if enough others reason that way too we could see a shock result…

        Ultimately, what makes this hard is that Dame Beatrice seems badly underseeded.

        I know you hate Mitchell, JJ (one of the several places where I wildly diverge from your opinions, though we generally agree far more often than not) but I would’ve thought Dame Beatrice would make much more sense as a top 10 or maybe top 20 seed at the worst, just given her reputation and overall popularity.

        Now, that being said, given that this is the one thing that finally triggered me to actually post here after lurking and reading everything here for years, I guess I have to say, overall that this was well done!

        Nothing like an intriguing vote to bring out some of us lurkers and create some excitement 🙂

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        • Remember, seedings were based on the number of votes a character received, and Dame Beatrice was requested a mere three times…perhaps indicative of her general perception among GAD fans (I find one either loves her or hates her — there’s very little middle ground).

          Incidentally, I don’t hate Mitchell’s writing, I just don’t get it — Speedy Death was great, and none of the other six or so I read lived up to it…with Saltmarsh suffering from the most irritating narrator ever put on the page 🙂 A bit like Michael Innes, I just don’t see what’s there for people to get passionate about.

          And, hey, welcome to the fold — all lurkers, ex-lurkers, and future lurkers will be received with open arms!

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          • Good point about the seedings. I had not remembered that when I wrote my initial comment. So I stand corrected there. I do still think that for whatever reason the method ended up underseeding Dame Beatrice badly.

            Just speaking for myself, my feeling was that it would be a travesty for here to go out in the second round, so I had to vote for her over H.M. even if that’s not my ‘true’ opinion. Even a round later, I’d have felt she’d at least done well enough that I’d have been willing to shed a tear to see her go, but cast my vote for the Old Man.

            Here though, I feel like it’s preferable for H.M to go out in a fluke result, than for Dame Beatrice to go out too early in what those who don’t love her as much as I do would likely see as a justifiable result. Maybe that’s over thinking things, but hey, that’s what I do!

            I do agree with you on Dame Beatrice, that she’s generally either loved or hated among GAD aficionados, no middle ground. I think the same is generally true of Mitchell as well.

            It’s funny that you mention Innes as well, as he’s probably the other major author where we have polar opposite viewpoints. Both he and Mitchell are easily in my GAD top 10 and maybe even top 5 depending on the day.

            There’s just something about their combination of fantasy somewhat tethered in reality (as opposed to fantasy mysteries completely set in different worlds, like Jack McDevitt or Edward D. Hoch’s’s futuristic books or even your book for that matter, not that any of those are GAD), copious literary references, oddball sense of humor, bizarrely opaque and convoluted plots, weird character after weird character, and a sense that the ultimate solution could go anywhere that really speaks to me and keeps me turning the pages of even their ‘lesser’ output, and even if re-reading them.

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            • There’s just something about their combination of fantasy somewhat tethered in reality…copious literary references, oddball sense of humor, bizarrely opaque and convoluted plots, weird character after weird character, and a sense that the ultimate solution could go anywhere that really speaks to me

              When you put it like that, it seriously makes me wonder why I’m not more of an Innes or Mitchell fan…!

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            • Given your overall taste, I suspect you may eventually get there, some years down the road when you’re at a different point in life, assuming you can ever bring yourself to give them another chance. I’ve found that time and circumstances can sometimes make all the difference in how I see certain writers.

              The thing about Innes and Mitchell is that what they do is a lot more complex and idiosyncratic than some other GAD writers and there’s a lot less margin for error as a result. Both on their end when writing the book, and on the readers end when reading it. So when they ‘miss’, it tends to feel like they missed very badly. Whether they’re missing on their end (how they wrote or constructed the plot), or on your end (if you’re not in the right mood to be simpatico with a specific book of theirs at the time you read it, for whatever reason).

              As much as I love them, I have no particular desire to read certain of their stories again. The Daffodil Affair by Innes for example. That leaves me completely understanding where you and the other folks who are not Innes fans are coming from.

              For Mitchell, I think she’s actually done a real disservice by some of her books that are generally considered her ‘best. The Devil At Saxon Wall, St Peter’s Finger and Death And The Maiden are all among her less engaging titles for me, (at least of her early and mid period books) for various reasons, whereas most reviews and lists I see consider them among her strongest.

              The Saltmarsh Murders, I do agree the narrator is an irritating twit, but somehow that doesn’t bother me so much. After all, if being narrated by an irritating, obtuse twit was a reason for not liking a book, then we’d have to throw out all the Poirots with Hastings narrating them. No one was more irritating than Hastings!

              That’s just personal taste though, and discerning readers can surely vary as to how much they can tolerate from an idiot narrator before it’s too much.

              I find myself in much the same boat with Paul Halter to be honest. I absolutely should love him as much as you do. He has literally everything I truly love in the best GAD writers, that wonderful touch of fantasy and creativity, and yet overall he has left me lukewarm time and time again, reading him both in English and in French. (Though as an aside, I find I much prefer him in French. As great as John Pugmire is for bringing us translations of so many great books in English, I do not feel his translations always do Halter justice. Of course I’m not truly fluent in French, so I may misjudge him. I live in France and my wife is French, but I’m only adequate in French, not adept).

              I like a lot of Halter’s books, but I hate a few too and I don’t really love any of them. But every time I read a review of one of his books, it seriously makes me wonder why I’m not more of a Halter fan…!

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            • Yes, a part of me does suspect that I’ll become a fan of authors I currently cannot stand in my later years — I’m going to run out of books by many of the authors I love, or at least those from the sharper end of their careers, so I could really do with my tastes changing so that the likes of Mitchell, Innes, Nicholas Blake, etc. do appeal. Imagine running out of stuff to read!

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  2. Really enjoyed your commentary JJ, lot of chucking here in West London (can’t imagine what the neighbours made of it). I can’t really wrap my head around the seeding methodology but that’s what you get for being a lawyer and not a mathematician! Well done mate, superb!

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    • Seedings were based on the number of votes, then — if those were equal — the number of novels the character appeared in 1920-45, then — if those were equal — names drawn from a hat, with higher seedings given to the first drawn name. It was…involved!

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    • No, I thought Bencolin was more of personality and therefore likely a shoo-in to beat the somewhat bland Grant…but I think there’s a tendency to combine “favourite detective” and “favourite novel” and so, Bencolin’s cases being somewhat uneven, he lost out to Richard III.

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    • Wow, Bencolin a favourite…don’t think anyone’s ever said that before in the company of Fell, Merrivale, John Gaunt, etc:) And I really need to read some Arthur Crook; shall put him on the list for 2023.

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    • I’m just now discovering Anthony Gilbert and slowly growing quite fond of Crook. He’s a bit of an acquired taste, but I grow more and more fond of him with each new book of Gilbert’s I read.

      So it’s sad to see him out so early. The matchup between him and Vance was one of the tougher ones of the first round. Vance is irritating, but also strangely endearing as well.

      I was really surprised by the Grant/Bencolin results, for the same reasons JJ mentions above.

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    • Fairly incredible that Bathurst made it on here in the first place, though, eh? What a wonderful world of reprints we live in when someone who was utterly forgotten a couple of years ago can stand toe-to-toe with someone as established as Hildegard Withers.

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    • I expect the upper classes to have an easy ride once again and Wimsey to absolutely trounce poor Roddy, though. I’ve been wrong before, but I’m pretty certain on this front.

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  3. Boo! Shame on you all (if you voted for Hildegarde, that is)

    Personally, I expect that last round to be pretty decisive rather than a close run thing. Looking forward to seeing how that plays out…

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    • It was me, Doc. It was me all along! I voted for Hildegarde the last time and voted for her again this time around! One of my handpicked favorites will eventually claw to the top of one of these polls.

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