View Full Version : Favorite detectives

May 16th, 2007, 01:36 PM
Another “ten favorite” poll: Who are your ten favorite fictional detectives (as opposed to ten favorite authors or books)? Here are mine:

1. Miss Marple
2. Father Brown
3. Gervase Fen
4. Sir Henry Merrivale
5. Dr. Fell
6. Francis Pettigrew
7. Sherlock Holmes
8. Ambrose Chitterwick
9. Nigel Strangeways
10. Philip Trent

Runners-up: Mrs. Bradley, Roger Sheringham, Sgt. Beef, and Lord Peter Wimsey (whom I fluctuate between finding entertaining and exasperating).

I’m rating them on how much I like them as fictional characters—some of the ones listed above are people I probably wouldn’t want to meet in real life (especially after disposing of my latest body). If I were rating the ten best, Sherlock Holmes would get top billing.

Like so much else, it’s a matter of taste; I know some people are irritated by Sir Henry Merrivale, for example, and I can understand that—I like him in the earlier novels, but not so much in the later novels, when the plots are weak and H.M.’s slapstick adventures become the focus.

A good detective doesn’t ensure a good book, and vice versa. I think Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels are generally better than her Miss Marple series, but I greatly prefer Miss Marple as a character. I like the idea of having a little old lady who’s skeptical (“But do you believe what people tell you? I never do”)—it’s unexpected but logical; same with Father Brown, who’s mild-mannered and assumed to live a sheltered life, but as he points out, “a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil.” I don’t like the character of Ellery Queen, so I haven’t read many of the Queen books, though from the few I have read I think Ellery Queen the author is ingenious at plotting.

May 18th, 2007, 03:35 AM
I have two categories, old and new. I left out Holmes since he goes without saying. The newer ones are still active.

1. Miss Marple, Christie
2. Charlie Chan, Biggers
3. Maud Silver, Wentworth
4. Peter Shandy, MacLeod
5. Inspector West, Creasy
6. John Appleby, Innes
7. Inspector Ghote, HRF Keating
8. Alan Grant, Tey
9. Mark Treasure, Williams
10. Inspector Walter Purbright, Watson

1. Melrose Plant, Grimes
2. Jack Frost, Wingfield
3. Sid Halley, Francis
4. Evan Evans, Rhys Bowen
5. Mary Russel, King
6. Bernie Rhodenberr, Block
7. Cliff Janeway, Dunning
8. Tom Barnaby, Graham
9. Simon Kirby-Jones, James
10.Elizabeth MacPherson, McCrumb

June 5th, 2007, 06:49 AM
My absolute favorite is Philip Marlowe. (just as long as it's not Humphrey Bogart) I don't want to go into complete ten, because I don't know that there are ten that I like enough and it's hard to compare 8 to 9.

Barry Ergang
June 7th, 2007, 09:58 PM
My absolute favorite is Philip Marlowe. (just as long as it's not Humphrey Bogart)

Amen! Marlowe has the greatest mouth in literature--he'll talk back to anyone, regardless of his/her sociopolitical status.

But with regard to Bogart, I have to vehemently disagree. Bogey was the epitome of cool and one of the all-time-greatest Marlowes. I mean, c'mon! Robert Montgomery? George Montgomery? Elliott Gould? A pox on them!

And for the record: the author of a book on TV/movie detectives cited Paul Newman in "Harper" as "the best Marlowe who never was." I'd agree with that.

June 8th, 2007, 05:45 AM
When I wrote that I was thinking more of the fact that Bogart's Marlowe is not so much a detective as a classic film noir hero in shady circumstances...that's how a lot of people think of Marlowe and I was supporting the original Chandler Marlowe who I feel is more of a great detective, character- and intelligence-wise.

June 8th, 2007, 12:03 PM
Probably the best 'Marlowe-we-never-had' was Robert Mitchum. I know that he did appear as the character, but by then he was too old. If he had only done the part just after the war, he would have been perfect.
I must be honest, and admit that I have mixed feelings about Chandler's stuff. I first read some in college and quite enjoyed them. About three years ago I decided to re-read them and found that I had completely changed my opinion. To my bleary adult eyes, Marlowe had come to resemble a stroppy teenager in a man's body.The wisecracks are still great, but the rest....EEEKK!
I imagine that I will now be ceremonially clubbed to death by the hardboiled fans of the world, but I thought that I'd better tell the truth.
Do any of you want to suggest a book to win me over to Chandler?

June 8th, 2007, 06:13 PM
I have always hated the caricature of itself that noir becomes in most interpretations. What separates Chandler and Marlowe from the majority of the genre to me are things that people don't normally associate with them:
high sense of morality, strong writing ability, sensitivity towards those who deserve it, imperfection (While Marlowe usually makes smart decisions, he is not a perfect specimen of masculinity and often is outsmarted, outfought, mistaking and knows it too) and strangely enough, respect for the law.

I have read the first four Marlowe novels Chandler wrote in order. I think that's the right way to go as far as getting into the character even though the second and third are probably the best and fourth is better than the first. But I don't know what you will think since stroppy and immature is precisely what Marlowe isn't to me. He seems to want peace from most of the characters he encounters, does not try to create extra confrontations (though he certainly stands up for himself in a wonderful manner) and shows sympathy and kindness towards precisely the characters I feel it towards myself. (in that sense, Chandler is the anti-Stout to me, since Wolfe's attitude towards everybody he encounters seems to be hostile, mean, based on a random spin of roulette wheel and desire to impress/shock the reader)

I am by no means a hardboiled fan. Unlike classic mystery puzzle, which I can enjoy even when it's second-rate, just for the sake of getting the mystery revealed, noir is only worth bothering with when it's plotted and written well, otherwise it becomes very dull.

June 9th, 2007, 01:15 PM
I suspect that I might have gone into those books in the wrong mood. I had just read Chandler's article on detective fiction, where he was famously snotty about classic mystery fiction. This probably coloured my reading of the books. This sort of thing has happened before.Sometimes I have decided that I hate a particular author, come across their work years later, and have completely changed my opinion. I have some Chandler short stories in my book collections, so I will start on those.

By the way, it is precisely because Wolfe is such a hostile, mean, miserable old bugger that I love him so much!

June 9th, 2007, 02:57 PM
As I recall he was critical of second-grade mystery fiction (classical or otherwise). And I agree with pretty much everything he had to say--Chandler's mouth is in no way inferior to Marlowe's.

I will never understand why Wolfe for example decides to let the killer commit the last crime in Fer-De-Lance or what his final speech to Paul Chapin in A League of Frightened Men even means. Which is why I doubt I will pick up Stout again. But to each his own :)

June 10th, 2007, 01:03 AM
There's an interesting message about THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER by Xavier Lechard. I think that it's in General. It dates from a few years ago.

Have you ever read a book called GREAT DETECTIVES by Julian Symons? It is large format, with a number of illustrations by, I think, Tom Adams. One of the detectives is, of course, Philip Marlowe. The piece about him takes the form of an invented interview between Symons and Marlowe. It ends with Marlowe telling a short story about how he first met Raymond Chandler. The text is fun, but the illustrations (including some of an older Marlowe, looking uncannily like Robert Mitchum) are worth the price of the book on their own.

Barry Ergang
June 10th, 2007, 06:01 AM
Do any of you want to suggest a book to win me over to Chandler?

See http://jdcarr.com/forum/showthread.php?p=1113#post1113

June 13th, 2007, 07:36 AM
1. Nero Wolfe. Still the most interesting great detective of them all in my opinion. Despite the fact that not all the mysterys were great themselves.
2. Miss Marple. The old spinster detective had great insights.
3. Gideon Fell. Also quite interesting.
4. Charlie Chan
5. Phillip Marlowe
6. Hercule Poirot
7. Albert Campion
8. Peter Wimsey
9. Maigret
10. Perry Mason.

Modern detectives:
1. Harry Bosch
2. Kinsey Milhone
3. Kay Scarpetta
4. VI Washawski
5. Spenser.

June 14th, 2007, 12:40 PM
1. Sherlock Holmes
2. Gideon Fell
3. Sir Henry Merrivale
4. Nero Wolfe
5. Gervase Fen
6. Father Brown
7. Peter Wimsey
8. Ellery Queen
9. Sergeant Cribb
10. Sam: Johnson

With some honourable mentions for people like Peter Diamond, Lovejoy, Bulman etc.

July 4th, 2007, 08:54 AM
I just came across something I didn't know--Edmund Crispin (the great Carr fan) also admired Raymond Chandler. (This is stated in a New York Times article dated May 14, 1976.) Maybe I'll have to read Chandler after all...

July 4th, 2007, 11:49 AM
Another odd connection between the two. Chandler did some work on Hitchcock's film version of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. After he left, Hitchcock had another crack at a script and decided on a new ending to the story. He bought the rights to Crispin's THE MOVING TOYSHOP so that he could use the merry-go-round ending!

September 23rd, 2010, 09:42 AM
My favorite detectives (in no particular order):

Jeff & Haila Troy, the best wisecracking mystery-solving husband-and-wife team in the genre.

Favorite case: The Frightened Stiff.

Sir Henri Merrivale, whom we affectionately call "The Old Man," is the funniest and most politically incorrect of all detectives – what's not to like?

Favorite case: The Plague Court Murders.

Mrs. Bradley, the shrieking, cackling and rib-probing pterodactyl-like anti Miss Marple, who anticipated Dexter by almost 80-years!

Favorite case: Come Away, Death.

Gervase Fen, the delightful, slightly eccentric, Oxford Don of Crime.

Favorite case: The Case of the Gilded Fly.

Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin, the unbeatable combination of the European-style armchair detective and the American gumshoe.

Favorite case: Some Buried Caesar.

Inspector Ganesh Ghote, the most human of all fictional detectives – the ultimate underdog, full of self-doubt, but always manages to come out on top in the end.

Favorite case: Inspector Ghote Goes by Train, but The Body in the Billiard Room is probably a better recommendation for this forum.

Lt. Columbo, "You pass yourself off as a puppy in a raincoat happily running around the yard digging holes all up in the garden, only you're laying a mine field and wagging your tail." – Eric Mason about Columbo (from the episode How to Dial a Murder).

Favorite case: Try and Catch Me.

Hildegarde Withers, that endearing weather-beaten old battle-axe and the kind of person you would love to have as a teacher in school.

Favorite case: a toss-up between The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree and Nipped in the Bud. Oh, and there's the collection of crossover stories with Craig Rice's series character... I've only read half of Palmer's work, and its ready becoming impossible to pick a favorite.

And last, but not least...

Sherlock Holmes, the greatest fictional detective of them all!

Favorite case: The Hound of the Baskervilles.

September 23rd, 2010, 06:17 PM
Funny, was just thinking about it this morning.
I can name only 3 that I like, and very many I can't stand.
1. Marlowe
2. Sherlock Holmes
3. Tommy and Tuppence

I would be hard pressed to name another, though I have a feeling Chitterwick will climb in there.

September 24th, 2010, 10:22 AM
And last, but not least...

Sherlock Holmes, the greatest fictional detective of them all!

Favorite case: The Hound of the Baskervilles.I beg your pardon?
Maybe you meant: "The greatest real-life detective of them all", didn't you?:D

September 29th, 2010, 01:03 PM
Shouldn't you be in jail for the murder of Ronald Adlair?

September 29th, 2010, 01:30 PM
Shouldn't you be in jail for the murder of Ronald Adair?I'm afraid you're mistaking me for my esteemed great-grandfather, who spent several years in jail for en entirely groundless murder charge. Damn that Holmes! :mad:

Seriously speaking, I would like to make a distinction:
- detectives I like in the books;
- detectives I could like if I met them in real life.

I absolutely love Sherlock Holmes in the stories of the Canon, but I would probably find him insufferable if I was to share rooms with him. I'm not as long-suffering as Watson or Mrs. Hudson. Bencolin is acceptable and even enjoyable in the books (though I prefer Dr. Fell and H.M.) but should I meet him in real life I could probably be tempted to punch the arrogant bastard straight on the nose. And so on.

September 29th, 2010, 02:01 PM
People you like as characters vs people you would like to live with kind of thing, right?
But then, I am afraid I don't get your joke in #18

September 30th, 2010, 01:23 AM
People you like as characters vs people you would like to live with kind of thing, right?
But then, I am afraid I don't get your joke in #18Er, it was about the fact that I'm also a fundamentalist Sherlockian, and for us the Game is to treat Holmes as a real, historic, person and it's customary to scorn people who make the mistake of calling him "fictional character". :D
Then in my second post ("seriously speaking") I stepped out of the Great Game, as we call it, and went back to talk about Holmes and the other detectives of literature. ;)

October 25th, 2010, 06:05 PM
1. Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin
2. Sherlock Holmes
3. Columbo
4. Miss Marple
5. Gideon Fell
6. Kinsey Milhone
7. Phillip Marlowe
8. Harry Bosch
9. Gervase Fen
10. Bertha Cool and Donald Lam
11. Maigret
12. Perry Mason
13. Kay Scarpetta
14. Hercule Poirot
15. Charlie Chan