Crime fiction has a long and illustrious history, encompassing some of our best loved and most celebrated authors. There has not been a genre adapted more frequently for both the large and small screen, take Arthur Conan Doyle’s work which currently has both a cinematic and tele-visual franchise ongoing. This is all due, I would suggest, to those great detectives, who we love to see, presented with an intriguing and intricate puzzle, battling against malevolent forces, and winning through in fine style. So who’s the greatest of them all?
Appearances: Raymond Chandler penned 7 full length novels starring his archetypal Private Eye, beginning with his most famous, The Big Sleep (1939), as well as a fistful of short stories. Several other authors have taken Marlowe and written him into their own works.
Characteristics: On occasion, Marlowe appears, the very embodiment of the macho P.I., hard drinking and wisecracking. However, beneath the surface Chandler’s hero is a morally straight, contemplative man not given to unnecessary violence.
Notable Adaptations: For the silver screen, Marlowe has been adapted ten times and portrayed by a wide range of actors, from Humphrey Bogart to James Garner, Elliot Gould to Robert Mitchum.
Appearances: Inspector Endeavour Morse, created by Colin Dexter, has 13 books to his credit, starting with Last Bus to Woodstock (1979) and ending with Morse’s death in The Remorseful Day (1999). In addition several short stories appear in Dexter’s collection, Morse’s Greatest Mysteries and Other Stories.
Characteristics: Much like a number of his great forebears, Morse is blessed with remarkable intelligence. However it is often his intuition that breaks cases. Morse is portrayed as frequently sullen with a stubborn and rebellious streak, leading to tension between himself and superiors.
Notable Adaptations: Every Morse novel has been adapted for ITV television with the involvement of the detective’s creator, Dexter. In every episode Morse is played by the great John Thaw. As well as the 13 original books an additional 20 stories were written and produced just for television.
My Wild Card Entry – Dirk Gently
Appearances: Douglas Adams, he of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, wrote just two novels starring the eccentric detective, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987) and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988).
Characteristics: Gently, real name Svlad Cjelli, is a holistic detective, who makes use of the ‘fundamental interconnectedness of all things’. This leads Gently to follow every lead believing everything, everywhere is connected and will assist him in solving the ‘whole’ case.
Notable Adaptations: Gently has been adapted for television on two occasions, most recently for BBC 4 where the title role was taken by Stephen Mangan.
And the award goes to . . . for sheer staying power, Mr Sherlock Holmes.
If the mood takes you, you could take a glance at my own detective creation, DCI Amos, in the ongoing serial, Indiscretion.
1.1 The Missing Gardener is currently #8 in crime short stories on Amazon Uk.
1.3 The Dutch Master is free for the next three days.