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I have always had a soft spot for fictional detectives, particularly the ones with unusual abilities or exceptionally witty banter. I started my detective love affair pretty young with Sherlock Holmes, who can reasonably be thought of as not only the first detective, but also the most odd and brilliant. I read every Sherlock Holmes story that Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote, and there are more of them than people know. I loved Sherlock; I loved his quirkiness and brilliance and violin playing. I found him utterly compelling.
After Sherlock Holmes I discovered Agatha Christie and her little dandy of a Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, who was also brilliant and quirky, but in an entirely different way than Holmes. While Holmes based his detecting style on deductive reasoning, Poirot was a careful observer of human psychology, behavior, and body language. Both of them were odd and generally infallible.
When I got to be somewhat older and reading detective stories with a more mature theme, I discovered Dashiell Hammet and his detectives, Sam Spade and Nick Charles. His stories are considered some of the best of the 'hard-boiled' detective novels. Sam Spade was cynical, jaded, sarcastic, and not particularly fond of human nature, which he suspected of being generally vile. When a beautiful woman confesses to him that she has not led a good life and has behaved worse than he could know he responds, “You know, that's good. If you were as innocent as you pretend to be we'd never get anywhere.”
Nick Charles, his rich, urbane, witty, New York detective is less hard-boiled but just as jaded. He somehow managed to solve very complex cases while simultaneously searching for the perfect martini along with his beautiful, rich wife and pet terrier.
After reading everything Dashiell Hammet ever wrote I moved on to Raymond Chandler and his detective, Philip Marlowe. Marlowe was even more hard-boiled than Sam Spade and always had a snarky rejoinder for any occasion. In one story he was asked his opinion regarding a particularly aggressive young lady and he responded, “I don't really know her, but when I met her she tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.” That kind of said it all.
After Philip Marlowe came Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Whimsey, who was the epitome of the elegant, brilliant, intellectual British detective. I adored Lord Peter and his snazzy 1920's and 1930's cars, faithful manservant, Bunter, and blithe manner in dealing with everything from tea time to ghastly murders. Nothing ever seriously rattled Lord Peter and he had a way with words that was charming.
In the British detective venue I also grew ridiculously fond of the brilliant and cerebral Inspector Morse and the handsome and brooding Richard Drury and his silly aristocratic friend, Melrose Plant, who appear in books by Martha Grimes.
There are numerous other literary detectives I have liked; Lew Archer, Dirk Pitt, and one of my all time favorites, Robert Parker's wonderful Spenser. I was heartbroken when I read that he died recently.
There are TV and movie detectives I have enjoyed, like Columbo, who was marvelous despite making me cringe in every episode, the detectives in the original Law and Order, Peter Gunn, Kojak, and my all time favorite, Jim Rockford, played by James Garner. There have been so many TV detectives over the years that it is hard to remember them all. I expect that everyone has their favorites that they recall with a kind of nostalgic fondness.
I still read detective novels when I want to be entertained by fiction. I have read all of the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich; they are a hoot. I also read the supernatural adventures of the wizard detective, Harry Dresden, by Jim Butcher, who is a wonderful writer. I suppose that I will always find a detective to love in stories and novels as the years go by. There will always be a new and interesting detective that pops up because it is such a successful and entertaining character to write. Not that I will ever forget my first love, Sherlock Holmes, no matter how much I want to forget the most recent movie about him, which was, to a Sherlock Holmes purist, hideous blasphemy.
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