From the page to the screen, there is nothing I love more than a good murder mystery. After years of unsuccessfully trying to guess my way to ‘whodunit’, I am now content to sit back and enjoy every surprising twist and turn that the writers throw my way, only finding out who and how when the characters themselves do. Below are my five favorite sleuths – have I missed yours?
- Hercule Poirot – From his very first case in Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles to his last appearance in Curtain, this Belgian detective is unforgettable. There were his looks for one thing – a head shaped like an egg, a preposterous moustache that curled up on either side of his nose to pointed ends (and of which he is excessively proud) and a fastidiousness that resulted in impeccably clean clothes and shoes at all times. And then there was his method of solving crimes. Poirot was never one to give hot pursuit to clues or criminals, a practice he disdained. Rather, he sat back, preferring to work with his ’little grey cells’ and use his insights into human nature and the psychology of crime to lead him to the always satisfying conclusion.
- Albert Campion – This is the newest one of the bunch to me, but Margery Allingham created a fantastic character set in the 1930s. The younger brother of an unnamed and titled family, Campion has declared himself a universal uncle and adventurer. He is (almost) always on the right side of the law, and he is so charming and playful and brilliant that I cannot resist checking out the books from the library two at a time. He finds himself in awful scrapes and very nearly becomes the victim in each scenario, but he has been invincible so far. On the opposite side of the spectrum from Poirot, Campion is always up to his ears in dodgy characters and clues. He’s fabulous!
- Nick Charles – Based on Dashiell Hammett’s book The Thin Man, Nick Charles went on to have a long and successful career in a series of films made at MGM. Played to perfection by William Powell (opposite the wonderful Myrna Loy as Nora), Nick is a smooth-talking, sarcastic detective who drinks far too much and has unbelievable luck when it comes to catching the crooks. His favored method is to round up the suspects and get them to start talking. One of them always makes a slip and Nick always gets his man. The early films were better than the later films, but it’s the playful relationship between Nick and Nora that keeps me coming back for more.
- Masie Dobbs – Brought to life by Jacqueline Winspear’s pen, Masie Dobbs is a young woman caught up in the turmoil of London between the two world wars. Left with physical and mental wounds from WWI that mirror those of society at large, Masie is a psychological investigator – a role different than a traditional sleuth. She sifts through the lives of those affected by murder or tragedy with understanding and compassion. And while she pursues justice, she also pursues peace and forgiveness. I appreciate the complexity Winspear has given Massie, especially her rocky romantic life that is recognizable and accessible to young women everywhere.
- Miss Marple – It took some time for me to fall in love with Agatha Christie’s busybody of St. Mary Mead. But Margaret Rutherford’s screen portrayal, all friendly curiosity and ingenuity, has secured Miss Marple a place in my heart. She will stop at nothing to get the information she desires, wheedling and meddling with everyone and everything, and I find her irresistible. She, like Poirot, is a student of human nature, and by comparing the people she comes across in the wider world to the people she knows at home in her small village, she’s able to do what the police never can.