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Sherlock Holmes, a creation by Arthur Conan Doyle, remains the archetypal detective who solves mysteries by logical reasoning. He appears in only four novels, of which “A Study in Scarlet” (1887) was the first, and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1902) the most famous. At least as important are the fifty-six short stories. Holmes believes in the science of deduction: the principle that any problem can be solved if the necessary information is given.
Hercule Poirot appears for the first time in Agatha Christie’s “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”, published in 1920. He is a retired Belgian police officer who came to England during World War I as a refugee. Poirot solves mysteries with his “little grey cells”, occasionally without even leaving his room. With his strong preference for symmetry, order and method, he has something of a comic book character.
Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple appeared first in a series of short stories in a magazine, later collected as “The Thirteen Problems”. This elderly spinster with a remarkable talent for amateur sleuthing can be followed in twelve crime novels, including “The Murder at the Vicarage” (1930) and “The Body in the Library” (1943). She lives in the small village of St Mary Mead, where she finds the opportunity to study human nature. She sees analogies with people and events she knows from village life, which helps her to solve many mysteries.
Lord Peter Wimsey was created by British author Dorothy L. Sayers. He’s the archetypal gentleman detective. Solving crimes is a hobby for him. In the second novel “Clouds of Witness” (1926), he has to take action because his brother is suspected of murder. He’s a round character with a past. After getting injured during World War I he was rescued by his later manservant Bunter, who also helps him with his investigations.
Commissaire Jules Maigret is the only one in this top ten whose stories were not written in English, but in French. Although his author, Georges Simenon, was Belgian, Maigret himself is French and works in Paris. He holds a quantity record by appearing in seventy-five novels and twenty-nine short stories. Maigret usually smokes a pipe, drinks a lot and wears a heavy overcoat. He’s a more realistic character than most of his colleagues in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. His method of investigation comes close to the way a real policeman would work.
Detective Chief-Inspector Roderick Alleyn (pronounced “Allen”) is a British detective who appears in thirty-two novels by New Zealand writer Ngaio Marsh. It started with “A Man Lay Dead” in 1934, when a murder game ends with a real murder. Other examples are “Vintage Murder”, “Artists in Crime”, and “Overture to Death” – where the murder method is especially interesting. As the younger brother of a baronet Alleyn is another example of a gentleman detective. He works for Scotland Yard, where he eventually reaches the rank of Chief Superintendent.
Private detective Sam Spade was invented by Dashiell Hammett. He only appears in one novel and three short stories, but remains important as the first example of a detective in the hard-boiled genre. Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, among others, was inspired by Sam Spade. Spade is the main character in “The Maltese Falcon” (1930). He runs a detective agency in San Francisco with his partner Miles Archer, who gets killed early in the novel.
Philip Marlowe is a private investigator created by American author Raymond Chandler. He appeared for the first time in “The Big Sleep”, in 1939. Other well-known titles are “The Lady in the Lake” and “The Long Goodbye”. Marlowe belongs to the hardboiled direction, influenced by Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. He smokes and drinks a lot. He lives in Hollywood, Los Angeles. The stories are set in the more dangerous neighbourhoods in and around this city. Violence, drugs and tough language occur frequently.
Private detective Kinsey Millhone was created by American author Sue Grafton. She appears in the alphabet series: “A Is for Alibi”, “B Is for Burglar” etc. She lives in an apartment in Santa Teresa, California. This fictional town based on Santa Barbara was invented by another writer, Ross MacDonald. Kinsey is a bachelorette who runs a lot to stay in shape, and has an affair from time to time.
Inspector Linley is a British detective created by the American author Elizabeth George. He’s the eighth Earl of Asherton. He solves crimes with his Scotland Yard colleague Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, who has a working class background. In the third Linley novel, “Well-Schooled in Murder”, Linley and Havers solve a homicide case in an elite British public school, which is remarkably well depicted for a non-British author.