Top Ten Day: My favorite fictional detectives
1. Jupiter Jones of the Three Investigators. In that same post, I mentioned I like the Three Investigators more than the Hardy Boys. I don't know why - maybe it's because they felt more contemporary than the Hardys (even though I did enjoy the Hardy Boys, don't get me wrong; but the first Three Investigators book came out in 1964, while the first Hardy Boys came out in 1927) and their adventures felt a bit more dangerous. The Hardys seemed to deal with mysteries that were often about smugglers and bank robbers, while the Three Investigators dealt with some real sadists. Jupiter was the brains of the outfit, while Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw were often along for the ride and to provide some muscle, such as it was. I liked Jupiter because he was portly, unathletic, and kind of surly - he was likable, but not a typical hero. The mysteries were complex but not too difficult, and the setting - modern Los Angeles - made this series feel like "adult" books while still being appropriate for kids. I still have some of the books at my parents' house, and I should try to get a complete set. They're fun books to read.
2. Sherlock Holmes. I was not into Holmes for many years, even though I had read many of the stories. Then I got the annotated version that came out a few years ago, and I devoured it. Man, I loved reading those stories. When you get a lot of the context to them, they become far more interesting. Conan Doyle wasn't the greatest writer of mysteries, as the annotations show, and Holmes often gets stuff wrong, but the personality Conan Doyle gave him is so neat that we can't help but be fascinated by him. He's a jerk, but a riveting jerk. And the stories, even the ones that don't make much sense, are interesting and often very exciting. I've never been a fan of Holmes pastiches, but I can see why people write them. He's neat.
3. Thomas Magnum. I've mentioned my love of Magnum, P. I. before, and it stems from my mom's love of Tom Selleck back in the day. She used to watch it every week, and I, being a young lad who couldn't go out wilding, would watch with her. These days you can catch reruns of WGN or Sleuth, and I tune in when I can. The great thing about Magnum was that he never seemed like that good an investigator, but when he needed to be, he was. His cases were quirky and strange, he very often took cases for which he knew there would be no payment, yet he didn't care, because he somehow got a job that allowed him to live in a mansion and drive a Ferrari. That always bugged me - did Robin actually pay him, or was the house and the car payment? Robin's rich, so it seems like he would get a good salary on top of the living arrangements, yet Magnum was always poor. Anyway, what made the show work were the relationships between the four leads, but also the unusual ways Magnum would get involved in the episode's plot. It wasn't just someone coming to him with a problem. Also, the show had some great guest stars - Ian McShane, June Lockhart, Ted Danson, Erin Gray, Morgan Fairchild, Ernest Borgnine, Shannen Doherty, Carol Burnett, Sharon Stone (in a stunning dual role!), Cesar Romero, Norman Fell, and Frank Sinatra, just to name a few. Plus, they actually did a crossover with Simon & Simon, which was nifty.
4. Hercule Poirot. I have been an Agatha Christie fan for years, but really only of Hercule Poirot novels (the lone exception is And Then There Were None) - I just can't get into Miss Marple books. My favorite Poirot book is Murder on the Orient Express (I like the movie, too), but I don't think I've ever not enjoyed one. I always loved his characterization - he's a fussy little man, probably gay, who is so off-putting to the suspects in the murders, who always underestimate him. He's also, if possible, ruder to Arthur Hastings than Holmes was to Watson, even though there's also affection between both sets of men. Like Holmes, he can be rather annoying, but in a different way than Holmes. His final case, Curtain, is a brilliant book, fascinating and chilling all at once. And Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov played him excellently in the movies, too.
5. Jennifer Mays and Gabriel Webb of the Maze Agency. The Maze Agency was a comic book published in the late 1980s and early 1990s which was recently revived briefly. Mike W. Barr, a wildly underrated comic writer, created the series, which came out after Moonlighting and therefore might seem like a rip-off: the rich woman owns the agency and the charming rogue shows up and helps out on cases. Mays, however, is an ex-CIA agent, while Webb is a true-crime writer. The reason I like these two is that they are a couple from the beginning of the comic, and Barr does a nice job with the interplay between them, whether it's pillow talk or when they're solving crimes. The crimes are serious, but Barr manages to keep the tone a bit light. This never became a big hit, but they are very good comics.
6. Dirk Gently. Douglas Adams is, naturally, better known for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and its spawn of sequels, but the two books he wrote starring Dirk Gently are better, and I wish he had managed to write a few more before his death. Dirk is a "holistic" detective, meaning he examines every aspect of the case and/or the people involved to reach a conclusion, which means he often goes "fact-finding" in the Bahamas on his clients' pound, because you never know what crucial piece of information will turn up on the beach! The two books starring Dirk, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, involve ghosts, time travel, aliens, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thor and the Norse gods, an I Ching calculator, and the selling of souls. Both are wildly convoluted yet amazingly fun to decipher, and I, at least, still haven't figured everything out, even though I've read them multiple times. I would recommend them over the Hitchhiker books (even though I really dig those, two), and I'm recommending them now!
7. Remington Steele. I haven't seen a lot of this television show, but it's another one my mother always liked, and I dig the concept. Stephanie Zimbalist isn't getting clients because no one takes a female detective seriously, so she invents one - Remington Steele - and claims he's her boss. So, of course, Pierce Brosnan shows up and convinces everyone he's Remington Steele. Whenever I watched the show, I liked it, because it has nice sexual tension between the two leads and some deeper-than-you-might-think sexual politics, too. Doris Roberts as the secretary is quite funny, far moreso than her annoying mother role on Everybody Loves Raymond. I should get this series on DVD. It would be fun to watch more episodes, as I missed quite many of them.
8. Jessica Jones. Jessica is the star of Alias, Brian Michael Bendis's pulpy Marvel comic that ran from 2001 to 2004. Despite the fact that Bendis loves the character and has inserted her into every significant event in Marvel history (it seems), her appearance in Alias is wonderful. She's an ex-superhero, so she has powers that she hardly ever uses, and she's very smart at solving cases and bad at everything else in her life. She smokes, drinks too much, has too many one-night stands, curses way too much, and makes a mess of things whenever she tries to get close to anyone. But her cases, which often intersect with famous Marvel icons, are fascinating. Read more about the series here.
9. Sam Spade. It may be hard to believe, but I've only seen or read one Sam Spade adventure - The Maltese Falcon. And I haven't even read that, relying instead on the movie version! Yes, I suck. But come on - it's Bogart! I love everything about him - he's kind of a jerk, tough with the bad guys and ladies, ready to hop into bed with the dame, but never falling for her and therefore able to keep his wits about him. He's only slightly less morally bankrupt than everyone else, which is why he wins out in the end - remember, this was 1941, so a villain couldn't win! This is a wonderful movie to watch again and again, and it makes me think I probably ought to watch more Spade movies ... and more Bogart movies.
10. Daryl Zero. I've only seen The Zero Effect once, which is a great defect in my character, I know. This 1998 movie is absolutely brilliant, with Bill Pullman starring as the world's most brilliant and reclusive detective and Ben Stiller (when he was still a decent actor) as his Dr. Watson. Pullman is completely socially inept, so when he falls in love, it's funny but a bit like watching a train wreck. Plus, the mystery is interesting. And it was filmed largely in Portland, which is an added bonus. It's a shame this movie didn't get more love when it came out, because it really is excellent. And Gordon loves it! Who doesn't trust Gordon?
So that's my list. Do you have any favorite fictional detectives?