As a treat to mystery readers, and to honor the unlikely (fictional) geniuses who labor endlessly to solve equally unlikely and contrived crimes, here is the second installment of a list of the (sort-of-) eleven most interesting and colorful sleuths of detective fiction.
Please see PART I for the purpose of making this make sense.
6. Dirk Gently (Douglas Adams)
Besides his beloved-by-millions The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Douglas Adams was known for creating Dirk Gently, a chubby, slightly nebbish detective who pursues a ‘holistic’ method of solving the crime. Owing to the ‘interconnectedness of all things’, Gently’s methods can often involve long leisure trips at the client’s expense, flights of fancy, and blind guessing in pursuit of the truth. Gently rarely misses his mark though, as his penchant for random guesswork seems to inevitably solve the crime, owing to his amazing luck and perhaps the intervention of the author. Don’t let his laziness and lack of procedure fool you; Gently is clearly not a detective to be messed with, as he routinely overcomes omnipotent beings, Norse Gods, and monastic robots… and saves the world on more than one occasion.
7. Hugo Rune (Robert Rankin)
Truly bizarre is the only way to describe Hugo Rune. He is described as being a very large, bald-headed man with a large pentagram tattooed on his forehead and dripping with silver occult jewelry. He claims to be immortal, to have reinvented the ocarina, and, despite great wealth, he refuses to spend money and steals everything in his path that has yet to be nailed down. And yet, despite some troubling habits, he is a kind and compassionate man who solves mysteries out of a desire to right injustice, frequently involving himself in mysteries that, on a slow day, can involve aliens, wizards, time-travelers, and any other manner of Fortean oddities. Robert Rankin, the series author, claims his intention is to write novels that are as hard to categorize as possible, and yes, he succeeds.
Two different detectives from two unrelated series, I have lumped them together because they share similar settings and characteristics. Both take place in worlds that, like the world of Lord Darcy, are awash in magic and include all manner of mystical creatures. Unlike Garrett though, these two authors (usually) strive for verisimilitude and as much as these writers are informed by the conventions of fantasy literature, they both aim for a realistic, hard-boiled feel. Harry Dresden and Anita Blake have both undergone major changes as their series have progressed, transitioning from tough, honest urban detectives to dark, conflicted heroes who save the world on regular occasions, possess multiple superpowers, and kill anyone who gets in their way. In the case of Harry Dresden this has led to a certain type of appeal in wondering ‘what if Mike Hammer were a wizard, and even more violent’. Anita Blake has an interesting character arc that takes her books out of the horror-fantasy genre and puts them squarely in the romance genre.
9. Arsene Lupin (Maurice Leblanc)
The French equivalent of Sherlock Holmes, from roughly the same period and something of a Gallic icon. Arsene Lupin is a gentleman thief with tons of style and a flair for the dramatic. Having a good heart but a disdain for the law, Lupin rarely actually takes on the establishment but rather chooses as his enemies thieves and criminals like himself, but inevitably more villainous and goonish. To my knowledge Lupin has never fought Fantomas, but the crossover potential is limitless.
10. Lionel Essrog (Jonathan Lethem)
Lionel Essrog from Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn has Tourettes Syndrome, which causes all of his contemporaries in his dismal mob-infested corner of Brooklyn to rule him out as either being stupid, crazy, or both. Ah, you say, the perfect cover for any amateur detective! And it is, although it does seem to be a constant source of pathos throughout his narrative. Lionel is a sad, intelligent character with a great deal of warmth and humanity, and unlike most of the characters on this list, he is neither idealized nor made quirky for quirky’s sake. Lethem probably isn’t going to return to stories about Lionel any time soon, but if he would the character would be warmly welcomed.
11. Batman (Bob Kane)
Kind of a cheat, since the character is primarily from the comics and most novelizations aren’t much good, but hey, he is the world’s greatest detective. Isn’t he?