Filled with red herrings, smoking guns, and false alibis, there is something about an enthralling mystery that captivate readers. A tingling need to find out whodunit. The best mystery is one that a reader can piece together themselves using the evidence at hand. However, a proxy is needed to solve the problem within the story for the readers. A character that can help you arrange the puzzle pieces and uncover new clues to add to the theory you craft so carefully. Who better to solve a mystery than a detective? A character who lives to solve the mystery they are faced with, who welcomes challenges with intrigue and excitement. There have been many famous fictional detectives in literature over many years. So many that a select few of them have reached a legendary status wherein they are known far and wide.
While it is hard to whittle off many of the great fictional detectives that have been created from the minds of writers throughout the years; Let’s take a look at some of these famous fictional detectives that perfectly represent the spirit of true problem solvers.
First Appearance: Auguste Dupin made his first appearance in a short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe published in 1841, widely considered the first detective fiction story.
Auguste Dupin featured in only three novels by Edgar Allan Poe. Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin is considered first among the fictional detectives. It is worth remembering that the word “detective” did not exist at the time when Poe wrote The Murders in the Rue Morgue. He established the prototype of Dupin even before Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. It is easy to criticise a work in retrospect, but these early stories paved the way for a genre which is one of the most popular even today.
Monsieur Dupin is a very intelligent man with a great analytical talent, able to know what someone is thinking based on what happened to him during the day.
First Appearance: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced Sherlock Holmes, one of the most popular fictional detectives, in A Study in Scarlet, published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual of 1887.
Sherlock Holmes appeared in a total of 60 stories, written by Arthur Conan Doyle and published between 1887 and 1927. Out of them four are full length novels and 56 short stories.
This or any list of fictional detectives will never be complete without mentioning this notorious gentleman sleuth born from the mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle emphasizes Holmes’ magnificent brain in many ways: he uses Watson’s admiration to reinforce the reader’s own; he gives Sherlock Holmes lots of foils, including incompetent cops and the criminals he’s hunting; and perhaps the best trick of all, Holmes frequently gets to show off his smarts by impressing his clients with how much he can guess about them just by looking at their outward appearances.
Holmes is, in a nutshell, single-minded in his detection. In that respect, it makes sense that all emotions, particularly love, are abhorrent to his cold, precise, but admirably balanced mind.
First Appearance: This Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot is first introduced to the world by Dame Agatha Christie in The Mysterious Affair at Styles published in 1920.
A retired Belgian police officer, Hercule Poirot is one of Agatha Christie’s most famous detectives and long-running characters appeared in 33 novels, 2 plays, and more than 50 short stories published between 1920 and 1975.
Short in height with long, curly moustache, Poirot is very intelligent, extremely aware and instinctual and a brilliant detective from Belgium who fled to England during WWI. Poirot is a more laid-back and introverted person than many famous detectives, which works incredibly well for his line of work. When people don’t notice you, it’s easy to observe things they’d prefer remained hidden.
The Hardy Boys
First Appearance: The Hardy Boys #1 The Tower Treasure published in 1927
Frank Hardy is the older (18) of the two Hardy brothers in The Hardy Boys novel series by Franklin W. Dixon.
The Hardy Boys, Frank and Joe Hardy, are fictional detectives who appear in several mystery series for children and teens. The series revolves around the teenagers who are amateur sleuths, solving cases that stumped their adult counterparts. In each novel, the Hardy Boys are constantly involved in adventure and action. Despite the frequent danger, the boys “never lose their nerve … They are hardy boys, luckier and more clever than anyone around them.” They live in an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue.
The characters were created by American writer Edward Stratemeyer. The books themselves were written by several ghostwriters under the collective pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon.
First Appearance: The character first appeared in 1930’s book The Secret of the Old Clock
Nancy Drew is a fictional character, a sleuth in an American mystery series created by publisher Edward Stratemeyer as the female counterpart to his Hardy Boys series.
The books are ghostwritten by a number of authors and published under the collective pseudonym Carolyn Keene.
Did you know that Nancy Drew has solved over 500 cases in her career? That is a lot of mysteries. Secret of the Old Clock takes readers back over eighty years ago to where it all began for Nancy in River Heights, a fictional town that is supposed to resemble Iowa City, Iowa.
First Appearance: Brother Cadfael first appeared in A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters published in 1977
Welsh Benedictine monk Brother Cadfael lives in the Abbey of Shrewbury in the mid 12th century England. He’s an unusual member in as he fought and killed in the Holy Land during a bloody crusade, known women intimately, a soldier, captain of a ship too, however now retired to the quiet life of a monastery raising crops to feed his fellow “inmates” and doing quite interesting experiments to improve them, a scientist without a title.
His worldly knowledge, although useful, gets him in trouble with the more doctrinaire characters of the series, and the seeming contradiction between the secular and the spiritual worlds forms a central and continuing theme of the stories.
First Appearance: Miss Marple first appeared in a short story published in The Royal Magazine in December 1927, “The Tuesday Night Club” which later became the first chapter of The Thirteen Problems (1932); However her first appearance in a full-length novel was in The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930 and her last appearance was in Sleeping Murder in 1976.
When it comes to well-known fictional detectives in classic literature, along with Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot she will belong to those who are mentioned first. The brainchild of Agatha Christie, Jane Marple appeared in 12 novels and 20 short stories as an elderly spinster who fills up her free time resolving the assorted mysteries in her home of St. Mary Mead.
I can almost imagine the gossipy, annoying and very inquisitive lady snooping around the village, and it’s easy to understand why a smart character like her earned such a recognition beneath crime and mystery novels.
First Appearance: Alex Cross was introduced to the world by James Patterson in Along Came a Spider published in 1993
After Along Came a Spider, Alex Cross appeared in total 27 novels till now. His latest appearance was in 2019’s novel Criss Cross.
Alex Cross, detective, doctor of psychology, hypnotiser, friends of the poor people when he helps out at a food shelter, respected by the black people for never leaving the ‘hood following his glittering career, great family man and a bit of genius who cannot give up a case. Although hard and rough when he needs to be, practical as they come – the crimes he sees sometimes upset him – such as deaths of young children.
First Appearance: Adam Dalgliesh first appeared in 1962 novel Cover Her Face by P D James
Adam Dalgliesh appeared in a total of 14 books, which were released between the years 1962 and 2008. He also appears in the two novels featuring P.D. James’s other detective, Cordelia Gray.
Dalgliesh is well known for composing poetry and several volumes of his poetry have been published. Despite his introversion, he is being considered attractive to women who describe him as ‘tall, dark, and handsome.’ In his lengthy career, he has been quite astute and successful and now heads a squad of CID officers working on only the most sensitive cases.
Marcus Didius Falco
First Appearance: Marcus Didius Falco is brain child of Lindsey Davis. He first appeared in The Silver Pigs published in 1989. He is featured in 20 books.
Marcus Didius Falco is an ex-legionary, current informer (i.e., private investigator) in the Rome of Vespasian (AD 69-79). Falco has been written to both conform to and deviate from the stereotypical construct of the detective, cynical, hard bitten, a loner. An ex-legionary with a tragic past, he can crack jokes and throw insults around like a Dashiell Hammett or Mickey Spillane creation, but then Falco can also surprise with some sincere emotional depth that is not too far away from a poet like Catullus.
Falco navigates his way through investigations of trading conspiracy, treason and vengeful murder, some of which take him to far-flung reaches of the Roman Empire, such as Britain, Córdoba, and Carthage.
First Appearance: Dirk Gently, also known as Svlad Cjelli, created by Douglas Adams. He first appeared in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency published in 1987.
Dirk Gently, a pudgy man who normally wears a heavy old light brown suit, red checked shirt with a green striped tie, long leather coat, red hat and thick metal-rimmed spectacles, is one of the famous fictional detectives featured in science fiction.
Dirk Gently is a very peculiar detective. He has been forced into the profession after being sent down from St. Cedd’s college for cheating. He didn’t cheat – it was a coincidence when he guessed all of the answers to an upcoming test correctly. He did coach many students in the answers to the test to make money, supposedly through mystic means which he believed he was faking, but he truly had no idea his con would end up being so correct.
The unspoken assumption behind Gently’s becoming a detective is the mystery of having all of the right answers when he never knew he had all of the right answers has led him to being a detective. He is not a mystic, but he believes in particle physics and Einstein’s relativity, apparently, and all of the spooky science which comes out of that, and especially, maybe, in the Grand Unification Theory of Everything.
Lord Peter Wimsey
First Appearance: Lord Peter Wimsey first appeared in Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers in 1923
A dilettante who solves mysteries for his own amusement, Lord Peter Wimsey is a typical example for the British gentleman (fictional) detectives.
He was in WWI and experienced “shell shock” with a consequent fear of responsibility due to his regiment being decimated during the war. He comes off as garrulous at times due to nervous tension, and all the quirks of his personality are due to his war experiences. At the same time, he is aware of his life of privilege and wants to do something meaningful; thus, his ‘hobby’ of investigating crime cases.
Tommy and Tuppence
First Appearance: Tommy and Tuppence are two fictional detectives, first appeared in 1922’s The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie.
Tommy and Tuppence, 22 year old somewhat poor residents of London around 1920, are bored enough to form a partnership where they will agree to do anything legal to obtain a salary. Tuppence wants to marry rich. Tommy doesn’t care. Tommy & Tuppence themselves are also weird. They speak in terms of puzzles, but seem to understand one another. They wish for things they don’t need but join forces in a venture that initially makes no sense.
First Appearance: Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s most well known fictional character, and one of the famous fictional detectives, Byomkesh Bakshi first appeared as a character in the story Satyanweshi published in 1932. Byomkesh Bakshi featured in about 32 stories from 1932 to 1970 prior to author Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s death.
Byomkesh Bakshi is probably first mainstream Indian detective. While reading the stories, it is hard not to spot similarities between Byomkesh and Sherlock Holmes – the way the character gets introduced first, the way the narrator Ajit and Byomkesh become roommates. There is even a police officer similar to Lestrade who creates problems for Byomkesh. Sometimes, Byomkesh wakes up Ajit in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, to go out on a mission.
First Appearance: Cormoran Strike is created by J K Rowling and published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. He’s first appeared in The Cuckoo’s Calling published in 2013.
Cormoran Strike is a wounded war veteran, with a troubled past, damaged love life and financial woes, which see him sleeping in his office when we first meet him. Strike has left the army, which provided him with the structure and home life his mother never could, and set up as a Private Detective. The only problem is, a lack of paying clients. He then receives a new temporary secretary, Robin Ellacott, with her slightly stuffy fiance and her secret desire to be a detective.
First Appearance: William Warwick first appeared as a detective in Nothing Ventured by Jeffrey Archer published in 2019. We first meet him in The Clifton Chronicles as the hero of Harry Clifton’s novels.
William has wanted to be a detective since the age of eight so he chooses to pursue that path – against his father’s wishes (his father is an attorney and wants William to follow in his footsteps). William has good instincts and has put in his time learning the trade when he gets tapped for the Arts and Antiquities department in Scotland Yard. His first major case is solving the theft of a Rembrandt from the Fitzmolean Museum, where he meets his love interest Beth, who has some secrets of her own.