Detectives have become appealing once again with the introduction of Benoit Blanc in Knives Out. Portrayed by Daniel Craig, the film revolves around a crime that only Benoit Blanc can and does solve.
For fans of murder mystery though, he is neither the first detective to do so nor the last. Many came before him and left a mark on mediums such as TV and films. The best ones still remain close to their fans for a number of reasons. Let’s take a look at these detectives, who were a one-person army and rarely failed.
Sherlock Holmes (best portrayed by Jeremy Brett)
Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the world’s first consulting detective, didn’t know that his beloved character would become so famous that he would have to kill him, to forget him. Yes, Sherlock Holmes made his debut through A Study in Scarlet and appeared in three more novels and 56 short stories, with one near-death experience. But he never failed, unless he wanted to on a few occasions including the case where he lost his heart. A lot of actors have portrayed him on TV and films but none have been able to portray him as well as Jeremy Brett – who did so in the 1980s and the 1990s.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr. may have come close in the race but the game was always afoot with Jeremy Brett.
Hercule Poirot (best portrayed by David Suchet)
If you are a fan of murder mystery, and if you know what ‘whodunit’ means, then you must have read about Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot for sure. Not only was he the inspiration behind Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc character but he has inspired detectives for over a century. Agatha Christie based him on Sherlock Holmes but not even she knew that for over 50 years, she would have to make him solve crimes. Since her death four decades ago, Poirot has been solving crimes in films and TV, specializing in ‘all suspects in one room’ format, where he revealed the villain in a great finale, using his little grey cells in the process. With David Suchet’s retirement from the role, let’s see who gets to play the Belgian detective with an egg-shaped head, and eccentricities that would make his creator proud.
Miss Marple (best portrayed by Joan Hickson)
There was also Miss Marple, the old countryside aunt we’d all love to have in our family. But if you are planning to commit a crime, stay as far away from her as possible because Agatha Christie made her so sharp that she could sniff the villain from afar. For 45 years (from 1930 and 1975), Miss Marple solved cases in St. Mary Mead and although she didn’t consider herself a professional detective, she was better than most. A lot of actors portrayed her on-screen but only Joan Hickson comes to mind for she was brilliant and close to what Ms. Christie would have wanted. Angela Lansbury also played Miss Marple in a TV movie but more on her later; she was in a different league as Jessica Fletcher.
Lt. Columbo (the one and only Peter Falk)
The detective who made ‘One More Thing’ a pop-culture reference and who solved crimes that seemed unsolvable had a secret weapon – his appearance. He resembled anything but a detective and that’s why he was able to catch criminals off-guard. In fact, this William Link and Richard Levinson creation made two-time Academy Award nominee Peter Falk so popular that none of his other works comes to mind except Columbo. From the early 1970s to the late 1990s, Columbo remained popular due to the criminals who committed the perfect murder but left something behind. And that something always got them in trouble as Columbo always knew ‘how to catch them’, a format not many film and TV detectives followed back then.
Jessica Fletcher (portrayed by Angela Lansbury)
You might not believe it but Jessica Fletcher’s first case was The Murder of Sherlock Holmes – yes, you read that right. TV’s favorite mystery writer turned amateur detective was so popular that she dominated the ratings in the 1980s and the 1990s through Murder, She Wrote. Created by Peter Fischer, William Link and Richard Levinson, the character was inspired by both Ellery Queen and Miss Marple but went onto create a different identity for herself. She was a successful novelist who found herself at the wrong place at the wrong time, and once had to rescue another TV PI Thomas Magnum in of her adventures. Jessica Fletcher was also one of the few fictional detectives who made a transition from TV to novels, and despite her last appearance in 2003, she remains relevant even today.
-Omair Alavi is a freelance broadcast journalist who can be contacted at [email protected]