As a prolific writer of more than fifty novels, I’ve been inspired by many mystery writers, from Georges Simenon to Agatha Christie, who’ve created indelible detectives that every mystery lover should know. These writers constructed complex, nuanced, and intelligent investigators who have influenced my own Fiona Fitzgerald mysteries series and standalone cozy mysteries like Flanagan’s Dolls. Here I have made a list of the top five investigators in literature that everyone should know.
- Inspector Maigret
I’ve collected Georges Simenon’s books for years and have read many of them; he is a master of brevity and can say in a few concise words what most writers take pages to convey. Simenon’s French detective, Jules Maigret, is not as well known as Sherlock Holmes, but he is a fully rounded character, inserted into the Parisian landscape as a living part of the environment. We are told what he drinks, what he eats, how he copes with the weather, the traffic, the changing seasons, what he wears, how he talks, and even how he smokes his pipes. His outward life is a masterpiece of description, told with marvelous precision, but it is his inner life, his innate understanding of the human condition that makes him unique and enormously interesting. He feels deeply, carefully considers, analyzes, and reacts. He is unique and relatable and earns the reader’s affection. In the novel The Carter of La Providence, Maigret investigates the murder of a woman, found wearing all of her jewelry, which leads him to assume it was a crime of passion. In my novel Senator Love, I was inspired by that scenario but instead had the murderer take all of the victim’s jewelry to make it appear like a robbery.
- Sherlock Holmes
It goes without say that Sherlock Holmes is one of the most recognizable detectives out there, having been adapted into movies, plays, and even video games. I have read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s numerous novels and short stories since I was a child, especially to pass the time when I was bedridden with the flu. Holmes’s intelligence is superior to all around him; he uses hard logic, intuition, and, of course, science and instinct to get to the bottom of all his cases. His dynamic companion, Dr. Watson, complements Sherlock Holmes as a foil, acting as an admiring and inquisitive roommate. The foggy and gothic Victorian England backdrop along Baker Street adds another layer of intrigue: when he ventures out, we know he will cut through the fog and intuit the solution to every mystery.
- Lisbeth Salander
I mostly like to read classics, but I sometimes enjoy contemporary novels, one being Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I voraciously read this book with great interest when it was first published in the United States, predicting that it would not only become a bestseller but an enduring one, too. There is something about dark novels from Scandinavian writers; it must be the climate that induces such darkness. Lisbeth Salander, a 24-year-old computer hacker, has a tough exterior full of tattoos and piercings, making her a new and captivating kind of investigator who will grab any mystery lover’s attention. She is a beautiful example of a dark and complex heroine, having been tortured and abused; she is a deeply injured person who is fearful about opening herself up to real affection. Though she is not technically a detective, she is a great investigator who deserves the title detective.
- Adam Dalgliesh
I’m a fan of many (not all) of P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh mysteries, but he is a traditional Scotland Yard inspector who is most notable for his sensitive nature. He is riddled with a sad past: a widower whose wife died during childbirth, leaving him unable to fully connect with others romantically. Along with being a detective, he is a poet as well, with a depth far different from the usual English detective. His sensitivity gives his crime-solving technique a more emotional twist as he moves through the thicket of lies and motives to pry open the secrets of those who are suspects in the complicated cases he must solve. Cover Her Face, James’s first installment, is extremely well written, following Dalgliesh as he investigates the strangulation of a young, social-climbing housemaid who is wanted dead by a number of people.
- Hercule Poirot
Eccentric and memorable, Hercule Poirot had to make it to this list. His pink nose, egg-shaped head, catlike eyes, and curly mustache should be enough to catch anyone’s attention, but his skillfulness in detection is what makes him a great detective. Agatha Christie includes diagrams in some of her novels, allowing the readers to solve the mysteries along with Poirot, making him feel real and relatable. Well loved, he was the first fictional character to receive an obituary on the front page of the New York Times and appeared in thirty-three novels, one play, and more than fifty short stories.
Acclaimed author Warren Adler has earned the title of “Master of Dysfunction” with the success of his international cult-novel-turned-box-office hit, The War of the Roses. Beyond the enduring divorce story, Adler enjoys a reputation as a versatile writer and powerhouse of captivating mystery novels including American Quartet. He is also well known for his high-caliber historical fiction thrillers, skillfully blending factual details with imaginative political intrigue and distinct characters in his novels, including Target Churchill.
You can learn more about Warren Adler on his official website warrenadler.com.