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Thread: What are your favorite Detective-Style Mysteries?

  1. #1
    New writer since 07/2012. Cornelius Gault's Avatar
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    What are your favorite Detective-Style Mysteries?

    I am a fan of the "Monk" series and I wanted to ask the question:

    Question 1: Who are your favorite detectives from TV series, movies or books?

    Specifically, there must be a mystery, usually a murder or violent crime, clues, one or more detectives and finally solving the crime. Old and new are fine. Movies, books and TV series are fine.

    I have been working on a "compendium" of "Murder-Mystery Elements" (my WIP #3 below), focusing on Clues. It is a labor of love at the moment, but I am interested in the general thoughts about the Detective-Style Murder-Mysteries such as Monk and Columbo. The clues I am accumulating could be used as a source for mystery writers that are stuck, but it is just something I am doing on the side for now.

    I know, for instance, that there are only so many things that can be used for clues (without becoming too cliche), but the manner in which the particular detective creatively uses those clues is what is most interesting to me.

    This is just a starting point, but one such "clue" (I suppose some people might call it a "trope"), I have generalized in my WIP as follows:
    Evidence (contradicts, inconsistent with, impossible for) facts about the (clothing, health, vision, hearing, knowledge, gender, height, weight, languages, phobias) of the (victim, suspect).

    This particular clue fits into several categories: Clothing, Evidence, Hearing, Impossibilities, Inconsistencies, Knowledge, Suspects, Victims, Vision, Gender
    Like I said, this is a first try. It will be based mostly on research done by watching or reading actual Mysteries, although I have added my own ideas to some of the clues.

    One goal might be to assist beginner Mystery writers with ideas, based on various situations in their Mystery plots (keeping in mind that beginning mystery writers may not know how to do things well or may experience creative blocks). For instance, if a writer had the problem "The killer left an article of clothing in the victim's house, but I don't know how to make it work in the plot", my compendium could provide various creative suggestions and examples from different categories to help them. Of course, experienced mystery writers would have no such need.

    Question 2: Would something like the above be useful to new Mystery writers?

    Thanks for any participation and kind comments.

    [Edits in green, for clarification]
    Last edited by Cornelius Gault; 05-01-2013 at 07:52 AM. Reason: Clarification
    Cornelius Gault
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    * Murder-Mystery Elements (ongoing)
    * Detective 12 Parallel Novel (ongoing)
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    * Story Elements (shelved)

    --- as of 01/21/2015 ---

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
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    I think if someone can't figure that out on his or her own, that person isn't a mystery writer. That's what they do.

    That said, R.B. Parker.

  3. #3
    Walking Anachronism davidh219's Avatar
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    I'm not a big fan of mysteries when it comes to books. Idk why. Pretty much the only exception is Holmes, which I love and have read all of, and Chesterton's Father Brown stories, which I only just discovered.

    But TV shows! Oh god, where do I begin? I love Monk, Psych, The Mentalist, Sherlock, etc.

    But my absolute FAVORITE detective-style anything (even above Holmes) is the anime series Case Closed (Detective Conan in Japan). Anybody who loves mysteries and detectives should watch it, even if they've never seen an anime and/or have no interest in them. It's amazing.
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  4. #4
    Formerly Phantom of Krankor. AW Moderator Torgo's Avatar
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    The greatest fictional detective, in my opinion - from a purely detecting point of view - is Poirot. He has to be, because Agatha Christie's puzzles are the finest in the history of mystery - scrupulously fair to the reader, but the solution is always surprising.

    Other favourite detectives:

    In the classic British mould:

    John Dickson Carr's detectives Dr Fell (GK Chesterton solves crimes!) and Sir Henry Merrivale (a sort of louche version of Winston Churchill solves crimes!) Both are endearing locked-room specialists - Carr's locked-room mysteries are the best of the genre.

    Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn - one of the most charismatic policemen in the genre. Alleyn's cases are always colourful and the solutions satisfying.

    Margery Allingham's Albert Campion - Campion's a tremendous chap, and though the books are lighter on the mystery elements, they're really excellent.

    Edmund Crispin's Gervase Fen - witty, mildly satirical murder mysteries featuring Fen, the professor of literature who moonlights as a sleuth.

    Our American cousins:

    Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe - of course; though the books are exemplary more as literature than as puzzles. The High Window also has one of my favourite cover straplines: "Marlowe tough / Marlowe wise / Marlowe numismatist"

    Robert B Parker's Spenser - you have to love Spenser, where some of the best-loved tropes of the PI genre crystallized.

    John D MacDonald's Travis McGee - another tough guy, McGee. The plots are nifty and there are good fisticuffs.

    Dennis Lehane's Kenzie and Gennaro - more PIs; feels to me like the heir to Parker in many ways.

    John Sandford's Lucas Davenport and latterly Virgil Flowers - I can't get enough of these books, which is kind of OK because he manages two a year (I have no idea how - the Flowers books tend to be written in collaboration with a different fishing buddy each time, without any obvious change in quality.) The Davenport books tend to be police procedural thrillers, and the Flowers books tend to be mysteries. They're all great.

    Lawrence Block - Block's best-loved detective seems to be his alcoholic PI Matt Scudder, but I never really warmed to him (they tend to be a bit depressing.) I do, on the other hand, love his burglar-turned-unwilling-sleuth, Bernie Rhodenbarr, who stars in half a dozen light and funny murder mysteries. I particularly like the fact that they tend to end with multiple solutions - one to satisfy the police, one for Bernie's close friends only, and sometimes one just for the reader.

    The rest of the world:

    I have now stretched my coffee break five minutes longer than is strictly acceptable, so I'll just mention

    Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole - have only read a couple of these, coming to us thanks to the whole Scandinavian murder boom, but Harry is an engaging fellow.

    Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen - each one of these Italian-set mysteries is a little gem. Like going on holiday to a different city each time. Zen quite often doesn't get his man, because - well, forget it Jake, it's Chinatown. That sort of thing.

  5. #5
    Don't let your deal go down, Dave Hardy's Avatar
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    I was pretty partial to Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn & Chee novels. I may go re-read them before too long. Those tended to mix in a certain amount of action/thriller stuff along with the detective's creative use of forensics, cultural knowledge, observation, and whatever else comes to hand to solve the crime.

    I'm a fan of Hammett's Continental Op stories (my faves actually, just ahead of Philip Marlowe-sorry Torgo!). Hammett's detective uses a technique he learned working as a Pinkerton. He talks to everybody, then tries to rattle them. The Op will even arrange confrontations to see if someone falls apart.

    Interestingly, I've spoken to police officers who say they do similar things, they get everyone's story and if your story doesn't check out, that's where they follow.
    In the words of Hasan i-Sabah: Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW Al Stevens's Avatar
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    I like Parker's Jesse Stone books. The detective is seriously flawed.

    I do not like whodunits in which, until the case is solved and the solution revealed in the last couple of pages, virtually any character in the book could have dunnit. Perry Mason comes to mind.

    My favorite fictional detective is Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse.

  7. #7
    possibly lost; not sure yet lizmonster's Avatar
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    I've always loved Columbo. He would focus on every little inconsistency in a crime scene, methodically and thoroughly, until he figured out what had happened. I enjoyed the psychological aspect as well - he almost always knew right away WHO had done it, but he took his time figuring out how. And often he had real sympathy for the perpetrator - but that never slowed him down.
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  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW wonderactivist's Avatar
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    What Torgo said, though I think Holle is losing his edge in the later books. Nesbo needs to stretch a little more.

    Quote Originally Posted by Torgo View Post
    The greatest fictional detective, in my opinion - from a purely detecting point of view - is Poirot. He has to be, because Agatha Christie's puzzles are the finest in the history of mystery - scrupulously fair to the reader, but the solution is always surprising.

    Other favourite detectives:

    In the classic British mould:

    John Dickson Carr's detectives Dr Fell (GK Chesterton solves crimes!) and Sir Henry Merrivale (a sort of louche version of Winston Churchill solves crimes!) Both are endearing locked-room specialists - Carr's locked-room mysteries are the best of the genre.

    Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn - one of the most charismatic policemen in the genre. Alleyn's cases are always colourful and the solutions satisfying.

    Margery Allingham's Albert Campion - Campion's a tremendous chap, and though the books are lighter on the mystery elements, they're really excellent.

    Edmund Crispin's Gervase Fen - witty, mildly satirical murder mysteries featuring Fen, the professor of literature who moonlights as a sleuth.

    Our American cousins:

    Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe - of course; though the books are exemplary more as literature than as puzzles. The High Window also has one of my favourite cover straplines: "Marlowe tough / Marlowe wise / Marlowe numismatist"

    Robert B Parker's Spenser - you have to love Spenser, where some of the best-loved tropes of the PI genre crystallized.

    John D MacDonald's Travis McGee - another tough guy, McGee. The plots are nifty and there are good fisticuffs.

    Dennis Lehane's Kenzie and Gennaro - more PIs; feels to me like the heir to Parker in many ways.

    John Sandford's Lucas Davenport and latterly Virgil Flowers - I can't get enough of these books, which is kind of OK because he manages two a year (I have no idea how - the Flowers books tend to be written in collaboration with a different fishing buddy each time, without any obvious change in quality.) The Davenport books tend to be police procedural thrillers, and the Flowers books tend to be mysteries. They're all great.

    Lawrence Block - Block's best-loved detective seems to be his alcoholic PI Matt Scudder, but I never really warmed to him (they tend to be a bit depressing.) I do, on the other hand, love his burglar-turned-unwilling-sleuth, Bernie Rhodenbarr, who stars in half a dozen light and funny murder mysteries. I particularly like the fact that they tend to end with multiple solutions - one to satisfy the police, one for Bernie's close friends only, and sometimes one just for the reader.

    The rest of the world:

    I have now stretched my coffee break five minutes longer than is strictly acceptable, so I'll just mention

    Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole - have only read a couple of these, coming to us thanks to the whole Scandinavian murder boom, but Harry is an engaging fellow.

    Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen - each one of these Italian-set mysteries is a little gem. Like going on holiday to a different city each time. Zen quite often doesn't get his man, because - well, forget it Jake, it's Chinatown. That sort of thing.
    Suspense author and freelance writer. Check out my words at reverse perspective.

  9. #9
    POP$ AW benefactor Chase's Avatar
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    I like all the mysteries mentioned, especially Parker’s troubled, laconic, and repetitive Jesse Stone in the TV series.

    Another book-to-screen favorite is Hammett’s Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Bogart’s Sham Shpade is scripted almost word-for-word from the book.

    I dearly love Christie’s Miss Marple and Kellermann’s Rabbi Small as amateur sleuths.
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  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW
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    I tend to gravitate toward the police procedurals, but I'm a stickler for credibility, and many such examples can be problematic (at least for me). In a broader sense of the M/S/T genre, I enjoy many that have already been mentioned, and I'd like to add James Lee Burke.

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  11. #11
    still procrastinating franky_s's Avatar
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    I don't read mysteries but from TV shows I tend towards shows like Sherlock and Jonathan Creek.

  12. #12
    In Time-Out For My Sins
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    ... Spillane's Mike Hammer series.
    No nonsense PI. Tough as nails.
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  13. #13
    QWERTY!!! IAMWRITER's Avatar
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    I'm a sucker for police proceedurals too - the CSIs and the likes- even though there can and is, blindingly discrepencies. However, Castle is one programme that I can over look any such flaws in the policework as I may have a slight obsession with it.

    I also like the Jesse Stone books and even TV movies too.

  14. #14
    υπείκωphobe Wilde_at_heart's Avatar
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    For writers, my favourites are Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammet, as well as Conan Doyle, of course.

    For Television, I never watched all that much, but I really liked Cracker with Robbie Coltraine - he played a criminal psychologist. The Equalizer was good too.

    And for a satirical look, there was a short-lived series in the 80s called Sledgehammer! that was heavily inspired by Dirty Harry and deconstructed a lot of the machismo and gun lust that's common to the genre.

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    Travel biologist, piss-poor fluffer quicklime's Avatar
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    right now I like Charlie Parker....

    that said, I've read four books, and by the last one his continued flippance was starting to rub a bit thin. You can only whip out so many witty one-liners and retorts before the MC starts to seem less realistic for it. I have three more around the house to read yet, so we'll see if that's a continuing trend, but I did notice it, particularly in the book with the guy who liked spiders (forgot the name)
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  16. #16
    Formerly Phantom of Krankor. AW Moderator Torgo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by quicklime View Post
    right now I like Charlie Parker....

    that said, I've read four books, and by the last one his continued flippance was starting to rub a bit thin. You can only whip out so many witty one-liners and retorts before the MC starts to seem less realistic for it. I have three more around the house to read yet, so we'll see if that's a continuing trend, but I did notice it, particularly in the book with the guy who liked spiders (forgot the name)
    I think they're pretty consistent in quality, though the supernatural elements get heavier and heavier. I know what you mean about wearing thin, though - Elvis Cole in Robert Crais strikes me the same way.

  17. #17
    Seen 'em come, seen 'em go Gravity's Avatar
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  18. #18
    Researching History's Mysteries HistorySleuth's Avatar
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    A lot of the books mentioned above. As for TV I like a British series that I have to watch on Netflix. Midsomer Murders. You just can't miss a minute of it or you will miss an important clue.
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  19. #19
    Scared and loving it... Cappy1's Avatar
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    I'm over the Philip Marlowe wise-cracking type detective. There are far too many of them. In fact, I'm taking a rest from reading mysteries at the moment because of this.

  20. #20
    banned as an incurable tosspot
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    Michael Connelly and Harry Bosch. It doesn't hurt if you pick up the video "Blue Neon Night," a look at Bosch's Los Angeles after dark. Good stuff.

  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW
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    Patricia Moyes - Scotland Yard Inspector Henry Tibbett. A mild-mannered, unassuming little man, always underestimated, always gets his killer.
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  22. #22
    figuring it all out Arislan's Avatar
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    I liked Poirot and Miss Marple. Agatha Christie had a way of making these two dear to the reader. Which is why I cared less for her other works, including "Ten Little Indians" which feature neither but is probably her most famous (and most copied).

  23. #23
    walking on sunshine Vito's Avatar
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    For books, I'm gonna go with Lawrence Block: the Scudder novels and short stories, and the "Burglar" series too. I think Block has an amazing gift for putting a mystery together, presenting it in page-turner form, and wrapping it all up in the final chapters.

    I'm a big fan of Robert B. Parker's "Spenser" series but mostly for the dialogue, characters, and action sequences, not for the mysteries/plots.

    I haven't watched very many TV mysteries in recent years, except for some of the later "Monk" episodes and a few syndicated reruns of "The Mentalist". I liked all of 'em.

  24. #24
    New writer since 07/2012. Cornelius Gault's Avatar
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    DVR

    I have been DVR-ing Monk and Columbo (OK, Perry Mason and Mission Impossible, too).

    This is great, because I can skip the commercials, go to the end to see the summary (I have nearly all of the Monk episodes). I can then use the summary/clues as source material for my WIP #3, or at the very least, a reinforcement of clues I have already included.
    Cornelius Gault
    WIPs:
    * Columbo Fan Fiction (new)
    * Murder-Mystery Elements (ongoing)
    * Detective 12 Parallel Novel (ongoing)
    * The Gault Legacy (shelved)
    * Story Elements (shelved)

    --- as of 01/21/2015 ---

  25. #25
    practical experience, FTW Quantum1019's Avatar
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    In books, my favorite are Poirot, Holmes, and, to choose a more recent one, Lucas Davenport. On TV, my favorite, by far, has always been Columbo. Peter Falk was brilliant! Of TV or movie adaptations of books, David Suchet as Poirot is one of the best. I can't really pick one favorite Holmes on film. It's a close race between Jeremy Brett, Peter Cushing, and the somewhat forgotten Arthur Wontner who played Holmes in the early 1930s.

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