There’s something very satisfying about a good detective story, isn’t there? Especially when the ending is revealed and you pretend you noticed all the clues and worked it out yourself. Tales of detectives and their investigations reassure us that no matter how intractable our problems may appear, with the application of a little brainpower (what Agatha Christie’s Poirot refers to as his “little grey cells”) wrongs can be righted, the lost found and order eventually restored to a chaotic universe.
But while we enjoy the twists and turns of the investigation, what brings us back to the detective story time and again is the personality of the sleuths themselves. They’re our brainy friends, stolid companions to whom we turn, safe in the knowledge that no matter the peril, they’re make everything alright. They can be any age, race, class, gender or even species. All you need is a magnifying glass, a grasp of the art of deduction and a slightly less clever chum to whom you can explain the plot.
A few favourites:
- Sherlock Holmes created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Not the first modern detective (that laurel goes to Edgar Allen Poe’s Auguste Dupin) but certainly the best known and the most beloved. Every year, thousands of letters are sent to him at his famous 221b Baker Street address in London. How silly – as we all know, Holmes moved to Suffolk to keep bees when he retired. Holmes’s quicksilver mind, the Victorian London setting and the stalwart companionship of Dr Watson make the Holmes stories an unbeatable pleasure.
- Agaton Sax created by Nils Olof-Franzen. Less well known these days, the Sax stories were a staple of my childhood, particularly in their melodramatic performances by Kenneth Williams on TV’s Jackanory. The great Swedish detective, capably assisted by his dachsund Tikkie and his Aunt Matilda, investigated everything from bank robbers to haunted houses (there seemed to be a lot of haunted houses in the 1970s) and was one of the first crime fighters to use a computer to aid in his investigations.
- Fabio created by Laura James. Never without his trademark hat and bowtie (I do like an animal with a sense of style) Fabio is the world’s greatest flamingo detective. From the shores of Lake Laloozee, he and his giraffe friend Gilbert investigate missing rubies and disappearing hippos. The world is indeed a jungle sometimes and Fabio shows that what we need to survive in it is not brawn but brain, a defining characteristic of all the greatest literary detectives.
- Anisha created by Serena Patel. The mysteries a detective faces need not always be of the stolen gemstone and haunted house variety. The investigations of Anisha, Accidental Detective take place in familiar settings like home and school and act as a reminder that intrigue can occur anywhere. Any of us can become a detective and solve a mystery so long as we’re willing to follow the chain of clues to its logical conclusion.
SPACE DETECTIVES by Mark Powers, illustrated by Dapo Adeola, was published by Bloomsbury on 4th February 2021. Find out more about the book here.