Monday, August 05, 2013

Top 10 Odd Detectives in Fiction

In a way, this could be an extension of the “Top 10 Fictional Detectives” list I wrote about three years ago.  But this time around, those that made this list are detectives that have an “odd factor.” What do I mean by an “odd factor”?  There should be an aspect or element in them that makes it unlikely for them to succeed as detectives but has been so; they aren’t what you expect as detectives.  Or there is a peculiar feature about them that makes them interestingly unique from the archetypal fictional detective.  The “odd factor” seems to be a vague standard, but, in short, the “odd factor” is primarily about having a remarkable or wacky characteristic that significantly adds to the character’s dimensions.  

There are several characters in the abovementioned original “Fictional Detectives” list that have this “odd factor”, but I won’t be including them here again so that there will be more room for other characters to be featured in this list.  (Unfortunately, the Hardy Boys – which were the earliest detective characters I encountered – fail to make this list again, for they have no “odd factor” and are very much closer to the generic model of fictional detectives)   


Yes.  Tom Sawyer has been featured as a detective.  Some might even be unfamiliar of this fact.  In Tom Sawyer, Detective, he and Huck Finn got the chance to play detective – not as a make-believe role-playing game as they had done with being “pirates” or “robbers”, but actually doing legit deduction for a legit mystery.  The story is another example of Mark Twain’s versatility as a storyteller as he was able to mimic Conan Doyle’s tone and narrative style, and was able to create a terrific parallel of Holmes and Watson with Tom and Huck.     


Jane Marple, more popularly known as Miss Marple, is one of the two famous fictional detectives created by Agatha Christie (the other being Hercule Poirot, who was part of my previous top 10 detective list).  What makes her remarkable as a detective is her age – she’s already an elderly spinster.  The archetype dictates that Miss Marple should be a fragile granny figure that is satisfied by spending the remaining years of her life having tea and knitting; we assume unintimidating old ladies as uninteresting and weak characters.  But though she does possess many of such qualities associated with elderly ladies – like the tendency to be a long-winded talker – she, however, as a character is neither idle nor boring.  She is shrewd and intelligent and fearless, giving her the capability of solving difficult mysteries – usually murder. 


I assume that everybody (especially those that were born prior the 21st Century) knows and loves the Scooby Gang – Scooby Doo, Shaggy, Fred, Daphney, and Velma.  The cases that they find themselves in share the same elements: the mystery would appear to be supernatural in nature, they would investigate (with Shaggy and Scooby providing comic relief), the climax involves the “monster” chasing them around but would eventually be apprehended by them – usually accidentally – at the end of the chase sequence, then they would unmask the “monster” to reveal that he is merely a man that dresses as a monster to further a criminal cause.  

The Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King – which I adore – features the adventures of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes.  This is, of course, a mere reinvention and is not canon.  Still, this Sherlock Holmes reinvention is one of the best that has ever been done, in my opinion.  The portrayal in the series of the Greatest Fictional Detective of All Time has been somewhat accurate to how the character could have behaved.  Thus, the awesomeness factor of Sherlock Holmes’ presence in this series still counts. 

When Mary was 15 years old, she would first meet Holmes, who was by then retired from his London practice and was now residing on the Sussex countryside.  In this first meeting, she had greatly impressed Holmes with her strong personality and raw deductive power.  In their next meeting, he would then proceed to train Russell as his protégé.  And through his training, Mary would grow into as close to a “Sherlock Holmes Version 2.0” as possible.  Eventually, they would come into an agreement of partnership and would go and solve cases together (though, I find Holmes still being the more significant contributor and factor in their success). 

When Mary turned 21, her partnership with Homes blossomed into a “negotiated marriage” between them.  Yes, the unthinkable happen to Sherlock Holmes: romance ensued!  And it’s kind of creepy considering that the age gap between them is 32 to 39 years!  Still, this development has been delivered by the narrative in a logical, compelling, and enjoyable way that the creepiness factor of it was reduced to “minimal” or “none” levels.  The relationship between them was a sort of “non-romance romance”; though the affection between them was real, the romance had been notably secondary to their partnership as detectives.   The behavior of their relationship remained the same as their pre-marriage partnership’s; true to his character, Holmes rarely showed his affection to his wife, and this was fine with Russell because she understands Holmes’ character.


Chief Inspector Clouseau is the hero of the Pink Panther series.  The character was played by Peter Sellers in the original movies and by Steve Martin in the remakes.  While Peters is indeed the better Clouseau, Martin’s portrayal has been hilarious as well.  I laughed with Martin as Clouseau as much and as hard as I laughed with Sellers.   

Clouseau is a bumbling, incompetent French police detective.  He is prone to making idiotic observations and decisions in his investigations.  But despite of all of these, he seems oblivious of his limitations and shortcomings.  He is tremendously pompous and egocentric; he maintains the delusional belief that he is a brilliant detective.   However, the remarkable thing is, despite of his stupidity and clumsiness, Clouseau would always successfully solve a case by accident and luck. 


In the DC Universe, Batman is the World’s Greatest Detective.  And the one that comes second to Batman as a superhero detective is either Elongated Man or The Question. 

I include the Question in this list over Elongated Man because he is a more fascinating character.  Like Batman, he has no superpowers but relies on his superior intellect and high proficiency in hand-to-hand combat.  As an investigative reporter in his civilian identity, his great detective skills don’t come as a surprise.  What makes him a deep character is his fondness of philosophy and, in some depictions (especially in the DC animated universe), conspiracy theories.  But even as a paranoid conspiracy theorist, his deductive and investigative skills remain sharp and outstanding – his paranoia and obsessive character are no hindrances.    This aspect makes the character quite amusing and enjoyable. 

In my “Top 10 Fictional Detectives” list – particularly on the entry of the hero of Donald J. Sobol’s Two-Minute Mysteries (the most fun brain twisters out there), Dr. Haledjian – I acknowledged that I had not read any of Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown books yet.  But since then, I was able to finally read the book series and be familiarized with the boy detective. 

Leroy Brown is very intelligent and he retains massive amounts of facts from the books he read.  He was even likened to “a complete library walking around in sneakers.”  For that he was given the nickname, “Encyclopedia Brown.”  With his intelligence, he always wants to be helpful to others.  As a walking encyclopedia, he graciously answers whatever questions are thrown at him.  But he always waited a moment to answer – pretending to think – since if he answers too quickly, he is afraid that people will not like him for sounding too smart.

Possessing a rich range of information and facts comes highly invaluable to Brown in solving his cases.  He easily finds significance on seemingly mundane details of a case but are in fact vital for its solution.  He has shown versatility in handling cases of different kinds – ranging from petty offenses and misdemeanors (particularly between children) to those serious and criminal in nature.  

It is even implied that it was because of Encyclopedia Brown that criminals are always caught in Leroy’s town, Idaville.  His father is the chief of police in the town.  And during their family’s dinner time, Chief Brown would present his hard cases to his son.  Before they leave the table, Encyclopedia has already provided the solution. 


Simon Archard is the hero of the Ruse comicbook series and is one of my most favorite comic book characters.  He is a master detective that is basically based on Sherlock Holmes.  The primary difference between Holmes and Achard is that Achard lives in a Victorian setting in which steampunk and supernatural elements very much exist.    Like Holmes, Archard is extremely intelligent and versatile.  He is considered a hero in his town, Partington, for criminals greatly fear him and his mere presence keeps the crime rate low.

Archard makes use of an intelligence network, consisting of agents of different personalities and status in life, for information.  In the recent mini-series, it was revealed that even Queen Victoria is one of his agents.  He also has an assistant – or partner, as she insists – in Emma Bishop, who keeps the fact the she is actually a sorceress a secret from Archard, though it implied that Archard is already aware of this.  


Rick Castle is a best-selling novelist – his greatest works being spy and mystery thrillers featuring Derrick Storm.  After his encounter with police detective Kate Becket, whom he had consulted for when she was tackling a case of murders that mirrored murders portrayed in two of Castle’s crime novels, he became mightily charmed by her.  He found it a lot of fun solving mysteries with her, and craved for more.  Thus, under the charade of conducting research for his next novel series, in which the main character, Nikki Heat, would be based on Becket, Castle was able to get what he wanted: playing “detective” with Becket.  Since Castle is friends with the mayor – and is a generous campaign contributor – he was allowed by the police department, per the mayor’s instruction, to proceed on with his “research.”      

Becket was initially dismayed and annoyed by the arrangement.  However, Castle proved to be a very valuable and compatible companion for her on her cases.  Kate would grow to appreciate him and consider him as her partner.   As a mystery writer, Castle is familiar with the elements and structure of a mystery and he displays the aptitude of a talented detective.  Due to the necessity of researching material when writing novels, he gained training in investigating, knowledge on a wide range of matters, and different invaluable contacts and informants.  And since he is writer, Castle’s imagination dictates his way of thinking.  When solving a mystery, he attempts to make sense of it by applying a “what would make a better story” perspective on it.  He thinks “out of the box”, and his theories are sometimes outrageous and fantastic.   But when his train of thoughts is in a dialogue and is complemented by Becket’s grounded and discreet way of thinking, Castle can soundly reason out towards a solid conclusion.        

Captain Malcolm Reynolds remains to be the greatest character Nathan Fillion has ever played.  But I think the argument can be made that Rick Castle is Fillion’s most captivating and entertaining character.  While Captain Mal is indeed charming, Castle’s own charm is more amplified – probably because it seems the characterization of Castle is based on Nathan’s own charismatic, interesting personality.  Aside from his natural charm, wit, and sense of humor, what makes Nathan very fascinating is his awesome geekery.  He is familiar and a fan of a wide area of nerd properties.  And this facet of Nathan is explicitly integrated into the Richard Castle character.  Like Nathan Fillion, Richard Castle is a well-versed, lovable geek.  Pop culture and nerd culture themes are regularly featured in the show, which allows Castle’s own geekery to shine.  Thus, I credit the fascinating layeredness of Richard Castle to the generous amount of his own self that Nathan Fillion puts into the character.

(It’s only incidental that the number one odd detective is someone named “Odd.” Or is it? Hehe.)

Ok.  Odd Thomas has never been explicitly implied or identified as a “detective” character.  However, he does do sleuthing and fight crime.  And he does tackle mysteries, and had success in piecing together information, inferring correctly, and catching the bad guys.  We can observe that those are detective work.  Thus, Odd Thomas is a detective of sorts. 

As a character created by Dean Koontz – and his best one yet – Odd Thomas possesses the usual qualities of a Koontz protagonist: a troubled past, smarts, heart, personality, and a very entertaining wit. 

Odd is a humble, unambitious, and charming young man with two very special talents.  First, he’s an excellent, one-of-a-kind quick-order cook.  Second, he can see ghosts.
That ability appears to be a burden but Odd thinks otherwise.  He considers it a gift.  He uses this ability to help both the dead and the living.  He counsels or encourages the lingering dead to go forward the other side, and he uses the clues given by ghosts – usually the victims – to prevent more deaths and evil from happening. "I see dead people. But then, by God, I do something about it," he said.  He seemingly possesses a Messiah complex since he readily assumes the responsibility of preventing evil or capturing a criminal that he is very much willing to go to great lengths as long as he carried out the task.       

Aside of seeing ghosts, Odd also possess another supernatural intuition power particularly called “psychic magnetism.”  Psychic magnetism allows Odd, while moving around, to get drawn to the location of the person he really wants to find or encounter.

With his psychic abilities, Odd has succeeded many times in stopping evil from happening or bringing justice to evil done.  It’s doesn’t mean though that Odd has to do no thinking at all because of his powers.  No.  In the Odd Thomas universe, the ghosts can never talk, thus, they can never vocally instruct or assist Odd.  Thus, Odd still needs to do some detective work to figure things out.       

Odd doesn’t fear death.  He even considers it as a reward since he will be reunited with his lost love, Stormy.  Still, Odd is not suicidal.  He understands that killing himself won’t allow him to get his “reward”, thus, Odd remains sensible in his decisions though a bit reckless.  Because of this philosophy, investigative leg work and nosing in the presence of danger comes easy for him. 

Add all of those things above together and that would sum Odd Thomas up as, not only as a very fascinating “strange” detective, but also as a one-of-a-kind fictional character.

Anton Yelchin did a great job portraying him in the recent movie adaptation

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