My Top Five Book Sleuths (In No Particular Order)

My favourite sleuths… I decided to write this partially as I’m stuck in a meeting with literally nothing to do apart from five minutes at an unknown point. But I am sitting at the back of the room so I thought I’d share my wisdom with you.

I was inspired to write this as it’s not a Top Five that I’ve done before and I described a character recently in a review as one of my favourite sleuths and that got me thinking – would that character be one of my absolute favourites? Who else would join that inestimable band? After a bit of thought, I realised that it would almost impossible to put my favourites in order – so I won’t – and I decided to only include one character per author just… well, because. So here we go, my Top Five Sleuths…

Hercule Poirot

Just can’t not include my favourite Belgian. I do like more active sleuths, hence Poirot pipping Miss Marple for the Christie slot. The sleuth that got me into reading mysteries who I am still reading – apart from the occasional nostalgia trip to The Three Investigators. The ABC Murders, Peril At End House, Death On The Nile, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and Appointment With Death are some of my favourite ever mysteries and the quirky Belgian never ceases to entertain while still being the smartest homme dans le chambre.

Sir Henry Merrivale

Entertainment and a touch of humour is always important in my reading and that’s why Merrivale pips Gideon Fell for a slot on the list. Also, to be fair, almost all my favourite John Dickson Carr tales come under the pen name of Carter Dickson. The Judas Window, The Reader Is Warned, He Wouldn’t Kill Patience, Murder In The Submarine Zone… even the ropey ones such as Seeing Is Believing are fun reads. Perhaps it’s because he stopped writing Merrivale before his powers faded – it’s only the last two of his adventures that are genuinely poor – but apart from those two, you’re always guaranteed a puzzle and a bit of fun with H.M.

Anthony Bathurst

Well, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way, shall we? As if I’d leave out Anthony… And again, it’s an entertaining sleuth who is good company regardless of the situation or style of book. It’s notable that the only Flynn book that I really don’t care for only has a few brief cameos from Bathurst in it. His verbosity, his charm, his wit… I know not everyone likes the way he can (especially in the early titles) use ten words when one will do, but that, and his capacity for obscure quotations and metaphors couple with some excellent plots to produce some books that really ought to be considered classic crime. I’ve named loads before, so let’s plug a few different ones – The Padded Door, The Orange Axe, Fear and Trembling, Glittering Prizes and the upcoming Men For Pieces.

Brother Athelstan

Paul Doherty has a lot of sleuths spread across the centuries, but it’s Athelstan that I always choose first when I want some comfort reading. While Athelstan isn’t the life and soul of the party like H.M. or Bathurst, he does have a dark line in humour, although he doesn’t need it when accompanied by Sir John Cranston, the boisterous coroner and his own flock of St Erconwald’s, all of whom have their own little quirks. Set against the build-up of (and later the recovery from) the Peasant’s Revolt, Doherty mines a rich seam of history to provide the background from a number of great impossible mysteries. Highlights – all of which are cheap on Kindle – are the debut, The Nightingale Gallery, By Murder’s Bright Light, Bloodstone and The Herald Of Hell (which features a very nasty piece of work who shares a name with me – sort of.)

Tilly Bradshaw

The list was looking a bit all-male there, and you could make a case that Tilly isn’t the star of the series that features her, by M W Craven, but you’d be wrong. Tilly Bradshaw is the star of the show, Washington Poe can just get out of her way. Tilly is such a great character, a clearly-autistic mathematical and computer genius, and such a positive portrayal of overcoming the idiots who bully her. Absolutely love the character to bits and can’t recommend The Puppet Show, Black Summer, The Curator, Dead Ground and The Botanist enough.

There are many more I could include if I had the time – Martin Edwards’ Rachel Savernake, Kate Ellis’ Wesley Peterson, Robert Thorogood’s Judith Potts (you have to love a pensioner with a penchant for skinny dipping), Glyn Carr’s Sir Abercrombie Lewker, Tom Mead’s Joseph Spector (yes, he’s only in one book so far, but there will be more), Victoria Dowd’s Ursula Smart, Dolores Gordon-Smith’s Jack Haldean, Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme, L C Tyler’s Sir John Grey, Michael Jecks’ Sir Baldwin Furnshill and the sleuth that inspired the blog, Nev Fountain’s Mervyn Stone… that should be enough for you to check out, surely…

12 comments

  1. Yay! Thanks ever so much for the mention!
    It’s a great list. In addition, I’m very fond of Ronald Knox’s sleuth Miles and his wife. They’re (to my mind) a really believable married couple and I like Knox’s style.

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  2. So you’re a Merrivale man, eh? I’m the opposite, and I never got into the Carter Dickson pen-name books as much as JDC. Dr. Fell is my favorite of his recurring characters.
    Lots of great characters here, and some I don’t know but should look into.

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  3. Here is my own list, not entirely different from yours as Poirot and H.M. are on it, and Tilly would be except I’m limiting my choices to GAD. My other three choices are Asey Mayo, John J Malone and Napoleon Bonaparte (the Australian one).

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    • Only read one Mayo and two Malones but I mean to try more when I can. As for Bonaparte, he’s on my list to get round to. Any particular recommendations for Mayo or Boney – I’m reading the Malones in order…

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      • For Asey Mayo, I particularly enjoyed the books set during WWII, and involving rationing, blackouts and wartime suspicions, such as The Six Iron Spiders. For Bonaparte, those that take place in some of Australia’s unique topography or culture, such as A Bone Is Pointed, Death of a Lake, or The Man of Two Tribes.

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  4. Can’t believe I missed this post. Twitter doesn’t seem to put your stuff in either of my feeds much. Feels a bit stereotypical but when mentally asking myself which sleuths I like the best, the majority are probably female rather than male. One male exception would be Gervase Fen.

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