My Top Five Screen Sleuths (In No Particular Order)

OK, after my Top Five Sleuths post, it has come to my attention via the dreaded social media that I may have neglected a vital subsection of sleuth – namely the sleuth in the visual medium. So I suppose I had better do my Top Five Screen Sleuths. Happy now? Well, you won’t be when you see my choices…

To clarify the parameters here, I’m going to include only sleuths who originally appeared on screen or whose screen version is substantially different from the text they are sourced from. So for example I wouldn’t include Suchet’s Poirot but I could include Malkovich’s portrayal of the same character. Actually Poirot’s a whole can of worms when I try and work out the rules, as how far, exactly, do Branagh and Ustinov stray from the original? Visually, a lot, obviously, and Ustinov is far more of a comedy character in most of the films… Ah, why worry, I’m not going to pick him anyway.

So, let’s have a think – my Top Five Screen Sleuths are…

Jessica Fletcher

Many of the sleuths in the list are here due in large part to the performance of the actor, and you just can’t fault Angela Lansbury for anything, can you? But for me, this was an important part of my childhood TV watching. Friday night on ITV, regular as clockwork, this was must-see TV for the teenage fan of mysteries. I still remember an episode absolutely blowing my mind when a regular character (in their final appearance) turned out to be the murderer. And all the time, the series was held together by Jessica Fletcher, tripping over bodies wherever she went and somehow never getting murdered herself. You’d think one of the multiple Cabot Cove killers would have bumped her off first before getting on with their plan…

Adrian Monk

Well, duh. Is there anyone who doesn’t like Tony Shalhoub’s portrayal of the troubled detective? If there are, well, then they’re wrong. Far more “how” than “who” – and with far fewer impossible murders than people think – so many of the episodes of this show are just perfect. Mr Monk And The Sleeping Suspect, for example, where Monk knows who the murderer – “the guy” – is, he just has to explain how he committed the crime while being in a coma… Shaloub won awards by the bucketload for his portrayal and quite right too, although the supporting cast shouldn’t be ignored either, especially Ted Levine as Captain Stottlemeyer. One of my go-to shows for a rewatch when I need cheering up.

Oh, and if you haven’t seen it, here’s a treat.

Sergeant/Chief Inspector Robbie Lewis

Morse is disqualified as John Thaw’s performance, great though it was, was basically how Morse is in the books, bar the occasional appreciation of pornography. Kevin Whateley’s Lewis, however, is a different character – he’s younger than Morse (older in the books) and is hardly going to smuggle gentlemen’s magazines into hospital for him. Admittedly Lewis is a little hard to watch these days as Whateley’s performance and the beauty of my alma mater (and watching Lewis seemingly teleport from place to place in the middle of a conversation) is offset by the existence of Lawrence Fox – I’d say Google it if you don’t know why, but really don’t – but if you can blank him out, it’s one of the most comfortable detective shows to dip back into. And my Mum loves him, so that’s another reason why he makes the cut.


This is trickier than I thought. There are so many that I feel I could include and I’m trying to avoid those that I should just because everyone else loves them. So I’m not including, for example, the wonderful Peter Falk as Lieutenant Columbo. Before you cry sacrilege, it’s just that I haven’t seen that much Columbo in my life – it’s never on at the right time and it’s only just appeared on one of the streaming services. Also, I’m not a massive fan of inverted mysteries, so that’s probably why it didn’t exactly click with me in my callow youth. But one detective that I did watch obsessively was…


No, just kidding, it’s really

Jim Taggart

Back in the day, this was essential viewing to me. Three hour long episodes making a single story – yes, there was a bit of a formula, most notably episode one involving a murder, an interrogation of an obviously-innocent suspect, and ending with a murder that showed quite clearly that that suspect had sod-all to do with things. And then the real story would start. All of this was dominated by Mark McManus as the permanently sour-faced (apart from when faced with his wife) Taggart. The show carried on without him – to be honest, I was almost tempted to include Alex Norton’s DCI Burke instead – but his were the best stories and the ones I remember, most notably the story where someone is killing people by leaving poisonous snakes in their houses. Lovely.

So, number five… I’ve been mulling over whether Jake Peralta from Brooklyn Nine-Nine counts but while there are some actual mysteries hidden behind the comedy, it’s primarily a comedy show. Similarly, let’s discount a certain Great Dane and his friends for similar reasons. So I guess that just leaves…

Richard Poole

OK, I could have picked a number of people from Death In Paradise. I’d written a whole paragraph about Tahj Miles’ Marlon Pryce before I decided that he probably didn’t count as a detective. Poole is the character I think people still most associate with the show despite being in the fewest episodes compared to Humphrey Goodman, Neville Parker and Jack Mooney. Of the other three leads, I could have easily picked Ralf Little’s Neville, with the others very close behind. I think it was Poole’s determination not to fit in, and his sort-of romance with Camille Borday, cut short due to him being, well, murdered was done really well. Ben Miller pitched the performance beautifully – probably because he really was suffering while wearing that suit…

So there you go. I’ve tried to pick people who actually solve mysteries, rather than lead characters in crime shows. There are other I consider – Shawn Spencer from Psych for example and even Diana Rigg’s version of Mrs Bradly (yes, it’s completely unfaithful to the character, but it’s fun!) – and yes, I did seriously consider Columbo but see the reasons above. Anyway, these are my five choices. What are yours?


    • Again, considered Castle – not seen the rest – but not sure how many of those are really mysteries rather than guessing games. The behind the scenes stuff of the last two years has soured it a bit for me, for some reason, too


    • I understand what @Christophe meant, though. In the US BritBox is a special subscription channel (offered within Amazon Video, in my experience) which one can pay for to get British content not otherwise easily available in the US. So the envious assumption tends to be that UK viewers can get all of that without effort or expense.


      • Well, no, not really. The TV catchup services, that are covered by the licence fee or on channels with advertising, usually offer time-limited access to recently broadcast content. BritBox offers film and TV from more than one channel (imagine CBS, NBC and PBS offering a joint service) and access to older archive content (classic DR WHO and SAPPHIRE & STEEL for example), as well as material made just for BritBox – all without adverts.


  1. Thanks for this! It points me to several sleuths I don’t know, so that’s fun. For Jessica Fletcher, a blogger (also a record producer) who writes about underappreciated corners of TV wrote a piece about the best “classic mystery” episodes of Murder She wrote:

    (Also, though I try to be easy-going about spelling online, if you’re going to salute Tony Shalhoub, you might want to verify the spelling of his surname.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We have too many political monsters in the US for me to keep track of other countries, but your dour hints about Lawrence Fox DID make me go Google him – and I am heartbroken. Why do so many of my crushes these days turn out to be Nazis?

    I liked LEWIS more than MORSE, but I loved ENDEAVOR! I also want to second Sergio: VERONICA MARS is a terrific show with a terrific detective. And what the hell leaving JONATHAN CREEK off??? Also, if you can find a couple of episodes on YouTube or elsewhere, I recommend the classic TV detectives Amos Burke (BURKE’S LAW) and HONEY WEST. Oh, and MANNIX. And IRONSIDE. And I loved Peter Davison as Dangerous Davies in THE LAST DETECTIVE. God, there are DOZENS of fabulous original detectives on the screen, and you pick somebody named Taggart . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Have you watched any Taggart, out of curiosity?

      I have fond memories of Dangerous Davies but they are too vague, I’m afraid. And see my reply to Sergio about why I missed off Mr Creek.


      • Brad is spot-on about THE LAST DETECTIVE with Peter Davison, it is superb. But would fall foul of the doc’s premise as it is based on the Leslie Thomas novels. MANNIX is not well known in the UK but a superb private eye show. BURKE’S LAW is very funny and great fun too. Hard to account for the insane lack of love for MORSE though 😁. As for Laurence Fox, well, Covid really has been a total bitch. SHOESTRING is a UK show that deserves more love though.


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