With the launch of Anita Nair’s Chain of Custody, here’s a look at other much loved detectives
s INSPECTOR Gowda makes his reappearance in the second of Anita Nair’s detective series, Chain of Custody, I feel an urge to reminisce about my all-time favourite literary genre – crime/detective fiction. This seems to be a good time to take a wander down a blood-and-thunder-lined memory lane and revisit favourite sleuths.
My early encounter with detective fiction (as for many) was through Agatha Christie. Her Miss Marple was a rural treasure with her knitting wool and village stories, gentle blue eyes hiding a formidable intellect. More beloved was Hercule Poirot and his ‘little grey cells’, waxed moustaches and razor-logical solutions to bewildering whodunits. Also high on the list were the older British detectives: Colin Dexter’s opera-loving Inspector Morse and Ngaio Marsh’s ex-Etonian police officer Roderick Alleyn, upright men with unerring instincts for ferreting out the truth. I rediscovered the one and only Sherlock Holmes (arguably the greatest detective ever created) anew when actor Benedict Cumberbatch gave him a new lease of life recently: a fast-paced modern-day avatar with razor-edged cheekbones – what’s not to love? Conan-Doyle’s classics still bewilder and fascinate, calling out to be read and re-read.
My list would be incomplete without the damaged and depressive Scandinavian police officer Kurt Wallander (in books by Henning Mankell) and my beloved poet-detective, Adam Dalgliesh, created by the erudite PD James. I was intrigued by Robert (JK Rowling) Galbraith’s flawed investigator, Cormoran Strike, and he grew on me. My favourite female gumshoes include Sara Paretsky’s tough cookie, VI Warshawski and Sue Grafton’s sassy yet vulnerable Kinsey Milhone (from the Alphabet series). And oh, Alexander McCall Smith’s gorgeously characterful Precious Ramotswe of Botswana’s No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, displaying bushels of good humour with sharp intuitive skills.
Which factors create enduring deep bonds between readers and popular fictional detectives? Character, I’d say. There’s always a special eccentricity which makes them remarkable and identifiable. But these must go beyond mere physical traits or existence as a mere “pawn on a timeline,” according to Virginia Woolf, who dwelt on character creation at length in her essay Mr Bennet and Mrs Brown.
As Inspector Gowda embarks on his second literary sojourn, I asked Anita Nair what she thinks makes a fictional detective special. “It is either character quirks or a flawed personality that makes him or her real. A perfect being and a great detective would fall into a superhero category, and in the world of crime and punishment, superheroes have as much credibility as the Batmobile,” she says.
Combine flawed, real characters with a gripping plot, perhaps a vicious criminal mastermind – it’s a no -brainer to see why detective fiction is so enthralling. So maybe consider picking up a book or two featuring some such memorable detectives and re-acquaint yourself with them. As detective fiction writer Rex Stout says, “To read of a detective’s ingenious stratagem is a rare joy.”