Sunday, July 18, 2010

What Series Detective Holds Up Best Over Time?

Paris-and no, I can't explain the blue wigs.


I'm always bemoaning what happened to Spenser over time. But what series detective continued to be interesting and have gripping cases over the years? Who wears their age best?

61 comments:

David Terrenoire said...

Marlowe. No question.

David Cranmer said...

Yep, Marlowe with Lew Archer a very close second.

George said...

Most of the 33 Hercule Poirot novels and the 12 Miss Marple novels are top-notch.

Anonymous said...

I think Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone has held up so well because she really has changed and grown over the years. Look where she was in her first (EDWIN OF THE IRON SHOES) and look at her now - owns her own agency with numerous employees, married, flies her own plane, etc.

Jeff M.

Mack said...

I'd say that Harry Bosch is one of the best long-running series characters.

Jerry House said...

Nero Wolfe. Forget the Goldsborough add-ons. The one, the only, the original Nero held up very well throughout the series and still reads well today.

And let me add a plug for Craig Rice's J. J. Malone. I suppose some will consider him dated, but to me he remains as fresh and readable as ever. (Even so when transferred into the future as his grandson, Kevin Malone, in "Mark Phillips'" trilogy.)

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Harry Bosch and Dave Robicheaux.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Harry Bosch and Dave Robicheaux.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Okay, we have two questions at work here. Series that are finished for one reason or another-Marlowe, Archer, Poirot, Wolfe. And ongoing detectives-McCone, Bosch, Robicheaux.
Now ones that hold up fifty years later is an incredible achievement and I would add Beck and VanderValk amongst many others.
Those detectives didn't change much over time though and writers today have added that dimension, I think. Will this growth keep them fresh or make no difference?

Charles Gramlich said...

Well I can't get away from my favorite detective of all time. Travis McGee. Old Travis did actualy age physically over the series, though. I still loved every minute.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - I'm a big, big Agatha Christie fan, so sentimentally, I'd say Hercule Poirot. But Harry Bosch? Now there's a guy who's done a wonderful job for a long time.

MP said...

This one's tough. Although the Lew Archer series is, as the famous NYT review blurb would have it, "the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American", Archer himself was never that interesting as a character, nor was he intended to be. As for detectives who age and change throughout the course of a long series that itself remains vital and interesting, I'd have to go with Robicheaux and Bosch. Of course there are others, but these two stand out for me.

Walker Martin said...

I would have to say Philip Marlowe followed closely by Lew Archer. I recently reread both these series for the third or fourth time, and I was very impressed by how well they held up.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Hoke Mosley also holds up well for me-though there are only four novels featuring him. He drifts further from traditional police work in each one. But Willeford can make me laugh.
Walter Mosley did an interesting thing with Easy Rawlins by pulling him forward a number of years in each book.

R. T. said...

Forget the others you all mention. You need remember only one name: Morse.

Anonymous said...

Two Golden Age detectives who grew over the life of their series are Albert Campion and Ellery Queen. Both started off as van Dineish fops and matured greatly; Campion became subtly dangerous while Queen grew with social complexity.

Alas, some of my favorites did not age well, like Gideon Fell and Shell Scott.



Word verification: 'sults' -- some hookers just do it wrong

Jerry House said...

Two Golden Age detectives who grew over the life of their series are Albert Campion and Ellery Queen. Both started off as van Dine-ish fops and matured greatly; Campion became subtly dangerous while Queen grew with social complexity.

Alas, some of my favorites did not age as well, such as Gideon Fell and Shell Scott.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Morse is my all-time favorite, too.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Although I may be overly influenced by the superb job John Thaw did in bringing him to life. I can't separate the two.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Oh, my, true confession time.

I never have read the Morse series. I saw each and every single one of them on Mystery and always figured that kind of ruined the possibility of reading them.

While I enjoyed Travis McGee back in the day, the last few seemed very formulaic to me.

And I have to admit I have no idea who Beck and VanderValk are/were?

le0pard13 said...

I'm an Elvis Cole/Joe Pike person, and they hold up very well for me.

Vince said...

Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder. Another character who aged - and deepened - as the series progressed.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Martin Beck is in the Dutch series of police novels by Nicholas Freeling. The other is the creation of Maj Sjowal and Per Wahloo, Swedish series from the same era -sixties and seventies.
I love Scudder.
I have to admit I have not read Cole. Someday.
And I have not read the Nameless books by pronzini. Next topic-what haven't you read and probably should have.

Dana King said...

Elvis Cole and Dave Robicheaux. I revere Chandler and Marlowe above all writers, but there are only half a dozen of them, so others who have gone on longer gain precedence in my view.

Declan Hughes's Ed Loy is right up there after four books (I've not read the fifth yet), and Michael Koryta's Lincoln Perry has similar potential, as does Sean Chercover's Ray Dudgeon.

Dana King said...

Oops, almost forgot. The series is over, but Steve Carella and his pals at the 87th Precinct (including Fat Ollie) never slowed down.

Richard R. said...

Chiming in late, but I see no one has mentioned a personal favorite of a very long series, Maigret. Though as with every series, there are better and less good books within it, over all I think the French policeman holds up even today, certainly as well as, though different from, Poirot, who would be my other choice.

I do love Marlowe, McGee, Archer, but there weren't nearly the number of books. Wolfe, yes, certainly.

And one other: Cadfael.

Frank Loose said...

I have to go with Lew Archer. In MacDonald's hands, the writing, character and stories went from Chandler wannabe's to a new type of detective story that has influenced writers ever since. The books covered more than three decades and for the most part still hold up quite fine today. While most long-running detective series fade, the Archer books got better and better.

I never considered Travis McGee to be a detective, nor was he intended to be, IMO. I loved the books, but don't think he qualifies, though one can make an argument for it I guess. Also, to read them today one has to overlook a good bit of sexism, so from that pov they don't hold up as well as others. I reread the series ten years ago and still loved the stories.

Dorte H said...

Morse, of course, and the Swedish Martin Beck.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Among ongoing series I elect Nameless. For series that have ended I'll go with Nero Wolfe.

Anonymous said...

Patti, you wrote that backwards. Martin Beck was Sjowall & Wahloo (I recently picked up the 10 books to reread...some day) and Van der Valk was Nicolas Freeling.

Yes, Pronzini's Nameless series is on my list, like Cap'n Bob's. And Rick, I was going to mention Maigret, since I've read all of them.

Dana King: the only one you mentioned I'd agree with (for me) is McBain's Carella & co.

Other series that have kept me reading:

Stuart Kaminsky's Porfiry Rostnikov and Abe Lieberman
John Mortimer's Rumpole
Peter Robinson's Alan Banks
Archer Mayor's Joe Gunther
Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott
Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn & Chee
Ken Bruen's Taylor & Brant series
John Harvey's Charlie Resnick series (the others, not as much)
Steven F. Havill's New Mexico series (Bill Gastner/Estelle Reyes)
Jill McGown's Lloyd & Hill
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles' Bill Slider
Andrea Camilleri's Salvo Montalbano
S. J. Rozan's Lydia Chin/Bill Smith

Dave Robicheaux, just not for me.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, Maigret-we love him in the Abbott household. Read every Nero Wolfe in the early days.
I am surprised Sherlock has not shown up. I think I read every 87th Precinct story, too and loved how different guys played parts in each one. Also his series based on nursery rhymes.
I am on the hunt for the earliest Nameless I can find (at a decent price). The early ones are high.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Great list, Jeff. Peter Robinson is a terrific writer. And Jack Taylor is Tommy Gavin with a plot.

George said...

Someone recently sent me a Maigret, in French, no less! Oh, that was you, Patti! Thanks again!

Frank Loose said...

I'd like to add Cool & Lam, the terrific long-running A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner) series. First book came out in 1939, and last one in 1970, so three decades. I think Gardner wrote some of the wittiest and funniest dialogue out there. Yes, the plots can get rather complicated, but they are worth reading for the banter alone, which holds up as well today as when first written.

I.J.Parker said...

Surprising choices mostly.

For me: Martin Beck, Morse, Frost, Rumpole, Leaphorn, and Jack Taylor.
That's probably pretty much it. I'm picky.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, Frost. Loved the series.
I have to confess, I have never read
ESG. So many writers, so little time.

Jerry House said...

Cool and Lam, yes. I prefer the original versions, the ones where Lam joined the service to fight in WWII and became a decorated war hero rather than the post-war revisions which put Lam in the service but made no reference to the war.

Gardner's Perry Mason series maintained a consistency of tricky plotting and legalistic high jinks, but Mason was considerably softened from his original dark, pulpish roots. (Also, some of the early books in the series were revised to eliminate racial stereotyping -- particularly with Stepin Fetchet-like blacks.)

Dana King said...

@IJ Parker,
How did I forget Joe Leaphorn? Chee never moved me much, but Leaphorn is a favorite.

Deb said...

Two from England:

Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford series.

Reginald Hill's Dalziel & Pascoe series.

Both of these writers are still publishing books in their respective series (both of which started in the 1960s).

Joe Barone said...

Your questions led me down a different path. What writer was the greatest? For me, it is Hammett precisely because he didn't write a series. He wrote great books several of which set the pattern for what came later. He was in on there founding of at least two sub-genres (and maybe more) which led others to write great series.

When it comes to series, I sure remember being impressed with Lew Archer.

Barrie said...

For me, it's Nero Wolfe. Love that overweight, orchid-growing, yellow-wearing, beer-drinking Montenegrin!

R. T. said...

Having watched the recent Poirot offering (Murder on the Orient Express), I must confess to disappointment with the directorial distortions; Suchet remains wonderful (in spite of the "artsy-fartsy" photography and direction), so--in spite of my disappointment--I remain loyal to Suchet/Poirot as a detective who holds up well over time. (But, alas, I prefer the older offerings when a younger Suchet and different directors made everything much more enjoyable.)

Hannah Stoneham said...

Miss Marple is my all time favourite - as far as I am concerned, age will never wither her (if that is not too much of a contradiction)

Todd Mason said...

Another vote for Sharon McCone...to compare a "medium-length" series like Muller's to Marlowe seems unfair, given how few novels and short stories, the latter msotly cannibalized, Chandler wrote...and how weak PLAYBACK is. Also for Wolfe and Rumpole, like Archer not characters who grew or changed much, but pretty consistently interesting (I liked THE BLUE HAMMER, which many would class as a fade in the manner of THE GREEN RIPPER or, moreso, PLAYBACK). I like Warshawski and Nameless, as well...and Brock Callahan, perhaps in part because I've barely read the Joe Puma series, which Bill Crider and I believe some others would rate even higher in the Gault canon.

Anonymous said...

After all this no one mentioned the Continental Op? Awesome short stories and "Red Harvest" is out of control, it's like the first spaghetti western. "The Dain CUrse" kinda blew but it influenced a whole slew of California cult mysteries that showed up in the 70s. It took some soul-searching but I now truly believe that Hammett was a better writer than Chandler.

Dan Luft

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think it depends on whether plot trumps writing style or not. Chandler is always held out as better by the English professors but a lot of crime novel lovers prefer Hammett I think. IMHO.
I used to read all Muller's books and at some point stopped (as I stopped all series) but they were very enjoyable. And I must read a Nameless but oh the prices for the early ones.

Todd Mason said...

You have to read a series from the first novel? I started reading McCone novels with TROPHIES AND DEAD THINGS, which is a much better novel than EDWIN OF THE IRON SHOES.

Yes, foolish English professors are like that. Chandler is always on the verge of purple. Hammett, conversely, sets the tone.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Okay, which is the best "Nameless" novel?

Todd Mason said...

I haven't read them all (or even half of them, yet), but I think SHACKLES was the default choice for the most memorable a dcecade back.

Todd Mason said...

And, of course, DOUBLE is pretty good, given the necessary cuteness of the conceit (McCone and Nameless work together).

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, good, my local library has that one.

Kent Morgan said...

I agree about Dave Robicheaux as I'm reading the latest right now. Also Harry Bosch and I think Ian Rankin's Rebus series held up. The late William Tapply's series featuring lawyer Brady Coyne was very consistent. As is Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford series. Some people no doubt will disagree, but I've enjoyed every book in the Lucas Davenport series by John Sandford. Two newer ones that have stood up to date and I believe will stand the test of time are C.J. Box's Joe Pickett and William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My son is a big Sandford fan. I have yet to try him or Kreuger or Box. I gotta stop this and other blogs and start reading books.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Currently reading the last one titled STORM PREY and it very good.

Mack said...

I enjoyed the first couple of Dave Robicheaux stories but I find that I just don't like him or find the stories compelling and he is off my must read list.

Dan - I agree about the Continental Op. I'm about to finish The Big Knockover where 9 of the 10 stories feature the Op and, dated as they are, he is a good read.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I might not have thought of Maigret as the freshest of series, but he gets fresher every time one reads a crime novel whose protagonist empathizes with the perp, from Friedrich Glauser through Andrea Camilleri.

And I’ll award a special citation to Arthur Morrison, whose nineteenth-century stories might, except for period details, might have been written yesterday.

I haven't read a lot of the Nero Wolfe stories, but Rex Stout seemed always to be able to incorporate contemporary references without seeming forced.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

pattinase (abbott) said...

The non-Simenons hold up even better for my money.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Non-Maigrets, you mean? I have read good things about them, and I have read that they are taken more seriously because they are non-series books. I haven't read them, though.

I'm not sure they've exercised as much influence on crime writers, if only because they are less widely known. Scott Phillips is a big fan of Simenon's non-Maigret romans durs.
==========================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sorry about that. I was up past my bedtime! Yes, the non-Maigrets. Just read the THE CLOCKMAKER and also loved THE MAN WHO WATCHED TRAINS, RED LIGHTS, THREE BEDROOMS IN MANHATTAN. Really good.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm always up past my bedtime.

MysterLynch said...

Bosch and Rebus are the top two. Charlie Parker has held up damn well also.