Fictional detective Olympics: The oldest, the best, the most murdery

Grab your magnifying glasses and prepare to explore as Mashable uncovers Big/Little Mysteries.
Who doesn't like a good fictional detective? This genre has been a favorite of ours for 120 years. It was born out of nowhere in 19th century. Many imitators of Sherlock Holmes were born, some with as many curious quirks and habits as Holmes himself. The amateur sleuth was the father of the PI, the super detective. There are more police inspectors and pathologists than you can shake a rumpled coat at.

My tolerance for detective fiction is very limited. While I can enjoy a single story or episode, binging on endless mysteries or binging on episodes leaves me feeling numb. I wonder how many murders take place in this small town. This is a grim dystopia, with crime rates that are much higher than the real-world average. This is why we love stories that incite paranoia about people who turn out to be stone-cold murderers: it's a mystery.

We're not going to lose this cultural obsession so why not celebrate the absurdity of all the bload-soaked nonsense? This is a fictional detective Olympics. We award medals to meddling children and other gumshoes who have achieved the most ridiculous superlatives: solved the most cases, worked for the longest time, had the largest body count, and managed the longest careers.

Use the little gray cells

We looked at dozens of iconic and important detectives, from movies, comics, and books, over the past 180 years. A detective is a character that investigates crime. Batman fans, it includes Batman, the superhero who started in Detective Comics. He calls himself the "world’s greatest detective"; whether or not his Olympic performance lives up the hype remains to see.

We'll consider the version that has the most episodes or stories, if a detective is well-known in multiple media. (For example, Agatha Christie's 88 novels, plays, and short stories about Hercules Poirot beat the 77 episodes on the Poirot TV series.

Let's start at the beginning with a winner that you probably have never heard of.

The first detectives

Gold medal: C. Auguste Dupin (1841). Silver: Sherlock Holmes (1880). Bronze: Father Brown (1910).

Timeline with a selection of our candidates: Detective books are mostly 20th century phenomena. Credit: BOb Al-Greene / Mashable

Sorry, Sherlockians. Arthur Conan Doyle is the most well-known detective of all time (with 60 stories, novels and dozens of TV adaptations), but it was an American author who made that happen first.

In 1841 Edgar Allan Poe published his short story, "The Murders at the Rue Morgue". It tells how a Frenchman named C. Auguste Dupin solves the murders of a mother-daughter in a locked room. This plot sounds like something out of today's crime dramas. There are clueless police officers and a wrongful arrest. The ending is also twisty. (Spoiler alert: An orangutan did it.)

Networks would be scrambling to get Poe's pilot for a full season. He only wrote two more Dupin stories before his death. The stories influenced Conan Doyle and G.K. Chesterton (a fellow Victorian author), who both created Father Brown, the crime-solving Catholic priest.

Watson, what's next? Credit: ITV PLC. Brother Cadfael (left), played by Derek Jacobi in ITV's adaptation.

Honorable mention: A shout-out to Cadfael from the 12th Century, who was a murder-solving monk. He is far from the only one in the world. Edith Pargeter (writing as Ellis Peters) created him in 1977. He is the first detective in the fictional timeline, defeating Friar William of Baskerville (played in The Name of the Rose by Sean Connery) by two centuries.

Longest detective careers, immortal character category

The Hardy Boys, in 1927, their first adventure. Many authors have used Franklin Dixon as a pseudonym over the years. Credit: penguin group

Frank and Joe Hardy (94 Years) won the gold medal. Silver: Nancy Drew (91). Bronze: Dick Tracy (90 Years).

This is the first time you might see Batman, who was created 82 years ago but has not looked a day more than 30, winning. Bad news Bats, there are four detectives who are as old as you. They started their lives before you and have been solving crime every day since. Bruce Wayne is fourth, rather than fifth because the two characters before him are joined at the hip.

The Hardy Boys are the forever-adolescent sleuths who live in the fictional Bayport town. The Hardy Boys' multiple series of books began in 1927 and have not slowed down. Even in the 21st Century, Hardy Boys adventures still sell over a million copies each year. Nancy Drew was first published by the same publisher in 1930. She has also appeared in many books, some co-starring her older crime-fighting brothers. Nancy Drew was not a mere copycat. Nancy became a cultural icon, appearing in far more TV and movie adaptations that her brothers, who were more bland.

Dick Tracy is Chester Gould's daily comic strip character. Tracy, one of the first fictional detectives in police force, was created to honor Eliot Ness, a Chicago-based investigator. He was soon known for his crime-fighting technology long before Batman. Tracy's most recognizable gadget was actually a prediction of the future, as if to slap it in the face of the Caped Crusader. This two-way wristwatch radio radio is very Apple Watch.

Longest detective careers, mortal category

Retired and enjoying it: David Suchet is the longest-running Poirot. Credit: lwt/photoshot / getty photos

Hercules Poirot (59 Years) won the gold medal. Silver: Sherlock Holmes (34 Years). Bronze: Philip Marlowe (29 years) and Ezekiel Rawlins ("Easy") Rawlins (29)

Sometimes fictional detectives die before their time.

Hercules Poirot is a good example. The shrewd Belgian investigator Agatha Christie first featured in The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920, but it was set in 1916. Poirot, a World War I refugee was supposed to have retired by this time. He continued to help the British police for many decades, solving murders wherever he went on vacation (on the Orient Express on the Nile), until Curtain was published in 1975. Christie killed the detective she had come to hate. The author admitted that Poirot's first retirement made him over 100 years old when he died.

Christie was not forced to bring her creation home. This was Conan Doyle's fate, who succumbed to public pressure and brought Sherlock Holmes home after sending him to his death at Reichenbach Falls in 1893. Holmes would continue to investigate cases through His Last Bow. This is a series of stories that Holmes wrote during his retirement. His Last Bow, though we don't see Holmes die, ends in 1914.

Our bronze medalist book detectives, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins, never ended. At least Mosley is still around and once suggested that he would bring Rawlins’ story (which covers 1939-1968) closer to the present. Rawlins America’s most famous African American detective could surpass Marlowe in longevity and challenge the greatest detective of all time.

Munch and Benson: TV detective subcategory with the longest careers. Credit: Will hart / NBC universal

Honorable mentions. We must give a shout-out to Olivia Benson (TV) and John Munch (TV). These two Law & Order stars have been named the longest-lasting prime time TV characters. Benson is the winner, with 505 episodes under her belt since 1999 when she first appeared on TV.

Munch, a Baltimore-based detective (370 episodes), has the distinction of appearing on more shows than any other detective. In 1993, he began his career in Homicide. Now, you can find him in shows such as The Wire and X-Files, as well as The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Most murders in big cities

"Excuse us, Mr. Olympic Judge. Just one thing. Is it not true that your gold a killer? Credit: NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Dexter Morgan (138) won the gold medal Silver: Lt. Frank Columbo (92). Bronze: Adrian Monk (82).

This category should see Batman win. He has been around for approximately 2,500 issues in different comic book titles. Even though the average murder is less than one per issue, it's likely that there were many hundreds of killings in Gotham over the course of his existence.

However, any judge for a fictional detective Olympics will face a few problems. First, Batman has been reimagined so many times in comics (in 1956 and 1986, we started following alternate universe Bruce Waynes), that it's difficult to know which Batman you are dealing with. A second reason is that, to our knowledge no one has attempted the daunting task of reading every Batman comic, and counting how many murders it contains.

This is also true for Batman's rival Dick Tracy, who has made numerous appearances over the years. We are forced to disqualify both until a comics geek can provide us with definitive body counts.

In their absence, Dexter receives the gold medal. This is expected to increase as the character returns to Showtime. Columbo had a remarkable 92 murders solved during his decade on TV, while Monk came in third with only 82. Monk was able to solve the most murders per capita despite having spent less time on television (7 years) as well as living in San Francisco.

There's one more thing. They are not able to match the blood-soaked TV detective, Cabot Cove, Maine resident.

Most murders in small towns

Don't let the smile fool your eyes. Jessica Fletcher is the only detective who has solved more confirmed murders than any other, fictional or real. Credit: CBS via Getty Images

Jessica Fletcher (274). Silver: Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby (210) Bronze: Father Brown (71).

Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury), star in Murder She Wrote, will present your medal. We could give her two gold medals. It's not just a TV record, but 274 murders that she solved in 268 episodes. It is also a per-capita record. Cabot Cove is home to just 3,500 people, giving it a murder rate that's more than twice the average for the most violent countries.

Fletcher is likely to be the best detective alive or dead. She solved so many murders in one small town. Fletcher is regarded as the greatest murder detective in the world. This raises a question that is briefly mentioned in the show. How come all these murderers congregate around Fletcher?

Concerning the mystery murders of Batman and Dick Tracy: Gotham is thought to have 10,000,000 residents and Chicago, nearly 3 million. Therefore, even thousands of deaths from these series' wouldn't make their locations more deadly than Cabot Cove, 1984-2003.

Silver medal to Midsomer Murders star, which is a UK series little known outside of PBS hardcore viewers. Although technically it stars two detectives at a time, Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby was his cousin and we are going to grant them a Hardy Boys pass. Midsomer is still on TV after 24 years. This should allow the Barnaby boys to catch up with Fletcher's total body count.

Another example of cloning was the replacement of the 'Inspector Morse series (right) by a prequel about his later years, 'Endeavour (left). Credit: ITV PLC

Midsomer is a fictional country that is roughly equal in size to Oxfordshire. This was, as we saw in multiple Inspector Morse episodes, quite murderous in itself. Although Morse is most well-known to the PBS audience, as a student at Oxford during his time on British TV, it's not uncommon for Oxford professors to mysteriously fall from bell towers. The murder rate for Midsomer was three times that of the Oxfordshire average.

Cabot Cove's murders and Midsomer’s 2.6 per episode are prime examples. This is because the more rural a place, the more likely you will be killed. If you are ever invited to a country estate for a weekend in an alternate universe of murder mysteries, you should get as far as you can.

Event for teams

The LA PI: Denzel Washington as Watts' Easy Rawlins in the 1995 film "Devil in a Blue Dress". Credit: sony pictures

Gold medal: Los Angeles. Silver: New York City. Bronze: San Francisco, London and Miami are tied.

Without the possibility of team sports, an Olympics wouldn't exist. This is a question that can be applied to detective fiction.

The answer is obvious: Los Angeles is the home of the hardboiled. Rawlins, Marlowe, and Columbo all work in this city of angels. Also, Perry Mason, Jim Rockford (The Rockford Files), and Alex Delaware (heroes of the Jonathan Kellerman books) are among the many residents. New York City is proud of its strong showing, with Olivia Benson leading the charge alongside Robert Goren (Law & Order) and Jessica Jones.

London (Holmes, Poirot), Miami, (Dexter, Crockett & Tubbs), and San Francisco (Sam Spade, Adrian Monk), had two fictional detectives in their lists, so we're awarding them all bronze medals. You could argue that each location deserves more detectives, but let's not get into that.

Let's also give Mma Precious RAMOTSWE of Botswana a special Olympics commendation. She has been the star of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series for the past 23 years. She is the most hardworking detective, and she doesn't live on the streets of America or Europe. Let's not forget the one man who is waving the flag for Gotham City. He tried his best.


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