11 Best Fictional Detectives: What Made Them Timeless 

POSTED ON Apr 18, 2023

Sarah Rexford

Written by Sarah Rexford

Home > Blog > Fiction, Writing > 11 Best Fictional Detectives: What Made Them Timeless 

If you love reading thrillers or listening to true crime podcasts, you’ll love this list of fictional detectives. Some of the best fictional detectives have stayed in our minds for decades, and some hit the big screen in more recent years.

Regardless of where these well-loved detective characters made their first debut into the art of story, below is a list to inspire your own writing. Why?

One of the best ways to learn how to write great fictional detectives is by learning about ones that have already been done. It's helpful to draw inspiration from the greats, so you can implement different characteristics into your own writing.

Of course, copying another author's idea should never be our method of creativity. But, it's helpful to look through a list of famous fictional detectives, note what works, what we should include in our future characters, and then get to work.

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#1 – Sherlock Holmes 

The character Sherlock Holmes is perhaps one of the most loved, not to mention most brilliant, fictional detectives of all time. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, and between 1887 and 1927 wrote 62 cases via 4 novels and 58 short stories. 

Doyle’s work has inspired the BBC hit television show, Sherlock, of four seasons, as well as the film series which starred:

  • Robert Downey Jr.
  • Jude Law
  • Rachel McAdams 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character, Sherlock, has much to teach us in the art of creating detectives.

#2 – The Hardy Boys

The Hardy Boys series started in 1927, with fictional detectives Frank and Joe carrying the series from start to finish. Known for great writing, the intelligence of the characters, and their resilience as they solve copious amounts of crime (as well as survive endless knockouts), this series is a classic.

#3 – Nancy Drew

If you didn’t grow up reading The Hardy Boys chances are high you may have read Nancy Drew instead. The Secret of the Old Clock was first published in 1930, over 70 million copies of the books have been sold. 

An iconic character, Nancy Drew solves cases left and right, showed young girls that solving cases isn’t just reserved for the boys, and has become a beloved character. Carolyn Keene is to thank for this wonderful series! 

#4 – The Boxcar Children

The Boxcar Children series is aimed at younger readers, but still showcases the young children’s skill as detectives. Orphaned and then taken in by Grandpa Alden, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny not only go on adventures and solve mysteries, but teach readers important life lessons. 

The four children never go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink, take good pair of their pet dog, Watch, and encourage each other through their growing-up years (even when Jessie gets her first crush). 

Originally written by Gertrude Chandler Warner, born in 1890, the series lives on, complete with its own website.

#5 – Miss Marple

Agatha Christie is the author we have to thank for this compelling character in our list of detectives. Miss Marple is a kind, traditional, older woman, but she is also an extraordinary detective. 

Her somewhat feeble appearance acts as the perfect cover for her expertise in deduction, aptitude for solving cases, and quick mind. 

#6 – James Bond

Whether you love him for his tenacity in solving cases or can’t stand him for his womanizing, James Bond (or Agent 007) is a classic in the line of detectives. British novelist Ian Fleming first brought Bond to the page in his 1953 thriller, Casino Royale

Bond has starred on the big screen in many movies, been played by many actors, and his character is still a topic of discussion today. 

#7 – Jason Bourne

Another fictional character turned big screen character, Jason Bourne is a series of 17 books and a well-loved movie series as well. The first book, The Bourne Identity, released in 1980, but over forty years later, Jason Bourne is still a common reference. 

If you want to learn how to create a compelling character, mix vulnerability with ingenuity, and tie in a love story all at the same time, the character of Jason Bourne is a great starting point. 

#8 – Father Brown

G.K. Chesterton created one character, Father Brown, who went on to span 51 short stories. Known as a Catholic priest who lacks the traditional physicality of today’s fictional detectives, Father Brown’s character shows that it’s not the image that makes the man. 

His intuition stars right alongside him, and rather than focus on seemingly minuscule clues like Sherlock Holmes does, Father Brown steps into the shoes of the murderers he’s seeking to bring to justice.

#9 – Louise Lloyd 

Nekesa Afia’s novel, Dead Dead Girls, stars Louise Lloyd, a young black woman living in Harlem. When Lloyd ends up arrested and facing an ultimatum, she has to decide between a jail cell and helping the police solve the recurring murders. 

Deciding to join the police, Lloyd takes her place in our list of fictional detectives as she chooses to face a mastermind murderer. Lloyd puts her own safety at risk and seeks to bring the murderer to justice. 

#10 – Agent Lyndsey Duncan 

Alma Katsu wrote Red London, starring Agent Lyndsey Duncan. Duncan used her expertise to take down a mole inside the CIA, but this is where her story starts. 

Now in London, Lyndsey Duncan faces new plots that take her fictional detective skills to a whole new level: The CIA has revealed a threat that could not just put her allegiance with the Agency in jeopardy, but upend the world order. 

You don’t need to look far to find inspiration from Katsu’s female lead, Lyndsey Duncan. 

#11 – C. Auguste Dupin 

Maybe you dreaded reading Edgar Allen Poe in high school, or maybe you appreciated his writing expertise, but either way, Poe is often known as the writer who coined the genre of detective fiction. 

The first hero of this genre, fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin, leads the plot of The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Dupin is known for logic, like many fictional detectives are, but also his unique way of solving cases. 

The way in which Poe’s character untangles riddles may remind you of another famous detective, located at 221B, Baker Street, in London, England. 

Add Your Hero To The List Of Fictional Detectives 

Now that you have an overview of famous fictional detectives through the decades, it’s time to take notes on what your next character could look like. Will you use the genius and oddity often attached to Sherlock Holmes, or take an unexpected character, such as Father Brown, and create a detective out of them? 

As you decide how to craft your next protagonist, pay attention to what specific characteristics make you remember the above characters. Is it Miss Marple’s age and expertise that made you fall in love with her? Is it Bourne’s ingenuity yet streak of vulnerability that made you want to keep reading?

The best fictional detectives are heroic, yet relatable. There’s a reason The Boxcar Children series did, and still does, so well. Whether it’s Violet waking up with mosquito bites or Henry asking for more onions in his soup, the characters feel real.

Be proactive in creating your detectives, and you’ll be surprised how involved your readers become.

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