Detectives come in all shapes and sizes. The idea that a successful detective needs to be good looking, toned, deep mesmerizing eyes with a rock solid square jaw line would rule out most of the world’s most famous fiction detectives. A favorite Belgian with a handlebar mustache certainly wouldn’t fit this bill.
But there are some characteristics of a successful detective that have readers rushing back to the bookstore to buy more. Here are the seven ‘must have’ characteristics a detective absolutely needs if the mystery, thriller or suspense series in which he appears is to be a success.
- He must be smart even verging on brilliant
Great detectives often have an outstanding ability; great skills of deduction, perhaps can read minds or understand human psychology. Think Hercule Poirot and his ‘little grey cells’.
- He needs expertise in another field
He might have a medical background (Dr Blake Mysteries). Perhaps there’s a connection to forensics like Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series. The detective’s personal knowledge of a subject often helps them solve crimes. Chief Inspector Morse’s knowledge of Oxford and history has helped him numerous times. And in any case, we all want to be an expert at something; don’t we?
- A misunderstood outsider
Detectives who don’t quite fit in appeal to readers. They can be loners but are still self-aware and confident. Such characteristics appeal to a reader’s rebellious side as a lot of us hate having to conform. Ian Rankin’s Rebus fits the bill as does C T Mitchell’s Jack Creed.
- A bumpy career
Our favourite detectives never have a smooth career. They’ve usually had a bumpy ride brought about by their anti-establishment attitude. Detective Jack Creed is always butting heads with Chief Super O’Halloran. But it is this strength that women love, and men wish they had, that makes characters like Detective Frost a winner.
- A powerful sense of justice
Detectives with an unshakeable belief in justice always get their perpetrators. They never give up. They are extremely dependable. Nothing will beat them.
- Their work partner is the complete opposite
If the detective is polished, well-educated and possesses specialized skills or interests that assist him in solving the crime, his offsider is the opposite. Morse is well educated (Oxford) and loves classical music whereas Lewis is a British cockney with public school tastes. Inspector Lynley comes from an aristocratic background where Havers is a commoner. Such combinations work well because they give readers a taste of life they personally don’t experience.
- They are a bit of an enigma
They don’t fit in. They don’t blend in with their work colleagues and therefore tend to work on cases alone even though they may be part of a team or have a partner. Such detectives don’t trust people who don’t offer a lot of assistance to them either.
Male detectives with these characteristics are usually the most read. Readers identify with them. They see a little bit of themselves in these detectives, and so they will remain evergreen and continue to grow in popularity.