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.

  1. 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’.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.



  1. Greg Reed / December 13, 2017 at 12:30 pm /Reply

    Good points here. I can see my favourite detective Hercule Poirot in these points.

    Thanks for sharing

  2. S Patel / December 13, 2017 at 12:36 pm /Reply

    Loved your tips. Have you ever seen The Indian Detective?

    • C T Mitchell / December 14, 2017 at 11:58 am /Reply

      No but I have heard about it. Very successful show I believe

  3. sandra vensland / December 13, 2017 at 1:59 pm /Reply

    :LPVE your books….they are great reads!

  4. Luanne Serrato / December 13, 2017 at 2:12 pm /Reply

    I agree with CT.

  5. Jan / December 13, 2017 at 2:57 pm /Reply

    And female detectives would have a different set of characteristics?

    • C T Mitchell / December 14, 2017 at 12:01 pm /Reply

      Female detectives are great. Love Bailey and Scott

  6. Molly H / December 13, 2017 at 3:30 pm /Reply

    Another insightful and humorous bit of wisdom from CT Mitchell.
    Love it!

  7. Deb Lavery / December 13, 2017 at 4:33 pm /Reply

    Referring to C.T.Mitchell’s 7 Step Guide…. I believe he hit the nail on the head.The only quality that he left out is that the detective must be intuitive .He will use his Intuition and dedutive
    reasoning to solve the crime when everyone else is completely confused.

    • C T Mitchell / December 14, 2017 at 12:02 pm /Reply

      Good point Deb – you’ve saved me again

  8. Lorraine / December 13, 2017 at 4:56 pm /Reply

    Sounds like you have it fairly Down pat.
    Has to think outside the box, usually play his cards close to his chest.
    Not really give a fig, if he thinks he is right.
    ” my way or the highway” mentality in a lot of cases, with occasional flashes of humility.
    Mmmmm. All I can think of off hand.

    • C T Mitchell / December 14, 2017 at 12:03 pm /Reply

      Straight to the point Lorraine. I like that

  9. John Barnes / December 13, 2017 at 5:27 pm /Reply

    I’ve read through your main points very carefully and you describe exactly what I like in my favourite detective characters

    • C T Mitchell / December 14, 2017 at 12:03 pm /Reply

      Excellent John – glad it rings true for you

  10. Jackie / December 13, 2017 at 7:11 pm /Reply

    I agree with those steps and about a male detective. A female detective might have a harder time sometimes trying to get information but will use their feminine wiles as well.

  11. Karin / December 13, 2017 at 7:38 pm /Reply

    Super observant – even if it is at the last minute :>)

  12. Christine Jackson / December 13, 2017 at 9:15 pm /Reply

    That is a perfect description of A Typical male detective. I also love the ol’ snooping lady with too much time on her hands and an intuitive sense for the not-so-cut-and-dry seemingly apparent death. Good job!

    • C T Mitchell / December 14, 2017 at 12:06 pm /Reply

      Thanks Christine. Appreciate your comment

  13. Shirley / December 13, 2017 at 10:52 pm /Reply

    I think you hit the right point. I know female detectives are not as popular, usually depicted as little old ladies, Miss Marple, and usually has a male side kick. They are also in a humorous genre.

    • C T Mitchell / December 14, 2017 at 12:07 pm /Reply

      Scott and Bailey are a bit tougher than Miss Marple

  14. Wendy Hewitt / December 13, 2017 at 10:52 pm /Reply

    On the 1st day of Christmas my mystery author said to me – put a reply to the blog you see…. SO – my thought is – go for something out of the box, such as 8 milk men milking … or 10 ladies leaping… My detective is an OCD primary school pupil who sees things because she is NOT SEEN, she is just a child, so can be invisible and notice stuff on a different level. Get it? Good luck with your writing.

  15. ANDREW FULLER / December 13, 2017 at 11:36 pm /Reply

    Great content, one quick point:
    Lewis, Morse’s sidekick, is actually a Geordie-a native of Newcastle-not a Londoner.

    • C T Mitchell / December 14, 2017 at 11:56 am /Reply

      I didn’t know that – thank you so much for pointing that out to me

  16. Suzanne Hunt / December 14, 2017 at 12:02 am /Reply

    Unflappable and observant

    • C T Mitchell / December 14, 2017 at 12:08 pm /Reply

      Great extras. Definitely on the list Suzanne

  17. Susan Hiller / December 14, 2017 at 12:21 am /Reply

    A great detective has to have an in-depth understanding of human nature i.e. Miss Marple. They have the ability to see that people are the same everywhere, regardless of their culture. They have to truly love all people to keep the fire of justice burning in their belly.

    • C T Mitchell / December 14, 2017 at 12:11 pm /Reply

      Agree Susan. Miss Marple is great

  18. yours truly / December 14, 2017 at 1:25 am /Reply

    Great advice, CT!! If I was a writer, (which I may be some day!!), I would certainly take notes from you. However, I may change things up a little bit and turn him into a woman just for fun! Haha!! I have no idea what kind of book I would want to write let alone what kind of detective I would put in my book. That being said, I’ll dit on it and give it some thought. Until next time~

    • C T Mitchell / December 14, 2017 at 11:57 am /Reply

      You would like Jo Boston-Wright then

  19. Julie / December 14, 2017 at 6:49 am /Reply

    Hi, CT!

    I agree with your 7 but I’d like to add the detective must be “real”. What I mean is, the detective should be human and have a few foibles rather than being perfect. Linda Davis’ Maude Adams series and Anne R Tan’s Raina Sun series are perfect examples where the pro and amateur detectives are down to earth yet meet your 7 criteria perfectly! :)

    • C T Mitchell / December 14, 2017 at 12:19 pm /Reply

      Yes REAL keeps it all real Julie

  20. Cindy Bowers / December 14, 2017 at 7:02 am /Reply

    Your right on the money. You have 7 very practical points. Which I have to agree with. Keep up the good work. Hope you have a great holiday. Cindy Bowers

  21. Pat / December 14, 2017 at 8:06 am /Reply

    Great information. One more characteristic that I like is that that that he may be older, a sarcastic old coot even, but he is so likable.

  22. Diane Rohlinger / December 14, 2017 at 8:37 am /Reply

    Yes, you covered the requirements for a great detective quite well. I don’t think that there is any other qualification to add. The only question I have is: is this strictly a list for male detectives? If it is, then how about writing one for the female detectives of the world? Or maybe that’s not something writers in India need. But even if they don’t need it, I sure would love to see your list of qualifications for the female detectives of the USA. How about it??

    • C T Mitchell / December 14, 2017 at 12:22 pm /Reply

      My original total was aimed at women readers Diane. But editorial changed it. Female detectives – Tennyson comes to mind

  23. Derice Harwood / December 14, 2017 at 12:29 pm /Reply

    7 great points and I agree with them all. Additionally, though, a realistic intuition plays a part in drawing the character closer to the reader. For example, Miss. Marple and many others who are not only detectives, but rely on their own ‘gut instinct’.

  24. Debbie / December 14, 2017 at 7:37 pm /Reply

    Now see.. this is why CT is one of my favourite authors :) He hit all the high points.

  25. Jenny Baker-Griffiths / January 23, 2018 at 11:11 pm /Reply

    All my favourite detective’s traits to be honest, and I love every one.

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