Five Books About…

Crack the Case With 5 SFF Detectives

She walked into my office on a pair of gams so long she almost gave herself a haircut on the ceiling fan. She was a real classy website, the kind I didn’t normally see in my line of work, but judging from the black eye, her comments section could get a little rough.

She leaned on my desk and told me she had a job for me.

“I need a list of five detectives” she told me. “And I will pay you a modest amount.”

I leaned back in my chair, remembered it was a stool and rolled onto the floor.

“Sounds like a real easy job. What’s the catch, dollface?”

“They all have to be from science fiction or fantasy” she said, like she said things like that to men like me every day of the week. And maybe she did. Maybe that was one of her go-to article formats. Maybe the world was really that sick a place.

“That won’t be easy” I said.

“You’ll figure it out. I hear you don’t have a problem with bending the rules.”

“That’s why they threw me off the force.”

“I heard it was ‘cos you was makin’ time with the commissioner’s sweetheart?”

“He was makin’ time with ME” I told her.

She left and I lit a cigarette and let the smoke waft over the Venetian blinds nice and atmospheric like.

This was going to get ugly. I knew right then that I was going to end up in the kind of dead end that can only be resolved by a character with a foreign accent walking into the room with a gun…

 

Rick Deckard, Bladerunner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Harrison Ford famously called his third most iconic SF/Fantasy role “a detective who doesn’t do any detecting”. But Deckard, like the movie around him, is not about plot and Ford is playing less a character than the entire concept of the hard-bitten, morally compromised, hard drinking gumshoe. Yes, it’s all about the trenchcoat and the mood and the atmosphere. But what mood. What an atmosphere. What. A. Trenchcoat.

 

Constable Peter Grant, Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London Series

A young Sierra Leonean/British copper with an aptitude for magic, Grant is recruited into the Folly, the London Met’s unit for dealing with magical crimes. A complete departure from your typical detective archetype, Grant is young, tech-savvy, snarky and genuinely seems to like other human beings(!)

Another thing that sets the series apart is that it doesn’t just show the aspects of policing that fiction tends to focus on i.e., solving crimes. Sure, Grant might face ghosts and body-hopping serial killers, but he also acts as a mediator, brokering peace between the feuding gods of London’s rivers and liaising with other agencies from across the world. Rivers of London takes a whole-cloth approach to depicting the day to day life of a modern British police officer which honestly makes it feel more faithful and realistic than a lot of straight crime fiction.

 

Ned Stark, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series

So stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A good man comes to a corrupt city seething with intrigue and betrayal and tries to solve the murder of his old mentor. But, he puts his trust in the one guy who he absolutely should not have trusted and in the end he’s brought down by a beautiful, treacherous blonde with gams that go everywhere, noticeably around her brother’s firm, dewey thighs.

“I ain’t even sorry.”

Yup. Ned Stark is your classic film noir detective trying to solve a hideous crime and ends up exposing corruption that goes all the way to the top, and which is he powerless to stop.

Forget it Ned. It’s King’s Landing.

 

Dirk Gently, Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently Novels

Less a single character and more a concept, Dirk Gently was Adams’ commentary on fictional detectives who rely more on coincidence and always correct guesses than on anything remotely like actual deduction.

Now what’s this doing here? That’s the real mystery.

Dirk believes in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, and takes a holistic approach to solving his cases, just acting randomly until the universe provides him with a solution. Which it always does For example, when stumped by a particularly vexing mystery Dirk muses that a child could see the solution, asks a random child and gets the correct answer (the perpetrator had a time machine).

It’s a very plastic concept, and probably why Dirk is so radically different across his many adaptations, whether it’s his rather scuzzy, overweight literary version, Harry Enfield’s lovable avuncular Dirk from the radio dramas, Stephen Mangan’s earnest conman from the 2010 series or whatever the hell Samuel Barnett was doing.

 

Tuvok, Star Trek: Voyager

Vulcan mind meld in Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Being the security officer on a Starfleet vessel is a weird job. On the one hand, you’re a bridge officer responsible for the ship’s arsenal which could literally devastate entire civilizations from orbit. On the other hand, you will occasionally be called down to Ten Forward to resolve a drunken dispute arising from the Betazed ambassador getting sloshed and sending telepathic dick pics to the Andorian delegation. You’re basically a bouncer with nuclear codes. Other duties include getting thrown around by whatever insecure monster or space deity wants to make themselves feel like a big man this week and, of course, solving the occasional good old fashioned MURDER.

Tuvok, played by Tim Russ, was the Vulcan security officer on Voyager (also known as Star Trek: Squandered Potential) a show with whom I have a tempestuous love/hate relationship so strong that you’ll frequently find me on the moors in a thunderstorm screaming its name while wearing a nightdress. Emotionless and logical even for a Vulcan, Tuvok was a natural fit for the role of the Sherlock Holmes-esque detective which the show would occasionally put him in with mixed results.

The first was “Ex Post Facto”, where Tuvok has to exonerate Tom Paris for the murder of an elderly alien scientist whose wife he was schtupping. It’s very consciously done like a noir murder mystery, complete with hard-boiled dialogue and character smoking (a rarity in Trek) but it fails to work either as straight drama or camp. It also relies on the hackneyed “the dog didn’t bark” trope to resolve its murder and so doesn’t really establish Tuvok as a competent detective.

Much more successful is “Meld” where Tuvok has a to track a serial killer loose on Voyager, played by the manifestation of the feeling of someone walking on your grave, Brad Dourif. In this episode, Tuvok mind melds with Dourif’s character to give him a measure of emotional control and ends up becoming psychotic, literalising the old “you have to think like the killer” saw. We also learn in this episode that Tuvok knows 94 ways to kill you unarmed, making Neelix’s survivial to the end of the series even more miraculous. Tuvok may be the most fascinating, under-utilised character in Trek to the point that…

Hey? CBS? You know the way you’re greenlighting new Trek series every damn day? Remember NCIS? Picture it: Older, wiser Tuvok (he now knows 104 ways to kill you) travelling across the Federation, solving Starfleet related murders. He served with Sulu, which gives him a connection to the Original Series characters, you could bring back Voyager crew, have him meet up with Seven of Nine—seriously guys, call me, I can have a pitch document ready by the end of the week, call me you cowards.

 

I looked at the names on my list. Not a bad day’s work. Now, I just had to figure out a way to wrap this all up.

A gun came into my office and made itself comfortable, followed by the shifty looking mustachioed man hanging off the handle.

“My hemployer vishes to speak vith you” he said. “Please to follow me.”

Neil Sharpson lives in Dublin with his wife and their two children. Having written for theatre since his teens, Neil transitioned to writing novels in 2017, adapting his own play The Caspian Sea into When The Sparrow Falls.

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