Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Five fantastic detective duos

What's better than a good detective? Two good detectives!  I love a good mystery story at this time of year, when it's too wet for spending much time outside. Here are five of my favourite prying pairs: three super-stylish mixed doubles from days of yore, and two pairs of irresistible old codgers who were written about this century, but loaded with last-century appeal.


Nick and Nora
Hero and heroine of Dashiell Hammet's The Thin Man, Nick and Nora Charles were super in print... but they were deco perfection in films, brought to life through the 1930s and 1940s by Myrna Loy and William Powell. It's a good job they made a successful transition to the silver screen as The Thin Man was Hammet's final novel, so without the films there would have been far less of Mr and Mrs Charles to enjoy. Never short of an entertaining crack or far from a martini, the ex-private detective and his heiress wife were as at home at a society party as they were in a rough speakeasy, and the films really sparkle with wit. You might also find the costumes and domestic scenes inspirational (I always do!).

Arthur Bryant and John May
A modern pairing here, but author Christopher Fowler loves detective novels, and in the earlier Bryant and May novels explores all sorts of classic tropes of the crime genre, including the locked room mystery. Arthur Bryant and John May are elderly detectives heading up the Peculiar Crimes Unit, a group of misfits and oddballs who are assigned the crimes too odd for the Met to deal with. Vintage lovers will fall for policewoman Janice Longbright, with her retro outfits and stockpile of deadstock lipsticks and perfumes, but everyone's real love is the duo themselves. May is stylish and tech-savvy, a silver fox, while scruffy, eccentric Bryant is instinctive and a hoarder of strange facts, and they complement each other perfectly. The hidden character is London itself; its history underpins everything, and you'll learn more about the Big Smoke from these books than from most history books.

If you fancy reading the Bryant and May stories, the best place to start, happily, is the first of the straight crime novels starring the pair, Full Dark House. I got the two most recent for Christmas (Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart and Bryant and May and the Burning Man), and they really are good.

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford
I wasn't sure about the most recent BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime stories at first, but by the end of the six episodes (covering two stories) I was a fully-fledged convert. (Costume writeups here and here.) However, it's well worth going back to the original books, if only because the Beresfords are Christie's only major detectives who aged as the novels came out, which affects not only the situations they are faced with, but also how they are able to investigate them.

Professor Dunning and Inspector Lionheart
You may well have missed The Scarifyers as they appear mainly in audio form - initially radio dramas, the characters have also appeared in a comic. The stories are set in the 1930s when academic and horror writing Dunning and policeman Lionheart are paired up to investigate rum goings-on. The stories are wonderfully geeky comedies; at the same time as poking fun at vintage horror, they're clearly written by people who love the genre. My favourite series is The Devil of Denge Marsh, where the two are called in after a government minister melts. The victims all appear to have worked on an acoustic mirror project at Denge Marsh - believe it or not, a real project; the intra-wars concrete listening devices still stand today - and the ensuing adventure parodies HP Lovecraft's novels and The Wicker Man, among other things.

In later stories Harry Crow replaces Lionheart - actor Nicholas Courtney, who you might also remember as the Brigadier in classic Doctor Who stories, sadly passed away.

Paul and Steve Temple
Another treat for the radio lover, crime writer Paul Temple and his journalist wife Steve first appeared on the radio in 1938, and solved crimes in their casually posh way until 1969. Most stories featured a good helping of the following: exotic locations, exploding vehicles (cars, boats or planes), nightclubs, restaurants, Steve getting kidnapped, rich ne'er-do-wells, grisly deaths, dodgy Cockney geezers. The dramas are broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra from time to time, and a number are also available on CD.

The stories were so popular that a series of films was made about Paul and Steve in the 1940s and 1950s, several of which are now available on DVD. I've reviewed Send For Paul Temple, Calling Paul Temple and Bombay Waterfront (aka Paul Temple Returns).

Anyway, those are my five favourite pairings. Have I missed yours? I'm always up for a good detective book/film/programme, so let me know if I have.

12 comments :

  1. These all sound good and have given me some new ones to look for. I am getting more into detective novels so am always on the look out for recommendations.

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    1. I do love the Bryant and May books. There are a dozen or so of them, and some are better than others, but the characters are always engaging.

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  2. I haven't read, seen or heard any of these pairings but did watch "The Lady Vanishes" on catch-up today. The model village at the beginning is hilarious. They all sound brilliant. Xx

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    1. Ooh, if you get the chance to see The Thin Man, it is wonderful.

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  3. I am so lapse at crime duos, I wasn't really aware of any of these!! I prefer a solo lead when it comes to solving crime. Thanks for the recommendations though, I'm always looking for new crime books and adaptations to get stuck into. Nothing like a bit of murder to make me feel festive... x

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    1. Nothing like the festive season to make me feel like a bit of murder ;-)

      I reckon you'd really like the Thin Man films and the Paul Temple radio plays. I got into Paul Temple when Radio 4 extra would broadcast an episode each night - it was great to get home and settle down to the latest installment.

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  4. Tommy and Tuppence are the only ones I'm familiar with and I loved the BBC's adaptation - especially for the clothes and styling.

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    1. It was fab, wasn't it? The costumes were so brilliantly thought out.

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  5. I suspect my favourite duo will always be Dorothy L. Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. The books are wonderful, but I also love the dramatisations starring Edward Pethebridge and Harriet Walter.

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    1. !!! I forgot Wimsey and Vane! That's pretty shoddy of me. They are definitely one of the great detective duos.

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  6. Wonderful list! Glaringly obvious a choice though it may be, I will always and forever adore Holmes and Watson. :)

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Heh, I thought of them and decided they were possibly a little early to mention, but you're right, they are fab. (I do like the wartime Holmes films as well as the stories, but am not keen on the modern BBC Sherlock.)

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