Friday’s edition of The Times included a feature on the Top Ten television detectives. It was a disappointment.
Morse was at Number One, but anything other would probably have regarded as heresy. There were two appearances for Sherlock, Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch. To be honest, the latter started well and descended into the realms of silliness in more recent series.
Much of the list was comprised of more recent arrivals that will probably not stand the test of time. Spiral and The Bridge were included, but neither seem the best detective offering to come out of their respective countries. There seemed a too liberal sprinkling of satellite channel broadcasts, perhaps to be expected in a Murdoch-owned newspaper.
What should have been included in the Top Ten? Perhaps these four might have been considered:
Foyle’s War starring the inimitable Michael Kitchen was an extraordinarily well produced piece of wartime drama as well as an excellent detective series. There was an exact eye for detail and brilliant scripts by Anthony Horowitz.
The adaptations of Georges Simenon’s Maigret with Rowan Atkinson as the Parisian police commissioner have run to just four television films but capture the atmosphere of a seedy mid-century Paris. A diffident, introspective character, Maigret is like Morse in his dislike the use of his first name, even his wife addressing him as “Maigret.” The stories are grim and uncompromising.
Inspector George Gently with Martin Shaw as the detective working in the North East of England does not shy away from the political corruption of the 1960s and is not afraid to ask difficult questions. In the final series, his integrity costs him his life.
If overseas series are to feature in the Top Ten, then one of the incarnations of Wallander should be included. The Kenneth Branagh version seemed almost to be comfortable viewing compared with the Swedish language film series with Rolf Lassgård playing the lead role and the Swedish television series starring Krister Henriksson. The series not only approaches stories with profound psychological insights, but shows deep empathy in its presentation of Wallander’s decline into dementia.
Were I to choose my favourite television detective, though, it would be Inspector Montalbano. Montalbano works in his native Sicily, his tales are of crime, comedy, cuisine. Montalbano struggles in his relationships and administers his own understandings of justice.
Perhaps the choice of Foyle, Maigret, Wallander and Montalbano owes less to their role as detectives and more to the insights they offer into the human condition.