The earliest setting for fictional detectives is the first century BC in ancient Rome. The most prominent example is Goridanus the Finder created by Steven Saylor. Gordianus is active during the time of well-known figures from history such as Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, and Mark Antony, and the plots weave real historical characters with fictional ones. Saylor introduced Gordianus in Roman Blood (1991), as part of the Roma Sub Rosa series, and set the story in 80 BC. In the story, the young Cicero, a newly qualified advocate turns to Gordianus for help.
The first modern detective in crime fiction was Dupin. He was the creation of Edgar Allan Poe and was introduced in the Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841, and appeared twice more, in the Mystery of Marie Roget in 1842 and The Purloined Letter in 1844. Poe created Dupin as the first fictional detective to use superior powers of observation and reasoning the solve crimes and thus paved the way for later characters such as Sherlock Holmes. Poe is regarded as the creator of the modern crime novel.
The most famous fictional detective in the world is probably Sherlock Holmes, introduced in A Study in Scarlet in 1887. His creator was Arthur Conan Doyle, who credited his own exceptional powers of deduction to the years he spent studying under Professor john Bell of Edinburgh University. Conan Doyle was founder and the first goalkeeper of Portsmouth United Football Club. He also investigated real criminal cases, a direct result of which was the setting up of the Court of Appeal.
Maigret was created by Georges Simenon, whose first work featuring Maigret was published in 1935. Simenon wrote very quickly, expecting to take no more than a month to write a book. Alfred Hitchcock phoned him one day but was told by his secretary that Simenon couldn’t be disturbed because he had just started to write a new novel. Knowing how fast Simenon wrote, Hitchcock said, “Would you mind if I wait?”
Hercule Poirot was first featured by Agatha Christie, the world’s most famous crime writer, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920. She wrote this, her first book, while working as a nurse during the First World War. Miss Jane Marple was another creation of Agatha Christie. Murder at the Vicarage was her first appearance in 1930.
Philip Marlowe first appeared in the 1939 novel The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. In the 1946 film of the book, Humphrey Bogart provided the definitive portrayal of Marlowe, starring with his future wife Lauren Bacall>
Sam Spade first appeared in 1922 in stories written by Dashiel Hammett in the Black Mask magazine. Humphrey Bogart was perfectly cast again in this hard-bitten role in the 1941 film The Maltese Falcon. In the McCarthy “anti-American” witch hunt of the 1950s Hammett refused to give the names of his left-wing friends and was sentenced to six months in prison.
Inspector Morse debuted in Colin Dexter’s novel Last Bus to Woodstock in 1975. Morse’s forename – Endeavour – was not revealed until 1996, in Death Is Now My Neighbour, and he was killed off in the final book, The Remorseful Day, in 2000.