Lets face it murder-mysteries can be so formulaic, and yet we love them and keep coming back to them: and so, to celebrate some of the more renowned here is another of my now surely infamous "list o' fives"
As usual there are rules - no police procedurals, no cop shows: so if you're a fan of CSI Bognor Regis, or TJ Hooker look away now as they won't get a mention other than just now.
No - I'm focussing on stand-out performances of famous detectives - some that have made it from paper to the small screen and some that went beyond.
#1: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes
Brett became so wrapped up in the character that he made himself physically ill, a factor that probably added to his early death - but his arch performance makes his Sherlock Holmes stand head and shoulders above the pack.
#2: David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
Many people hold up the works of Agatha Christie as being the perfect murder-mysteries and talk of her profound knowledge of the motives of humans - I can't say that it's a point of view that I particularly prescribe to. If we're honest here you could probably put any of her characters as the murderer and swap her plots between books and no one would notice - but although she felt that in Hercule Poirot she had created a monster David Suchet succeeds in making the Belgian detective remarkably human. Now only five or six stories away from having made every single Poirot for TV it must be hoped that the excellent Suchet continues
#3 Peter Falk, as Columbo
I'd love to have been at the meeting where they pitched this one to the networks: hey guys, its a detective show, only we show you whodunnit at the start. But why, they must have asked, would you watch until the end if you knew whodunnit at the start?
The answer, of course, is Peter Falk. Absolutely note-perfect as the deshiveled detective who allows his suspects to trap themselves by forever adding on their story until it falls apart this is surely one of the most genius pieces of casting of all time - although, it is interesting to note that a touring version of the very first Columbo story recently came to our local theatre with Dirk "The Face"/Starbuck Bennedict as Leiutennant Frank Columbo (and yes, that was his first name. Though never used in the show it does appear on his police badge)
#4: John Thaw as Chief Inspector Morse
Thaw was already no stranger to the TV detective genre, having played Regan in 70's cop-show The Sweeney, but it was here, amidst the splendour of Oxford's universities that he truly excelled. Morse took the step of making every episode two hours long, allowing plenty of time for the viewer to get to know the characters - and for once it really worked. With his panchant for opera and expensive cars Endeavour Morse (yes, that really was his first name) was an example of UK TV at its best
#5 Angela Lansbury as JB Fletcher
#5 Angela Lansbury as JB Fletcher
OK - so before we talk about the infamous Murder, She Wrote I just want to briefly mention my REAL fifth choice - who is of course the immortal Joan Hickson as Miss Marple
Hickson played the part in a series of BBC adaptations around the same time that Jeremy Brett played Holmes, and she could match him scene for scene for believability - more than can be said for the new Agatha Christie's Marple series. I heard once that Agatha Christie had mentioned Joan Hickson as a possible actress for her second most famous character - and if she did she was spot on. Any actor that plays Holmes or Marple has to stand in the shadow of Brett and Hickson for ever more
So back to Murder, She Wrote - lets face it the stories were utter rot. Mostly Jessica would be visiting a distant relative, or working on a re-write of one of her novels, and said relative would be accused of murder. From thereon in the writers just put all the character names into one hat and a spurious murder reason into a second hat and drew lots to find out whodunnit.
But of course none of that mattered, because Angela Lansbury, like Dick Van Dyke in Diagnosis: Murder and Tony Shaloub in Monk - were just so damn watchable that the whodunnit was very much a side issue
Suggestions for any ommissions welcome as ever