Stav Sherez, author of the Carrigan and Miller crime series, has chosen his five favourite literary crime duos. His new novel, The Intrusions, is out on 2nd February 2017, which has been described by Ian Rankin as ‘A Silence of the Lambs for the internet age’.
The classic image of the detective is that of a solitary figure silhouetted in streetlight; a lone defender battling the moral quagmire of the world. But there is also a counter-stream to this tradition – that of the detective duo. Though much more prevalent in crime TV shows than in novels, duos have nevertheless always been an important and integral part of crime fiction history. These are my top five.
- Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson
Obviously, there’s only one place to start and that’s with Conan Doyle’s mercurial duo. Most of the tropes of detective duos (and, in fact, of all crime fiction) can be traced back to them. Conan Doyle’s stroke of genius was in having Watson narrate the stories. This allowed him to take a step back from his creation and, consequently, to use Watson both as a character and as the author’s surrogate. The chalk and cheese nature of their personalities would also be the abiding template for all such duos to come.
- Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn
Tony Hillerman’s novels stand outside the mainstream of crime fiction in that they portray a marginalised world far removed from the dominant culture. Chee and Leaphorn are Navajos working for the Tribal Police in the Four Quarters region of the American South-West. Leaphorn is the elder, a university-trained investigator who relies on logic and forensics and who is dismissive of the mystical nature of his own culture. Chee, representing a younger generation of Navajos who’ve gone back to traditional values, is a rookie detective who is also training to be shaman and healer. Their pairing is a stroke of genius and their heated debates over the nature of crime, tradition, and culture are as fascinating as the sinister mysteries they explore.
- Carol Jordan and Tony Hill
Val McDermid’s Tony Hill is hands-down one of the most enigmatic, complex and nuanced characters in crime fiction. A profiler of serial killers, Hill is close enough to their pathology to understand what makes them tick. His shut-down personal life and obsessiveness contrasts perfectly with Carol Jordan’s no-nonsense approach to policing and her fierce determination for justice. Like all the best detective duos, these two complement each other by filling in the missing pieces of each other’s personalities.
- Hap Collins and Leonard Pine
Now the subject of a popular TV series, Joe R. Lansdale’s anarchic creations are still best appreciated in print. The Hap & Leonard novels introduced us to the twisted world of East Texas, a rural milieu that’s quite unusual in crime fiction. Like all great duos, it’s the differences between the two which animates the narrative – Hap is a former hippie and draft dodger while Leonard is a black, gay Vietnam veteran. Through several novels of lysergic surrealism and hard-boiled darkness, they manage to get into more trouble than they fix, yet somehow stand out as beacons of morality among the twisted bottomlands of the Texas panhandle.
- Kiszka and Kershaw
Anya Lipska‘s London is a modern, multicultural city where crime is as likely to take place in high as in low places. Kiszka could well be my favourite character in crime fiction of the 2010s. The first novel, Where the Devil Can’t Go, introduced us to this morose Polish fixer with a sly sense of humour and a suggestion of Jack Reacher about him. His background as an anti-Communist protestor in 1980s Poland makes him all the more fascinating. Kershaw is nicely unsentimental, bright, defiant and persistent – a good match for Kiszka’s taunts and jokes – in fact, it’s the arguments between the two of them that are among the highlights of this fine series.