The days of the hero detective are numbered. The traditional formula for crime novels was Cluedo writ large - the country house, the missing will, an array of vulture-like dodgy relatives and hangers-on, the body in the library, then enter stage left our hero, the amateur sleuth to sift through the clues and beat the police to outwit the culprit. With any luck it would be the Butler wot did it, and the grand denouement would be played out with all the suspects neatly lined up in the Billiard Room. It doesn’t really work like this anymore.

In the golden age of detective fiction the crime novel was like a cosy cross-word puzzle. All the clues were there swirling in the fog of red-herrings and superfluous information, for the reader to attempt to unravel and guess the murderer before the author chose to reveal it. It generally would be a guess, and the motive could be almost an afterthought. They were comforting because in the end all the loose ends tended to be tied up, all questions answered, by the hero-detective.

Crime can be brutally straightforward - a little old lady mugged in the street, a telephone box vandalised; or petty, like an unpaid television licence. The majority of crime is not violent or complex in its motives. In the books it is different.

Psychological Thriller’s have taken the place of detective puzzles. The object is often no longer Whodunit, But why? One all action hero detective is often not enough to answer such questions as we now want answered. In honour of the demise of the detective, Bloc has cast an eye back over a century of detective fiction, and compiled a checklist, just incase they ever do come back into fashion.

Criterea for the fictional Detective:

1. The kind of name you would shoot your parents for giving you. Dickens lead the way with Inspector Bucket in Bleak House, followed closely before the end of the century, by Sherlock Holmes. Last names as first names would always be a winner, or names which seem to have been made up to protect real identities. Modesty Blaise and Scarlett Lipstik spring to mind. Then there are the aristocrats like Lord Peter Death Breddon Wimsey, with too many names, and those who go the other way, Morse and Columbo. Note, no detective was ever called Smith.

2. Gimmicks. Apparently Bob Mortimer, playing Randall in the current TV adaptation of Randall and Hopkirk was so concerned about his characters lack of an interesting prop that he made one up. Introducing the world’s first crisp eating detective. I’m not sure that quite does it, but traditionally they all have to have gimmicks. Holmes had his violin and pipe, his deer stalker and cocaine addiction. Morse has Opera, Real Ale and the car, Poirot has spats and a moustache to twirl. Columbo has a crumpled overcoat and cigars.

3. Catch Phrase. Elementary.

4. Address. 221b. The setting becomes part of a detective’s identity. Almost every Holmes story begins in London, fog seeping atmospherically, even if it doesn’t stay there. Miss Marple is St. Mary’s Mead, Morse is Oxford, Bergerac belongs in the Channel Islands. Poirot is London again, and various country houses where tea is taken on the lawn. The fictional world of the detective is an important part of what readers of detective fiction recognise and identify with.

5. Sidekick. Steady and Pedestrian, the sidekick has to be as slow as possible in order to make the great detective look even more brilliant and smug. When the detective himself is somewhat slow and plodding, as in the recent TV Midsommer Murders, this is even more important as the particularly dull sidekick goes someway to hiding his superiors failings.

6. Temperament. Think about it, they’re all bad tempered.

7. Style. This is a mixture of it all, the gimmicks, the catch phrases, the silly outfits and silly name. A detective without charisma would never sell.

8. The art of disguise. Not strictly a detective, but I think The Scarlet Pimpernel may have begun this with his habit of blending into the background and foxing his opponents. Sherlock Holmes was famous for it too.

9. Adversary. Every sleuth needs a foe worthy of the name. Holmes had Moriarty, Austin Powers had Dr. Evil. I don’t think I need to go on.

10. The Achilles Heel. Every detective has to have a fatal weakness, mainly because nobody can be perfect.

Old fashioned, or just eccentric? Is the concept of a detective who can soothe all our anxieties by making us smile, or our pulse rate soar, outdated or will we see a new rash of detectives, with new techno-gimmicks, for the twenty-first century?