How do you like your detectives? These days you have a choice – and it boils down to full cream and frothy or black and bitter.
That is: fat or thin.
For some time now the lure of the thin, fraught, whisky drinking, cigarette smoking, dark and brooding detective has held sway. Their love lives are a shambles, they have few friends, long memories for cold cases and, coincidentally, they almost always work in bleak, sleety climates and in landscapes that feature a lot of rocks. Like Inspector Lewis in Peter May‘s Lewis Trilogy, or Michael Connelly‘s Harry Bosch (tough, complex and unflinching) and Karin Slaughter‘s Will Trent who has: more issues than you can shake a stick at.
And then along came Alexander McCall Smith‘s Precious Ramotswe and her The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Set in hot, dry Botswana, Mma Ramotswe (fuelled by tea and biscuits), runs a cheerful establishment in pursuit of Botswana’s criminals. With a happy home life and a healthy appetite, she was the forerunner (in 1998) of a whole slew of fat, happy detectives.
Like Dr Siri, the plump State Coroner in Laos, who solves exceedingly grisly murders with the help of a motley crew, a wife, a best friend and a good supply of favourite foods. Colin Cotterill has won numerous crime writing awards; his most recent offering is The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die.
Still in the Tropics: Tarquin Hall‘s Vish Puri solves multiple cases in between episodes of gluttony. The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken would have you believe that is all there is to his writing, but like any good Indian meal, there are a number of accompanying side dishes and perplexing red herrings.
Finally there is Inspector Singh, a fat Sikh who works in South East Asia. The parallels are all there: the heat, the food, the marriage. But Inspector Singh is quite a prickly gent who hasn’t endeared himself to his superiors. So he is allocated all the cases in far-flung outposts in Cambodia, Bali and Malaysia. And of course, he hates to fly.
I hope you never have to choose a Detective Inspector in real life. But, when you are cosied up in front of the fire on a cold winter’s night with a good murder mystery, will your detective be cuddly or sinewy?
Take your pick.