Dirk Gently, Sherlock and TV’s most eccentric detectives

As Stephen Mangan's quirky PI returns to our screens, we investigate the MOs of TV's most oddball 'tecs

Every TV detective has their methods. Their very own crime-solving idiosyncrasies and gumshoe gimmicks. But some are definitely more peculiar than others. 


With the Sherlock craze at its height, and Douglas Adams’s holistic detective Dirk Gently (Stephen Mangan) newly arrived to cover the left-field sleuthing slot while Benedict Cumberbatch takes a break from Baker Street, now seems like a good time to compare some of the most eccentric detectives on TV…  


Modus operandi: Believes in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. Embraces chaos to reveal connections. Example: “zen navigation” – find a car that looks like it knows where it’s going and follow it…

Special abilities: An almost superhumanly blasé attitude to peril or jeopardy as they relate to his clients, his “assistant” Richard, his secretary – in fact, everyone but himself

Eccentricities: Makes decisions by chucking darts about the place. Files evidence by nailing it to his office wall. Carries a lump of brie in his pocket as a “handy portable snack”


Modus operandi: Self-styled “consulting detective”. Takes cases based on their points of interest rather than the seriousness of the crime. Unofficial consultant to Scotland Yard.

Special abilities: Makes lightning quick observations about a subject, enabling him to deduce their occupation, recent activities – or vital statistics – in an instant. Encyclopedic knowledge of crime and criminals, coupled with a disregard for superfluous facts – “So [the Earth goes] round the sun. If we went round the moon or… round and round the garden like a teddy bear, it wouldn’t make any difference!” 

Eccentricities: Pistol practice in the living room. Lacks social graces and has little capacity for empathy – might just as easily be described as the world’s best insulting detective


Modus operandi: Columbo lulls his suspects into a false sense of security by appearing to be a bumbling incompetent, then sets a trap that will encourage them to demonstrate their own guilt.

Special skills: Near-clairvoyant awareness of whodunnit. Ability to rapidly assimilate key details of a suspect’s profession for use against them.

Eccentricities: Trademark crumpled raincoat. Takes his basset hound with him on cases. Always has “Just one more thing…” to ask


Modus operandi: To solve the murder of his wife Trudi, take control of his phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder, overcome his grief through therapy and get reinstated as a police detective. It’s quite a checklist.

Special abilities: Thanks to his OCD, Monk has become a keen observer of the incongruous, a talent that comes in very useful at crime scenes. His efforts to find “balance” in the world include the capture of murderers trying to evade justice. And cutting pancakes into squares.

Eccentricities: Various phobias include milk, snakes, mushrooms, heights, germs and crowds. These he tries to combat by carrying packets of wet-wipes around wherever he goes


Modus operandi: Private eye Jeff Randall receives crime-solving assistance from his former partner, Marty Hopkirk, who is dead and therefore a ghost. Of course, only Jeff can see Marty…

Special abilities: Marty has only a very limited ability to effect physical objects but he can create wind (must be something about the food in the afterlife) and has a talent for influencing hypnotists, psychics and dogs – which comes in handy a lot more often than you might expect…

Eccentricities: One of them’s a ghost. Or the other one’s mad…

Who’s your favourite eccentric detective? Vote below or, if they’re not on the list, post a comment and let us know.


Follow Paul on Twitter @Jonesvision