Is the case REALLY afoot?
December 3, 2008 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Are there any real-life Sherlock Holmeses, Hercule Poirots, or Adrian Monks?

A whole lot of detective stories involve world-famous detectives who work on commission independently of the police force. These are the creme a la creme of private detectives, called in only when the case is too difficult for the police.

I know there are a lot of private detectives, but they all seem to mostly get work tracking down cheating spouses, doing background checks, etc... So I'm wondering if there really are any private detectives who have the reputation that these fictional detectives are said to have and do only the same type of work. Are there any private detectives who make their living solving only the toughest of crimes, the most mysterious of murders, and the most stupefying of heists?
posted by Ms. Saint to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Frank Monte? Gavin de Becker? Anthony Pellicano?
posted by dhartung at 11:29 AM on December 3, 2008

Holmes was apparently inspired by Joseph Bell.
posted by mattbucher at 11:53 AM on December 3, 2008

Check out this guy!
posted by johngoren at 12:27 PM on December 3, 2008

The direct inspiration for most of the genius PI genre (including Holmes) was Eugene Vidoq, former criminal and former director of the Sûreté. Per the article: "In 1833, he founded the first known private detective agency, Le bureau des renseignements", and acted in direct competition to the police. In the "Legacy" section, it talks about his being an inspiration for everyone from Sherlock Holmes to Jean Valjean.
posted by ormondsacker at 12:27 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Retired police detectives who work on cold cases.
posted by availablelight at 12:29 PM on December 3, 2008

All the Baltimore Homicide detectives in David Simon's Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. A very engrossing read.
posted by subajestad at 12:42 PM on December 3, 2008

Jay Armes?
posted by 517 at 2:58 PM on December 3, 2008

The Pinkertons.
posted by 517 at 3:02 PM on December 3, 2008

Arthur Conan Doyle was also somewhat of a Sherlock Holmes himself, his interest triggered by Bell. One case he solved was George Edalji.

If memory serves--I think I read it in Hesketh Peason's biography of Doyle--Doyle's "deductive" methodology was taken up by most police forces. Some of the novels were required reading by detectives in the Sûreté and Egyptian police force. I also understood it was also Doyle that first conceived the notion of using fingerprints--but Wikipedia bears no mention so I probably dreamt that.
posted by NailsTheCat at 3:10 PM on December 3, 2008

I came to cite Holmes as being based on a real person, but NailsTheCat beat me to it.

Andrew Vachss could be considered to fit into your framework, although you might consider him too "official" and he is quite narrowly focused on child abuse.
posted by rodgerd at 4:48 PM on December 3, 2008

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