It began, as so many things, with an argument. One of those tedious ones, you know how they go: who would win in a fight between this fictional character and that? We enjoy these half-drunken amicable disagreements, not least because they rely on obscure knowledge of the personality traits of figures who never existed.
Our conversation turned to literary detectives. What would happen, we mused, if there were some kind of futuristic deathmatch between them? Who would win?
There was only one thing for it. We wrote names, pulled them out of a bag, and sketched out the brackets. And then the battles commenced.
Here's how it played out on a friend's kitchen table, thanks to the able assistance of half a bottle of whisky. May the most ferocious literary detective win.
Sam Spade vs. Hercule Poirot
Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade enters the arena first. He stands there, hand in his overcoat pocket, facing the door on the opposite side of the small space. The audience settles down, and waits for the arrival of Agatha Christie's Belgian creation.
Poirot enters, acknowledging the polite applause. He turns to Spade, smiling, twirling the tips of his distinctive mustache. "Let us review the details of the matter," he begins.
In a cold fraction of a moment, Sam Spade has drawn his gun and shot Poirot dead. Spade feels nothing as he progresses, unsportingly, to the next round.
Travis McGee vs. Sherlock Holmes
McGee is the tall, tanned, honorable "salvage consultant" from John D. MacDonald's books. He seems pretty sanguine about facing Sherlock Holmes, the world's greatest detective. They enter the arena simultaneously, and within five seconds, the deerstalkered one has surmised that that his opponent is something of a gambler.
"Perhaps a game of cards?" ventures the great detective. McGee smiles.
They sit, a revolver placed between them. Holmes shuffles and then calmly deals McGee a busted flush. He quietly reveals his single pair of Queens before standing, nodding to McGee, and leaving the room.
Father Brown vs. Cadfael
It seemed cruel to pit two men of the cloth against each other, but there you have it. GK Chesterton's Father Brown sits, smiling, opposite Ellis Peters's medieval monk Cadfael.
"Perhaps some tea," offers the herbalist monk. Father Brown smiles quietly, and watches as Cadfael exits, then returns with a porcelain pot in one hand, and two cups balanced in the other.
The monk places the teacups carefully on a side table, and pours the warm liquid from the pot into a cup. Father Brown stands, watching. He removes his spectacles to clean them, then accidentally drops them to the floor. Cadfael bends briefly to aid his opponent, who meanwhile calmly exchanges the position of the teacups.
The tea is poured, they both smile, sip from their respective drinks, and the monk then falls to the floor, having imbibed the poison he had intended for Father Brown.
Easy Rawlins vs. C. Auguste Dupin
Walter Mosely's Rawlins touches the brim of his hat as Edgar Allen Poe's gentleman detective C. Auguste Dupin enters. Dupin, amused, bows low.
He is about to speak when Rawlin's vicious friend, Mouse, pokes his head through the doorway. "Hey, Easy, what you doin'?"
"It's a deathmatch, Mouse. I'm fighting this French guy."
"Oh." Mouse contemplates the scene for a moment, then fires a volley of bullets into Dupin's surprised body. "Let's go, Easy. We got things to do."
Umpire's ruling: Easy Rawlins is disqualified for the use of outside assistance.
Click "Next" to view the second bracket
Nancy Drew vs. Robert Langdon
Nancy Drew confidently walks into the arena, where Robert Langdon, Dan Brown's clue-solving Harvard Professor, is already waiting, looking for clues in the arrangement of the furniture and the shape of the space.
"There's something not right here," he says. "Firstly, I'm a symbolist, not a detec-"
His words are interrupted by the heavy blow of a flashlight across the back of his stupid hair, just above the turtleneck. He crumples into a pile of fallen tweed.
Philip Marlowe vs. Miss Marple
Chandler's self-loathing detective Philip Marlowe stares as Agatha Christie's second creation to make the cut, Miss Marple, calmly walks toward him, clutching her handbag.
"Listen. Lady. This ain't gonna be pretty," he declares between clenched teeth.
Miss Marple tightens her thin lips. "Proud of ourselves, are we? For being so tough? Living alone, facing up against old ladies? Using such language. Well I never."
Marlowe stares into her forceful gaze, his coat starts to shake, he slides a hand in front of his face, tears falling to the floor like summer rain on a Los Angeles sidewalk.
"You win, lady. I ain't nothing worth anything any more," he says, pulling out his gun, placing it on the table between them. Miss Marple smiles softly.
"Well, that's more like it," she says.
Maigret vs. Wallander
Maigret, the classic invention of Georges Simenon, has been paired up again Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander, which means a battle of two overweight men with a fondness for drink.
They both enter the room at the same time, move to the center, stare at each other for a moment, then Maigret grasps the lapels of his opponent, and the pair start to wrestle.
After a minute, they are both on the floor, panting heavily. Maigret rolls to one side, out of breath. "OK," pants Maigret, "I think I'm ready again... Wallander? Wallander?"
He pokes the prone Swede with his boot. He then looks next to his unconscious opponent's body, at a small pile of discarded candy bar wrappers. It seems that the diabetic Wallander's diet did him in in the end.
Lupin vs. Adam Dalgliesh
Arsène Lupin, the thief detective, smiles at his opposite number, PD James's Adam Dalgliesh, a gentleman also, albeit one of lower birth.
"May the best man win," says Dalgliesh, reaching out his hand. Lupin takes the large man's hand in his, grips hard, shakes hands solemnly, then swiftly leaps forward and strikes the Englishman's neck with a precise ju jitsu blow.
Dalgliesh's grip falls loose. Lupin releases the man's hand..
"Enchanté," he says.
And so we enter the final eight! Who will make it through to the semi finals? Tune in on the next page to find out!
Holmes vs. Spade
The pair enter the room from opposite ends. Holmes immediately notices the faint gunpowder stain on his opponent's jacket, and yet he has scarcely time to react before Spade again dispassionately fires his gun on sight.
Holmes turns his body a few degrees to the left, thereby altering the angle at which the bullet strikes his jacket ever so slightly, meaning that the steel plate, so carefully placed in the inside pocket, makes the bullet ricochet blah blah blah typical Conan Doyle improbable occurrence concerning bullets and metal.
The bullet strikes Spade in the heart, killing him instantly.
Father Brown receives a pass to the next round, following Easy Rawlins's disqualification
Nancy Drew vs. Miss Marple
Nancy Drew walks over and immediately takes Miss Marple's arm. "What a delightful old lady you are," says the young girl. "Can you help me find the treasure of Tragetty Congdon?"
Miss Marple smiles, reaching up to touch the girl lightly on the shoulder, then reaching a little higher, and then gripping and snapping her neck in one hand, like a stale crumpet.
The bobbysock detective falls to the floor. The tournament umpire looks confused at the old lady's sudden strength, but no foul is called.
Maigret vs. Lupin
Maigret stands, smoking his pipe thoughtfully when the sound of Lupin's shoes clicking on the floor arrives shortly before the man himself.
Each man carefully studies the other. Maigret shrugs. Lupin shrugs back.
Maigret angles his head, remembering wistfully a small café across the road from the arena. A single lit candle was placed inside the empty wine bottle, burning in the center of a vacant table by the window.
Lupin sees his opponent's expression, and understands it perfectly.
"Are we not Frenchman?" he asks.
"Mais oui," replies Maigret. An unspoken agreement is made. They will not fight each other, but instead join forces in a battle against a higher enemy: the café's current supply of red wine.
Umpire's ruling: both disqualified
Only three detectives remain! Who will make it through to the epic finale?
Sherlock Holmes vs. Father Brown
Having received a bye from the previous round, Father Brown has watched the rest of the battles with interest. He enters the room shortly before Holmes, whose nostrils pick up on entry a subtle yet distinct scent, lingering from the herbs that Cadfael used in his tea.
"Mind if I smoke?" asks Holmes, removing his pipe from his front pocket, beginning to tamp down his unique tobacco blend into its bowl.
"Then I will as well," says Father Brown, pulling out a pipe of his own. The priest lights his, coughs softly, then coughs again, louder this time, his skin suddenly turning a pale shade of green. He sits quietly in a chair, says a quiet prayer and then his head falls forward.
Holmes's improbable yet expert knowledge of obscure herbs that become strangely poisonous only under extremely unlikely conditions triumphs again.
Following the disqualification of the Frenchmen, Miss Marple receives a bye to the final.
It's the big finish! Two English detectives, who'd have thought it? But who will win?
Here it is, then. The big finish. Scroll down to find out what happened.
Sherlock Holmes vs. Miss Marple
Two classic English characters. Two master detectives whose methods and lifestyles could not be more different. They enter the arena to rabid applause. The crowd suddenly hushes, as Holmes coughs softly, about to speak.
"And so we must battle," says the man with the pipe.
"Of course," smiles Miss Marple. "As soon as I finish this needlepoint."
She removes a cloth, needle and thread from her copious handbag. Holmes senses that something is amiss, and walks over to see some of the detail her stitching. It reads "Visit Beautiful Reichenbach Falls."
Holmes's jaw drops in surprise as a steel knitting needle is slid from the lady's handbag and into his abdomen in one smooth move.
Professor James Moriarty, for it is he, removes the perfect grey wig, finds a handkerchief in the handbag on his arm and wipes away the careful make-up he had applied.
"Poor Nancy Drew... she didn't expect my hands around her neck," smiles the greatest schemer ever known. "Marple herself, put up more of a fight than I expected. A tough and admirable opponent, yet because I waited for her in her dressing room, just after her victory against Marlowe, I had the benefit of surprise. But all things must end."
The crowd begins to boo and hiss. Moriarty simply smiles and bows. For him, the cacophony is sweet applause.