Here's a list in ascending order. It's pretty subjective, and one can imagine hugely different rankings by others. I'm from India, so a couple of great indian characters who i believe have a wonderful universal appeal. A key requirement is that the story be enjoyable (its fiction!), plot-driven, with a focus on solving a really serious crime (so that leaves all pesky teen investigators out). lawyers are not allowed in this list. But this much I can say - if u have watched or read each of these characters, you are certainly a fellow tooler!
Feel free to enter your own personal ranking and i will update the blog with a "most popular list" soon.
10. We start with a tie.
a. Det.Brisco and Green. The best team which formed the "law" in "law and order". The have 30 minutes to properly investigate and make a realistic case on tv before the lawyers screw it up.
b. Karamchand. A popular Indian Favorite, was inspired by Columbo. This carrot-nibbling investigator was innovatively interpreted by ace actor Pankaj Kapur, solved many tv crimes in 1980-90s India.
9. Det. Goren, NYPD. From 'Law and Order - Criminal Intent'. Still going strong. Along with partner Detective Eames who keeps him sane, they track down a variety of killers and Goren uses his brilliant (if sometimes disturbing) psycho-analytical skills to get the perps to confess. His nemesis, Nicole Wallace is long dead... or is she?
8. Miss Marple. Agatha Christie gets her first of two bites of the apple for creating another unforgettable character. The old lady solves crimes in quiet English villages ....
7. Cadfael, the Benedictine monk is also an unlikely detective who solves crimes while faithfully serving his lord, played well by Derek Jacobi.
6. Monk. It's his name. The last season remains. Adrian's powers of observation and pattern recognition is a blessing but it comes along with the curse of an obsessive compulsive disorder and a plethora of phobias. he's still searching for his wife's killers...
5. Der Alte (The Old Fox), original series. The German detective along with his youthful sidekick started solving TV crimes in 70s displaying both cunning and courage.
4. Byomkesh Bakshi. The quintessential Bengali intellectual of old India created by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. Compassionate and brilliant. I wonder if they'll dub the tv version in English, played by Rajit Kapoor. India's best by far. Highly recommended. It's inspired by Poirot and Holmes, but is utterly Indian in the end.
3. Hercule Poirot. The egg-headed master of the grey cells from Belgium created by Agatha Christie. A touch of vanity, but always fair, and way too clever for killers. and every case is a challenge.
2. Columbo. A personal favorite, along with his crumpled coat, a crumpled tie, an equally crumpled looking hound, an even more crumpled old car (hilarious when asks it to be valet-parked), and his loving wife who never makes it to screen, and an un-used gun that he's never fired in a while. Peter Falk's victims always underestimated him and relaxed their guard when he just has that one last question ...
1. Sherlock Holmes - Probably the most reprised character in dramatic history, along with the gutsy Dr. Watson at 221B baker street, is still the best by far, and inspired many of those characters below in his list. Even the 'young Sherlock Holmes' prequel imagined by Spielberg was pretty good. Although Holmes never said 'elementary, my dear Watson', Arthur Conan Doyle gave his character some brilliant deductive powers, an encyclopedic knowledge, lots of courage, a spirit of adventure, but also a weakness for the occasional shot of morphine when unemployed. The world's greatest fictional research scientist as well as the world's greatest criminal mind in the form of his nemesis, Dr. Moriarty clash in an epic manner.
Update: My sister recommends: "Thomas Lynley from Scotland Yard in crime fiction by Elizabeth George (read her books - they are superbly written). Eliz George is an American who writes in the style of a British crime writer - am a huge fan of hers".