Mac Maguire and two great detective writers

I’m sometimes asked about which authors have influenced me most. It might be hard for some authors to identify such influences but I have to admit that for me it’s fairly straightforward.

I absolutely adore crime writers like Chandler, Hammett and Mankell but when it comes to those who have directly influenced what goes on the page there are really only two – Conan Doyle and Simenon. They are both very different to each other but, luckily for me, quite complementary. For while Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is all about the puzzle, Simenon’s Maigret is more about the human side of things. I figure that if you can provide a good puzzle as well as a good human story then I think  you’ve probably cracked it as a crime writer. I hasten to add that I’m far from being there yet but then it’s all about the journey, isn’t it?

So let’s look at how each might have contributed to the make-up of Mac Maguire.

sherlock_holmes_-_the_man_with_the_twisted_lipFor a start I think that Sherlock is somewhere in the DNA of all crime fiction. While Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin is often cited as being the first fictional detective there is no doubt that Sherlock was the first giant in the field. The model of a ‘consulting detective’ that Doyle invented can be seen in everything from Hercule Poirot to Philip Marlowe to V.I. Warshawski and beyond. Not only that but I reckon that the quirkiness that you see in most fictional detectives can also be traced back to Sherlock. Just think of the Persian slipper, his violin playing and, of course the 7% solution. Sherlock’s strengths were logical deduction and close observation. While he often worked with the police he was also quite prepared to hand out his own brand of justice. His people skills might perhaps be described as somewhat deficient  but he was quite a decent boxer!

What I think I took from Sherlock when writing Mac was the use of evidence based decisions, logical deduction and attention to detail that, to be honest, has become a part of all criminal investigations whether real or fictional. I’ve also made Mac quite observant but his forte is people. He’s interested in people and seeing how they react to certain questions can tell him a lot. I suppose Mac’s ‘quirk’, or perhaps more accurately what makes him a bit different to other detectives, is his disability.

MaigretMaigret is different.  He’s a policeman and has to stay within the bounds of the law. He’s no Dirty Harry-type lone wolf either as he has to manage a team of detectives and also liaise with judges. Maigret’s also no action hero, he’s a large stolid man who definitely likes a smoke and a drink and who prefers thinking his way through cases. His strengths are his persistence and his ability to put himself in other people’s shoes.

So I’d guess that Mac is quite a bit more like Maigret as he too likes to think his way through a case and he never likes giving up either. Mac is also a cross between the two of them as he can either work as a consultant to the police or work as a private detective handling the cases of anyone who walks in his office door. This certainly gives me quite a lot of latitude and I think it will be interesting to see how Mac responds when he has to consider doing something that might be strictly outside the law.

One thing that is different about Mac is that he’s not directly based on a real person. Sherlock was based on one of Conan Doyle’s medical tutors Professor Joseph Bell who was famous for his ability to observe and deduce things about his patients. Like Sherlock he could tell a man’s profession  by the callouses on his hands. Maigret was modeled on a real police detective, Chief Inspector Marcel Guillaume, who Simenon described as ‘Maigret’s Elder Brother’. (This I did know). Amazingly Guillaume was made to retire at 55 but then became a private detective which he continued doing successfully for  quite a long time after. (This I didn’t know until I did the research for this article).

Sounds familiar somehow!


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