5 Captivating and Charismatic Characters from Crime Fiction to Obsess over

Modern readers expect more of their sleuthing superstars than raincoats, doughnuts and the whiff of divorce. 

Crime fiction has come a long way. It remains one of the most popular genres and the market is awash with all manner of quirky protagonists and twists in the tale. And while stand-alone crime fiction has its place, there is little more satisfying than the discovery of a central character who's in it for the long haul - the serialised crime saga. And we have our choice of characters: the washed-up cynic, the conflicted career woman, the brooding Scandinavian. And so on.

These are characters in whom we can emotionally invest; we track their shifting fortunes with interest; we get to know them. They even start to feel like part of our family; some of us may even grieve as we close the last book in the series ...

So with so many captivating characters at large, I've curated five of my favourites for your wanted list.

1. Liz Carlyle

Writers are often advised to write about what they know. Stella Rimington, former head of MI5, has clearly taken this advice to heart. Her creation, Liz Carlyle, is an MI5 agent who is intelligent, ambitious, and sensible without being boring. As with many workaholic characters, personal success can prove elusive for Liz. Given Rimington's provenance, Carlyle comes off as a credible character, and the plotlines provide an - exaggerated? -insight into the machinations of our domestic security service as well as its foreign counterpart, MI6. This is not heavyweight espionage, though - Rimington writes for the layman. Great stories - and a great character that readers will care about.

2. Kurt Wallander

Despite Wallander having graced our TV screens and bookshelves for many years, I have only recently turned my attention to the exploits of the intuitive, irrepressible, and opera-loving Swedish detective.

Talk about missing out.

The late, great Henning Mankell somehow manages to make the unremarkable remarkable. In Kurt Wallander he has created a character who is instantly relatable and whose flaws will immediately strike a chord in most of us.

And best of all: there are lots of these books to plough through, enabling us to accompany Wallander throughout both his police career and his personal ups and downs - mainly downs, it has to be said...

3. Harry Hole

Unorthodox. Obsessive. Brilliant. Loose cannon. Lone wolf.

These words and phrases apply to the one and only Harry Hole, protagonist of Jo Nesbo's addictive series of Norwegian crime thrillers. The first book in the series is The Bat and perhaps it makes sense that these books are read in order so as to follow Hole's troubled and colourful fortunes more fluently. I didn't follow the rules, and started with The Snowman - in my opinion, the best in the series.

Few literary detectives can match Hole's charisma, which oozes from the pen of Nesbo. Each book is followed by a period of mourning. Trust me. 

4. Kinsey Millhone

If low-brow entertainment is your thing, then this 'alphabet series' is for you. Former police officer turned private investigator Kinsey Millhone is a twice-married, tomboyish free spirit who lives in her neighbour's converted garage - and will quickly worm her way into your affections.

Writer Sue Grafton published the first book - A is for Alibi - in 1982 but unfortunately died before 'Z' was released,  meaning this California-based alphabet collection could not be completed.

Nevertheless, there are 25 crime capers to keep you going, each one leaving you desperate to find out what Kinsey gets up to next!



5. Cormoran Strike

Robert Galbraith, if you didn't already know (who are you?) is better known as JK Rowling. But Cormoran Strike, of the Strike series, is no Harry Potter.

Strike is an intriguing and endearing character: the maimed private detective studied at Oxford but left the world of academia to join the Army's Royal Military Police, wherein he received life-changing injuries in Afghanistan.  To add a little more angst to the mix, Cormoran is the illegitimate son of rock star Jonny Rokeby - the result of an affair with Cormoran's groupie mother.  

Assisting Cormoran with his investigations is Robin Ellacott, a temp whom Strike can barely afford - yet she quickly becomes his permanent sidekick. The dynamic between the two adds real spice to these classic criminal investigations.

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