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Person of Interest

The greatest (fictional) detective just may be Canadian.

Dec 24, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 15 • By MICHAEL TAUBE
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First, his intellectual prowess is almost unmatched. He’s one of the more well-rounded detective-fictional characters, with strong knowledge in everything from science to politics. This balance makes him fundamentally different from other detectives of noted intelligence and ability. Sherlock Holmes, for example, was a master of deduction, but he professed a lack of understanding in “trivial” matters, such as knowing that the earth revolves around the sun. Miss Marple was an exceedingly sharp woman, but her elderly mind occasionally wandered off. Even Father Brown, a well-­educated clergyman, relied on his knowledge of human frailty and the super­natural—while ignoring possibilities that didn’t fit into those cogs. Murdoch seems to be in a class to himself. 

Second, Murdoch uses science and logic to solve crimes. This powerful combination is original in the mystery realm, primarily because forensic science is a more recent phenomenon. It differentiates him from other detectives, such as C. August Dupin (whose skill set was solely based in logic), Ellery Queen (who dealt in logic and emotional attachment to the subject), Sherlock Holmes (who had an interest in the sciences, but a far greater interest in logic), and Father Brown (who ignored scientific reasoning altogether).

Third, Murdoch’s eccentricities are really not all that eccentric. Murdoch has his share of quirks and quarks: his awkward relationship with a potential romantic interest, Dr. Julia Ogden; his radical ­techniques for solving mysteries; his photographic memory and sixth sense. But the television version, played by Yannick Bison, is able to mask this “eccentric” behavior, and makes Murdoch appear surprisingly normal in public, granting him the ability to blend easily into a crowd. 

Contrast that, for example, with Hercule Poirot—an eccentric of the first order who was once described as a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep” by his own creator—or with Sherlock Holmes, whose various disguises and pseudo-­bohemian lifestyle are indicative of his aberrant personality. Murdoch’s plain appearance is one of his greatest weapons in solving mysteries. 

Although Citytv had announced that the fifth season of Murdoch Mysteries would be its last, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation picked the series up, and the first CBC-produced episode will air in January. So more Canadians will become acquainted with Murdoch’s insatiable desire to solve mysteries and ensure that crime doesn’t pay. And, in time, they could reach the same conclusion that I have reached: William Murdoch may just be the world’s greatest (fictional) detective. 

Case closed?

Michael Taube, a former speechwriter for Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, is a columnist for the Washington Times.

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