Experts suggest the most ancient reference of detectives can be found in the Old Testament in the story of Susanna and the Elders. The story contains all the essential ingredients required for a detective mystery. Another ancient reference is found in the famous chronicles of ‘Alif Laila’ or as it is known in the English speaking world as ‘One Thousand and One nights’ or simply Arabian Nights. There are multiple stories in the Arabian nights in which an apparently complex mystery is solved by some genius using his intellect; most famous of all is ‘The Three Apples’.
How can we forget about the ancient china, in which the system of crime and punishment was much more thought out then European empires of the time? ‘Gong ‘an fiction’ is earliest known record of Chinese detective fiction; it literally means the record of public law courts. Ancient Chinese fiction differs from all other such chronicles found around the world for a variety of reasons. As one may expect, all the detective stories have a touch of philosophy in them along with the hints of supernatural involvement as ghosts possessing good or bad characteristics. Another interesting distinction in the Chinese fiction is the fact that in almost all the cases the detective is either a judge or a magistrate. In a typical Chinese detective story the criminal and the crime is presented in the beginning of the story. Whereas the whole extent of the evil is later explained with great details. Often the number of cast in a Chinese crime fiction could easily be in hundreds, so it can be a bit hard at times to keep track of the plot.
Ancient Indian culture also produced a one of a kind detective, locally known as ‘Khoji’. There is no scarcity of khoji stories up and down the South East Asian Countries. These fictional characters were no ordinary detectives, purely because they did what no other fictional character did anywhere else in the world; they gave birth to real life detectives, real khojis. These khojis can still be spotted operating all over India and Pakistan especially in the rural areas, working with pin point accuracy. One the most famous traits they all claim to possess is the skill to track someone. These trackers or khojis learn these arts from their forefathers with surprising results. A number of scientific tests have been carried out to analyse the validity of khojis’ knowledge, and every time they have come out successful. There is now a whole surge of westerners learning the art of tracking from these khojis, some of these trained western khojis could be seen operating in London and New York today.
Edgar Allan Poe pioneered the western detective fiction in 1841 when his most fine work ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ was published. Poe’s brilliance devised the framework of detective fiction that all his successors proudly followed ever since. His first publication becameab instant hit, which forced him to come up with more creative outbursts. In 1843, Poe published ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget’, and then in 1845 ‘The Purloined Letter’, both received remarkable reception around the English speaking world.
Perhaps the most famous of all detectives in the fiction, Sherlock Holmes was the character that gave the word ‘detective’ a whole new meaning. Brain child of British writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes exhibited all the characteristics of a perfect ‘mentalist’ solving crimes around London. Operating from 221B Baker Street in Central London, Sherlock Holmes with the aid of his ex-army officer and medical expert Doctor Watson helped Scotland Yard solve a number of complex crimes. Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the only fictional detective that deploys deduction and attention to detail to all lengths possible. There is a debate whether Sherlock Holmes was actually a fictional portrayal of a real life detective that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle acquainted with some time in his life.
Having said all that, the real life challenges that a police detective has to face on daily basis are much more intricate and mind-boggling then represented in fiction. Not every crime is solved, not every detective is always a winner, but when they do it’s the result of a painstaking process of analysis and evidence collection.