The Definitive Detective

Have you ever noticed how certain actors are just the perfect 'fit' to play a specific role? The way they look, they way they behave, they way they carry themselves, the way they move, the way they speak, and so on; you just have to watch them 'in character' once and straight-away you believe they ARE the character and not just acting a part, and if you also happen to be an ardent reader of the series of books from which the character was taken, you will be able to appreciate the striking 'resemblance' even more so.

In short, and in our humble opinion, these actors ARE the definitive Sherlock Holmes, or Lord Peter Wimsey, or Hercules Poirot, or Miss Marple. We mentioned these ones in particular because they are the more obvious and famous ones whose stories were adapted for television, and whose actors were noted for their portrayals. From various comments we have read over the years, there are others who agree with our observation. Many other actors have played these roles before, and since, but these ‘definitive’ actors had managed to perfect the art of portraying these characters, just as their respective authors had intended their creations to be.

These characters are also the more well-known and well-loved ones, created by their respective authors who are just as well-know and well-loved; authors who have long ago passed on but who are legends in the genre of detective fiction. Just to name a few, there was Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey played by Edward Petherbridge, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes played by Jeremy Brett, Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple played by David Suchet and Joan Hickson respectively. These actors, again in our humble opinion, ‘fit the bill’ so well, we prefer to watch their programmes, over and over again for some us, to those which had other actors playing the roles.

Jeremy Brett’s career spanned from stage, to television and film, to Shakespeare and musical theatre. Melvyn Hayes ‘Mel’ Gussow, the American theater critic, movie critic, and author who wrote for The New York Times for 35 years, wrote in an obituary for The New York Times, "Mr. Brett was regarded as the quintessential Holmes: breathtakingly analytical, given to outrageous disguises and the blackest moods and relentless in his enthusiasm for solving the most intricate crimes." Read More

Edward Petherbridge is an English actor, writer and artist. He maintains a weekly blog, which often features his poetry, artwork and short films. He has since added another blog and website where you can read about his written works and follow his career on stage and television. Here are his linked-sites: Peth’s Staging Post: Latest News, Peth’s Staging Post: The Blog, Peth’s Staging Post. Read More

David Suchet, CBE, is an English actor, known for his work on British stage and television. His performance as Agatha Christie's famous detective Hercule Poirot on television earned him a British Academy Television Award nomination in 1991 in the annual award show hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2011 New Year Honours for ‘services to drama’. Read More

Joan Hickson, OBE, was an English actress of theatre, film and television. As well as portraying Miss Marple on television, Ms Hickson also narrated a number of Miss Marple stories on audio-books. From 1958, Ms Hickson lived in Rose Lane, Wivenhoe, along the River Colne, forty three miles from London in Essex, until her death in 1998. A plaque now marks the house where she lived for 40 years. Read More

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie

There have been many many adaptations of this well-loved detective story written by Dame Agatha.

The novel was first published in February 1945 in New York by Dodd Mead and Company under the title, Remembered Death (Hardback), followed by London in the same year with its first publication of the novel in December by Collins Crime Club under Dame Agatha's original title, Sparkling Cyanide (Hardback).

The novel features the recurring character of Colonel Race for his last appearance to solve the mysterious deaths of a married couple, exactly one year apart. The plot of this novel expands the plot of a short story, Yellow Iris.

In this particular 2003 ITV adaptation however, as is always the case with adaptations (usually due to various production problems usually), the plot differs somewhat. In which case it had to be mentioned the film was 'loosely based' on Sparkling Cyanide. The screenplay was written by Laura Lamson for ITV1, with a modern setting, and involving a football manager's wife's murder. Colonel Race was renamed Colonel Geoffrey Reece, and given a partner, his wife, Doctor Catherine Kendall. By the way, fans of Agatha Christie who watch this film can't help but notice that the by-play between the Colonel (played by Oliver Ford Davies) and his wife (played by Pauline Collins) is reminiscent of Dame Agatha's characters Tommy and Tuppence. I know I did.

In any case, it is a good story and the film well played out. I thoroughly enjoyed it which I inevitably do, being a long-time die-hard fan of Dame Agatha's stories. If you're interested in watching this adaptation, here are a few options for you to do so. I have also included an option to buy the book, just in case.

  • Rent or buy Sparkling Cyanide from Amazon Instant Video service. (You could also give Amazon Prime a try if you like.)
  • Buy the DVD or book of Sparkling Cyanide below.

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A Little About Sheridan Le Fanu...

I hope this post will inform, inspire and encourage the reading, or re-reading, as the case may be, of Sheridan Le Fanu's gothic tales. More importantly, I hope to keep his stories alive for future generations.

Sheridan Le Fanu's
childhood home in
Chapelizod, Dublin,
Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu worked in many genres but remains best known for his mystery and horror fiction. An Irish writer of Gothic tales, he was, in point of fact, the leading ghost-story writer of the nineteenth century, and was instrumental in developing the genre in the Victorian era. The grandfather of ghostly tales, Sheridan Le Fanu was a great influence on other famous writers namely James Joyce, Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, Henry James, Charlotte Brontë. Perhaps more prominently was his enormous influence on the 20th century's most prolific ghost-story writer, M R James.

Sheridan Le Fanu hails from a family of famous and successful writers, so it is with no great surprise that he should follow suit. His grandmother, Irish playwright Alicia Sheridan LeFanu, was the daughter of the Anglo-Irish novelist and playwright Frances Chamberlaine Sheridan and Irish writer, stage actor and former theatre director Thomas Sheridan. Alicia Sheridan LeFanu was also the sister of Irish playwright and poet Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Sheridan Le Fanu's great-uncle who was a long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), and the aunt of Irish poet and writer Alicia LeFanu (with whom she is sometimes confused). Thomas Sheridan himself was the godson of Jonathan Swift, the Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist and poet of Gulliver's Travels fame. The successful Welsh novelist and short-story writer Rhoda Broughton was Sheridan Le Fanu's niece.

Nativity Of The Blessed Virgin Mary,
parish church of Chapelizod,
Dublin, Ireland
Sheridan Le Fanu's first story, The Ghost And The Bone-Setter, appeared in the Dublin University Magazine in January 1838, the first of twelve instalments of the Purcell Papers (1880). He was to become a regular contributor to this magazine, an independent literary, cultural and political magazine published in Dublin from 1833 to 1882, which started out as a magazine of political commentary but increasingly became devoted to literature. Subsequently in 1840 he became the owner of several newspapers, including the Dublin Evening Mail (renamed the Evening Mail in 1928) and the Warder.

Then in 1861, Sheridan Le Fanu took over the Dublin University Magazine and became its editor and proprietor. This move allowed him to take advantage of double-publication; first serializing his stories in the magazine, then revising them as novels for the English market. The House By The Churchyard (1863) and Wylder's Hand (1864) was first published using this method.

The picturesque Irish village of
Chapelizod, preserved within the
city of Dublin, Ireland
However, after lukewarm reviews of The House By The Churchyard, which was set in the Phoenix Park area of Dublin, Ireland, Sheridan Le Fanu was forced to sign a contract with Richard Bentley, his London publisher. The contract specified that future novels be stories "of an English subject and of modern times". Richard Bentley thought this specification necessary for Sheridan Le Fanu to satisfy the English readers. He was proved right, with the successful publication of Uncle Silas in 1864, a story set in Derbyshire, a county in the East Midlands of England. In his very last short stories, however, Sheridan Le Fanu returned to Irish folklore as an inspiration.

Sheridan Le Fanu died in his native Dublin on 7 February 1873 at the age of 58. Today, there is a road and a park named after him in Ballyfermot, a suburb in the city of Dublin, near his childhood home in south-west Dublin.

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