Teamwork, as they say, makes the dream work, and there is little in fiction more fun than a crime-fighting duo. Duos come with their own set of conflicts, their own chemistry and layers and texture. Watching those aspects unfold on the page adds a richness and depth to a story that wouldn’t be there otherwise, no matter how well-drawn the mystery. While there are hundreds of crime-fighting duos in print, here is a list of must-read teams to which every lover of crime fiction should treat themselves.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson
The penultimate of crime-fighting duos has to be Holmes and Watson. Sir Author Conan Doyle’s characters have thrived for decades as two of the smartest and most dynamic teams in literature. All but four books in the series are narrated by Dr. Watson, Sherlock’s best friend and assistant, and while he is brilliant in his own right, he serves as more of a catalyst to Sherlock’s deductive prowess. Their relationship is, in my humble opinion, one of the main reasons the books are so beloved by generations. The first book, A Study in Scarlet (1887) is well worth the read.
And don’t skip the films! There are a plethora of movies and television series that showcase this duo magnificently, notably Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009) and the TV show Elementary.
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes
On that note, I feel I must mention the delicious series by Laurie R. King. The first book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: or, On the Segregation of the Queen (1994), introduces Mary Russell, a whip-smart fifteen-year-old, who meets an aging Sherlock Holmes as he lay prostrate in a field, studying bees, naturally. Their relationship quickly escalates into one of give and take as they solve crime after crime together. She challenges Holmes effortlessly and, eventually, finds her way into his heart.
Dallas and Roarke
J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts’) near-future In Death series begins with Naked in Death (1995) and introduces us to the incomparable Eve Dallas and her soon-to-be beau, billionaire CEO Roarke. While they aren’t a traditional crime-fighting team (Eve does most of the heavy lifting), Roarke does lend his services when he can and helps Eve with many of New York City’s most gruesome cases.
One thing that is interesting about this team, besides their ever-evolving romance, is each characters’ backstory. Their histories are dark and intriguing and create a beautiful backdrop for the tapestry that Ms. Robb weaves. The fact that this series is set in the near future also adds to the complexities of the stories. Nora’s worldbuilding is always spot-on.
Tarabotti and Maccon
What is a list of crime-fighting duos without a little paranormal mystery thrown in for good measure? The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger begins with Soulless (2009) and is pitched as Buffy meets Jane Austen. This wickedly funny romp has a solid mystery in which our heroine, Alexia Tarabotti, a spinster with no soul, is rudely attacked by a vampire, an act that apparently breaks all constructs of social etiquette. When she accidentally kills him, the gruff Lord Maccon is sent by the queen to investigate. The fact that the lord is a werewolf only adds to the tension in this highly recommended humorous comedy of errors.
Rizzoli and Isles
Unless you were in a coma in 2001, you’ve most likely heard of Tess Gerritson’s edge-of-the-seat thriller The Surgeon. It introduced us to Jane Rizzoli, an intensely capable detective who kicks ass and takes names in the tough, male-dominated world of Bostonian law enforcement. Her crime-fighting partner, Maura Isles, makes her first appearance in the second book in the series, The Apprentice (2002). From that moment on, they become an unstoppable team. While Rizzoli is more of a take-no-prisoners type of girl, Isles, as a medical examiner, is more careful. More methodical. Their chemistry is unsurpassed and if you find yourself wanting to be besties with them, don’t worry. Everyone does.
Poirot and Hastings
Agatha Christie didn’t introduce us to many crime-fighting teams, but leave it to her to give us one as unforgettable as legendary detective Hercule Poirot and his loyal, if not somewhat naïve, companion and chronicler, Captain Arthur Hastings. They first appear in Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) and continue on together for most of the 33 books in the series, not to mention a plethora of plays and short stories, with possibly the most famous of the combined works being Murder on the Orient Express (1934).
They make a charming team, like Holmes and Watson in many ways, with Hastings being a sounding board for Poirot’s genius.
Bones and Booth
Kathy Reich’s self-inspired character Temperance Brennan (a.k.a. Bones) is a forensic anthropologist who is teamed up with FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth. While Bones is a just-the-facts kind of girl, methodical and unflappable, Booth is more intuitive and charming, two characteristics that have gotten him far in life. Bones and Booth have great chemistry and make a fantastic crime-fighting team in this brilliant series that begins with Deja Dead (1997).
Strike and Ellacott
This crime-fighting duo was introduced in Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling’s) Cuckoo’s Calling (2013), and it left quite an impression. London PI Cormoran Strike is living in his office after a rough breakup, and he’s wondering how he’s going to pay his new secretary, Robin Ellacott, when a case drops into his lap. Robin proves startlingly adept in helping him solve the case and their chemistry will easily carry through to countless mysteries beyond the four that are out. Fingers crossed there are many more to come.
Dresden and Murphy
Another shout out to the realm of paranormal mystery is Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, beginning with Storm Front (2007). Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is a PI and a wizard, and the series is a delicious blend of hard-boiled detective fiction and magic. While one could argue that Bob, a “spirit of intellect” who lives in a skull and provides much of the comic relief, is Harry’s sidekick in the first few books, Bob doesn’t always help solve cases. In fact, he often hinders them. But he is hilarious, so there’s that.
Harry’s real crime-fighting partner becomes policewoman Karrin Murphy, who has been reassigned to Special Investigations, a division that handles cases with an unexplainable and/or supernatural slant. She was reassigned to this division for asking too many questions, so we like her instantly.
Dresden and Murphy make a perfect blend of supernatural and human talents, and now is the perfect time to get addicted to this fantastic series. The first new book in the series in six years, Peace Talks, is due out this July.
Thomas and Charlotte Pitt
Inspector Thomas Pitt meets his match with Charlotte Ellison in Anne Perry’s Victorian crime series that begins with The Cater Street Hangman (1979). In this first adventure, Inspector Pitt sets out to find a murderer who strangles his victims with cheese wire, but he hits a wall when he tries to penetrate upper-class society until the clever and outspoken Ellison comes to his rescue. Their repartee is charming in this solid mystery in which the secrets of the elite are slowly peeled away to reveal the seedy side of wealth.
While Rizzoli and Isles work more closely together in the TV series than the books, they are still a great crime-fighting team not to be missed in either medium.