There are all kinds of mystery stories, filled with all different types of detectives, but if you’re going back to the roots of the mystery series types, the Granddaddies of them have got to be Holmes and Watson. They’re the original Adama-&-Eve, Mutt-&-Jeff, Odd Couple detective team and the template they set up is fierce.
An Early portrait of the Dynamic Duo
Thank you, Wikipedia!
The most noticeable team member is Sherlock Holmes, the world’s first and foremost consulting detective. Brilliant, acerbic, and emotionally detached almost to a pathological degree, he’s the star of the series and he knows it. But Holmes isn’t chasing villains for glory or cash; he’s in it for the fun and the science. Believe it or not, Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the world (and law enforcement agencies) to the world of criminal forensics through Holmes’s obsession with crime scene details and deductive logic.
But, if Sherlock Holmes is so great, why did the author need Watson?
Simple. Watson is the person who needs to tell the story because that’s the last thing Holmes would do. If “The Great Detective” decided to write up his adventures, what would he emphasize? Would he capture the creepy atmosphere of the The Great Grimpen Mire or dwell on the terrifying appearance of the Hound of the Baskervilles? No! Sherlock doesn’t see these things as important. A Holmes version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” would consist of long narratives about newspaper fonts, the replication of certain facial features in familial descendants and (maybe) the application of phosphorus to flesh to create an unusual appearance. None of the Gothic Setting or chilling story would survive because Sherlock Holmes rarely notices these things. That’s one reason we need Watson.
Another reason we need Watson is he’s our Point-of-View, the guy we identify with, our average Man on the Street. We learn to trust him implicitly. Sherlock Holmes is a master of subterfuge and obscurity but Watson always tells us just what he sees as soon as he sees it. Which makes the story all that much better when Holmes looks at the same puzzles Watson just described and comes up with an insightful answer. But, as much as the readers need Watson as a character, these two characters need each other.
When Opposites Decide to Team Up
It’s the chemistry of this mismatched pair that creates the architecture of each story in the series and both characters bring out the best in each other. It’s my belief that the Holmes-&-Watson formula has been the basis of many a mystery series because it works so well. Look at Nick and Nora Charles, Morse & Lewis, Tony Hill & Carol Jordan. They’re crime-fighting Mutt-&-Jeffs who bring out the best in each other by being completely different people. They’re the descendants of Holmes & Watson.