Top Socially challenged detectives

So it took a while to get going but finally Sherlock returned to form with the season finale (after 3 episodes ?!?). The socially challenged detective has become a bit of a done thing now on TV. But here are my favourites. Who do you like best? Who have I forgotten?

7. Temperance Brennan – Bones


Dr Temperance Brennan is a forensic pathologist who is a genius in the lab but unable to connect to people in the real world. She is socially challenged at almost every level. The show itself is too much like a cross between CSI and Alias for me so I gave up after a few series.

Special Agent Seeley Booth: Hey, excuse me, you know what, you really need to learn how to speak to human beings.
Dr. Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan: I speak 6 languages, two of which you’ve never even heard of.

6. Kurt Wallander: Wallander


Kurt Wallander connects too much with his cases at an emotional level which makes him very difficult to live with but  a brilliant detective . He’s different to the others on our list here who don’t connect enough to the personal side of their work.

5. Lisbet Sallander: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


Coming from a really difficult background (am trying not to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of the books or films) made Lisbet very tough. She has the bedside manner of a Gregory House ( who is not on the list because he is another version of Sherlock Holmes). She is very tough not afraid to take justice into her own hands and we are never quite sure how she really feels about you.

Mikael Blomkvist: What are you doing?
Lisbeth Salander: Reading your notes.
Mikael Blomkvist: They’re encrypted!
Lisbeth Salander: [Looks up at him] Please.

4. Carrie Matheson – Homeland


We discovered this season that Carrie rather than Brodie is the heart of the show. Carrie is coping with bipolar disorder to great effect and is even willing to use it to get a tactical advantage on enemies of the state. Carrie is a genius able to spot a turned soldier almost on first glance. She is personally upset that she didn’t singlehandedly foil the 9/11 plot.

Quinn: She’s on her own Saul.
Saul: She’s always been on her own.

3. Saga Norén – The Bridge

Sofia Helin, The Bridge

Scandinavians seemed to almost have cornered the market in writing compelling crime dramas. Here’s a fascinating article on Scandinavian crime and Original Sin – thanks to Dan Steele) . They are very dark and there’s always a massive amount going on in different back stories. The template was set by The Killing but still Saga Norén is a fantastic character to watch. She has very little ability to sympathise with anyone. She may or may not have Aspergers Syndrome.  She like all of the protagonists on my list has a brilliant mind able to analyse data and read situations very well without the need for emotional engagement that may cloud her judgement.


2. Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock


Mixed reviews aside about the most recent series. Sherlock Holmes seems to be the archetypal high level sociopath. We both admire and abhor him at the same time. Who wouldn’t like to be able to read a room as quickly as he can or escape into a mind palace to work out which way to fall if shot with a bullet still inside you. Yet we can’t believe he would not bother telling Watson about the plan to play dead for two years or give a wedding speech where he disavows marriage.


1. Sarah Lund: The Killing


I have to admit Detective Inspector Sarah Lund is my favourite dysfunctional sleuth. Sporting a single jumper for 20 days in a row there’s no stopping this amazing woman from finding the murderer no matter what risk to her reputation or life.

Fascinating comment from Soren Sveistrup  who explained where the Sarah Lund character came from: “All the time I was writing it I had a quote from Nietzsche going around my head”

 “He who fights with monsters should be careful least he thereby becomes a monster. When you stare at the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.”


Looking down my list, I am pleased that in many (but not all) of these tv shows mental health issues are being addressed in mainstream television. But are we learning about the reality and legitimacy of mental health or are these conditions being used as an object of ridicule? Is it shorthand for writing depth into characters – just give them a mental health issue rather than a deep enough backstory?

Is the flawed hero a growing trend because we recognise that frailty is a truly human facet? Even our superheroes are developing a softer side ( check out recent films showing Superman and James Bond as troubled individuals)?

All of these characters love their work – they are driven by their work so that it takes over their lives at the expense of all their relationships. We admire them for their dedication but is there a warning here about the danger of being defined by what we do?

Do you think seeing these flawed yet brilliant detectives will make people more willing to take on children waiting for adoption who have developmental or psychological trauma?




4 thoughts on “Top Socially challenged detectives

  1. Revsimmy says:

    Does “socially-challenged” necessarily equal “has mental health issues”? I don’t think the correlation is that straightforward.

  2. krishkandiah says:

    Socially challenged does not mean mental health issues – not everyone in the list has a mental health issue but they are all socially challenged.

  3. Jon Franklin says:

    DCI John Luther has to be in this list! just watching the series again. Idrid Elba plays a brilliant detective who is immersed in his work – like the others – but who also is percieved as dirty – or as one who crosses the line too often in order to get the job done – or does he?

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