Last week, I took a jaunt to my local multiplex to watch James McTeigue's latest cinematic offering. The Raven
* is a fictional yarn in which famed master of the macabre Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack, Serendipity
), turns amateur sleuth – think J B Fletcher with a goatee – to catch a killer hell-bent on re-enacting his most gruesome tales.
During one of the film's more visceral scenes (spoilers), said killer goes to great lengths to off his victim using a contraption similar to that described in The Pit and the Pendulum
. At this point, in order to distract my somewhat fragile constitution, I started to wonder about the part that physics was playing in the set-piece. Barbaric as he certainly was, Poe's adversary had done his homework. The construction of this impressive device would definitely have necessitated a competent engineer, especially if it was, as I assumed, constructed clandestinely. Even at this early stage of the film, I worked out that the maniac was at the very least, an A-Level student.
Without the odd bout of scientific thinking, most murders would be nowhere near as mysterious. Moreover, in order to uphold dramatic tension, the ingenuity of the villain must be equally matched by his or her pursuer's powers of deduction.
I then began to contemplate the role that science plays across the murder mystery genre – 'When STEM goes bad', if you will. Without the odd bout of scientific thinking, most murders would be nowhere near as mysterious. Moreover, in order to uphold dramatic tension, the ingenuity of the villain must be equally matched by his or her pursuer's powers of deduction.
I have therefore decided to provide my top three scientific sleuths and slayers…
At number three, I feel duty-bound to mention Poe himself, who some would argue invented the murder mystery genre with his character C Auguste Dupin. Using his tried and tested method of ratiocination, Dupin managed to outwit a criminal orang-utan, a murderous seaman and a blackmailing Minister. Perhaps he wasn't the most exciting of detectives, but he certainly deserves a nod.
In second place, I have chosen a villain that skulks in the sewers; a villain so repugnant that I can call him inhuman without fear of reproach. I am of course referring to Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price, House on Haunted Hill
), the rapscallion rodent from Disney's Basil the Great Mouse Detective
. As part of his plot to substitute a mousy Queen Victoria with a robotic replica to do his bidding, Professor Ratigan sets in motion a superb chain reaction to kill Basil and his trusty companion Dawson. Here, a record player uncorks a bottle that releases a ball-bearing that…Well I won't ruin the surprise, but suffice it to say, Ratigan's plan shows the makers of Mouse Trap who's boss.
However, there was only ever one candidate for my top spot. Effortlessly solving high cholesterol, kidney stones and murders on a daily basis, it's everybody's favourite physician, Dr Mark Sloan (Dick van Dyke, Mary Poppins
). Dr Sloan patrols the corridors of Community General Hospital in CBS's Diagnosis: Murder
, and seems to encounter fresh murders around every corner. However, whether the cases involve binary poisoning or felled volleyball players, the doctoral detective uses his medical acumen to identify and capture the responsible assailant.
So there they are – my top-three scientific sleuths and slayers. I should mention that Lieutenant Columbo will always be my favourite, but at the risk of sounding religious, his methods can't be explained by science alone.
Feel free to disagree. Who would make your list?
* Two out of a possible five Omegas