Few of us want to face up to the prospect of our actual deaths, which on balance are likely to be undramatic and involve dull phrases like ‘primary hypertension’, ‘ischemic heart disease’ and ‘she really did love Doritos’. Imagining our screen deaths though, is a different matter. On screen, we can expire glamorously. Mid-diamond heist, say, or thrown from the top of the Statue of Liberty, or popping up eviscerated between letters D and F in an alphabet-based serial killer’s magnum opus.
These glamorous and exciting screen deaths demand a similarly glamorous and lengthy investigation by a fictional cop of our choice. While you ponder who you’d want from the world of TV and film to gumshoe your case, here’s who we’ve gone for…
Sgt Catherine Cawood (Happy Valley)
At the time of writing Sgt Catherine Cawood is a hair’s breadth away from retirement, and I for one am feeling pretty anxious for her in the finale of Happy Valley. So really what I’d like best is for everything to work out for Catherine and for her to take that Land Rover into the Himalayas and never have to think about murder again. Also, obviously, I would prefer not to be murdered. But putting those two things aside, I can’t think of a safer pair of hands.
Cawood is stoic, she is relentless, she’s tireless. She constantly has a facial expression which says “I’ll just do it my fucking self then, shall I?”. And she might as well do it herself, since no one does it better. A seasoned professional and an excellent cop, Cawood would not only solve my killing but do it in such a way that my assailant couldn’t wriggle out of it on a technicality. She can handle herself. She can take a punch. But Cawood isn’t a live-wire liability and it’s her doggedness and methodical approach that I would put my faith in. That and her instincts. She’d have a hunch. And once she has a hunch you might as well hand yourself in, because she’s coming for you as inexorably as time… – Rosie Fletcher
DCI Cassie Stuart (Unforgotten)
She would be so nice to my family. If – God forbid – mine were the bones dug up from a canal or a motorway central reservation decades after my disappearance, Unforgotten’s DCI Stuart would approach my loved ones with soft-spoken kindness. Everything, from her first knock on the door to her low-voiced vow to do her absolute best for me, would be earnest and tactful and surround them with a Ready-Brek glow of utter trust.
And Cassie would do her absolute best for me, I’m sure of it. She’d miss birthdays and sleep, and let her dementia-suffering father boil pots dry while she stayed late at her desk solving my case. She’d clock up motorway miles and allow the Greggs wrappers to build up in her car, neglecting herself in search of my truth. Which she’d find, following her pulsing instincts and putting in the hard graft. My killer would have put a foot wrong somewhere, and Cassie – with sidekick Sunny – would use it to trip them up.
I choose Cassie then, because of how good she’d be to my family. Unless of course, any of them turned out to have done it in which case, God help them in that interview room. I’d be the lucky one. Louisa Mellor
It’s finally happened – someone (there’d probably be a lot of suspects) has had enough of my lip and I have met my untimely demise. Who is going to be the right detective to find the killer? Someone slick like CSI Miami’s Horatio Caine (who would be an alright choice just so I could hear the terrible murder-related one liners from Heaven/Hell)? Absolutely not. The last thing I want in my detective is anyone calling in the crime scene team and waiting on the results of DNA evidence; I want someone who works on hunches. I want someone who probably has mustard on his rain mac. I want someone that the killer mistakes for being daft but who turns out to be the cleverest man in any room. I want someone I named my dog after – I want Columbo.
Columbo is unrivalled for me when it comes to TV detectives. He loves his wife, his dog and his job. He likes the simple things in life and cannot be seduced by fancy stuff or fancy women. He lives to solve his cases and always gets the killer. There’s no such thing as a cold case for Columbo, he’s the LAPD’s finest and best. He knows who’s done it before they’ve worked out that his bumbling ‘oh, there’s just one more thing…’ is an act. I know my murderer will be brought to justice thanks to him. I’m just a bit sad that in this imaginary scenario I’m a corpse and won’t get to meet him… – Elizabeth Donoghue
Charlie Cale (Poker Face)
Call this recency bias if you must but the cop I want solving my murder isn’t even technically a cop but rather the crime-solving heroine of Peacock’s just-released Poker Face, Charlie Cale. For the uninitiated (which is probably most of you since the series just premiered like 10 minutes ago), Poker Face is a case-of-the-week murder mystery series from Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll) and Rian Johnson (Knives Out). Lyonne plays lead character Charlie Cale, a Vegas cocktail waitress turned transient with a unique talent: she can tell when anyone is lying.
As Charlie travels the country, trying to outrun her past and the dangerous men aiming to hurt her, she invariably falls into a new murder case that requires her special skills to solve. And friends, I would like to be one of those murders. Well, I wouldn’t like to be but the prompt necessitates that I am. My thinking here is that there are worse ways to die than via an elaborate and well thought out revenge plot in the gorgeous American Southwest. Another element at play is that whoever is investigating my murder will inevitably have to meet and interview all of my surviving loved ones. When I’m dead and gone, I can’t imagine a better gift I could leave behind than introducing all my family and friends to Natasha Lyonne. – Alec Bojalad
Saga Norén (The Bridge)
In an ideal world, my murder would be so complex and bizarre that Netflix would start filming a doco about it before the blood was even dry. I envision it involving dozens of suspects, from the DPD delivery driver who accidentally took a picture of an Amazon parcel next to my fresh corpse (key items were no doubt missing by the time it was discovered), to the neighbor who swore they saw me a week after my death exiting a grimy underground club linked to a global crime syndicate. So for my money, there’s only one cop who would stop at nothing to uncover the truth, and that’s Saga Norén. Over four seasons of the Danish/Swedish TV series The Bridge, Saga exhibited a work ethic conducive to uncovering any culprit. Though she can be smart and devoted, the Malmö County detective is also introverted, rude without intent, and emotionally detached. She’s the only cop who could genuinely understand how I lived, and therefore the one cop who could possibly get to the bottom of how I ended up dead. – Kirsten Howard
Shawn Spencer and Burton “Gus” Guster (Psych)
Shawn and Gus from Psych aren’t technically cops, but between Shawn’s father being a retired detective and the many crimes they’ve helped the Santa Barbara police department solve, I think that’s close enough. After Shawn Spencer (James Roday Rodriguez) realizes that he can use his observation and deduction skills to help solve crimes by pretending to be a psychic, he recruits his childhood friend Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill) to help him start a private investigation agency that solves crimes both at the request of the police and anyone off the street who wants to hire them. Psych usually follows a crime of the week format where Shawn and Gus have a new case to solve from start to finish, so I also know that they’d get my murder solved fast and not drag the whole thing out.
In the event of my untimely demise, I could see my parents, sister, or friends hiring them to solve my murder because they feel like the police missed something or aren’t taking their concerns seriously (and I don’t blame them). Though Shawn and Gus’ methods may be a little unorthodox and they may not take everything as seriously as they should, I still trust them with my life (or rather my afterlife?). As weird as it may sound, I don’t mind if they get into chaotic or zany situations while solving my murder either, I really wouldn’t expect anything less from these two. As long as my murderer is found, I’d much rather have the story be a comedy than a depressing tragedy. – Brynna Arens
Jake Peralta (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Look, at face value, Peralta might not be the smartest choice. This is the NYPD Detective who is known for worryingly stupid things like thinking Iago was just the parrot from Aladdin, making a police lineup of murder suspects sing Backstreet Boys classic I Want It That Way (the best episode cold opening ever), and saying things like ‘The doctor said all my bleeding was internal. That’s where the blood’s supposed to be!’
But, for starters, he’ll probably lighten the mood at my grisly crime scene by saying ‘Welcome to the murder’ when Holt arrives. Then the two of them will bounce ideas off each other in their usual adorable father-son-replacement-figures way, no doubt leaving no stone unturned, rocking up to arrest the suspect by jumping out of a chopper with a knife in their mouths, and then saying some cool/embarrassingly bad gotcha line, to which Holt will add an over-emphatic ‘…PUNK!’ And the fact is, for all his daftness, Peralta gets the job done, solving hella cases (even unsolvable ones), and securing one of the coolest confessions of all time, so I know he’ll get me the justice I deserve. He’s smort. Cool cool cool cool cool cool, no doubt no doubt no doubt. – Laura Vickers-Green
Det. Sgt. Arthur Dietrich (Barney Miller)
The plainclothes investigators at Greenwich Village’s 12th Precinct only handled homicide for a short period, an unsolicited favor granted them by Inspector Luger (James Gregory), but got their hands dirty. Even Det. Ron Harris (Ron Glass), Barney Miller’s fastidious and fashionable author of the hard-hitting “Blood on the Badge” pulp novel, rifles through garbage to fish out a damning piece of evidence. While he only claims to be a “first-person-singular” kind of cop, Det. Sgt. Arthur Dietrich (Steve Landesberg) is the real deal. He even buys his clothes off the rack.
Dietrich was smart enough to be a doctor or a lawyer, but wouldn’t be the best, so he set his sights on police work. He can whip up encyclopedic knowledge on any topic, from nuclear power to Quakers to UFOs, at a moment’s notice, and consults for the Bilderberg Commission. Dietrich once caught a robber, on a whim just clearing out old cases, a few hours before the Statute of Limitations was about to run out on his petty crime. I wouldn’t want him pressing my bench warrants, but if I was dead and watching it on TV, he’d wrap up my death in two episodes, tops. – Tony Sokol
Detective Chloe Decker (Lucifer)
This might be an unusual one because Detective Decker isn’t the first choice when you think of badass cops. If I know one thing about her, it is that she is stubborn and resilient. And I need exactly that in whoever investigates my murder to prevent it from turning into a cold case. I need someone who will obsessively follow a hunch, no matter what the consequences.
But this choice isn’t just coming from a place of “I like this character” but more so because she has the literal Satan on her side. My reasons are simple: if someone murders me, not only do I want them to be caught in this world and punished but I want them to suffer in the next, and having the King of Hell on your side really makes a difference, doesn’t it?
Also, solving crimes with Lucifer right by your side will be an easy task. She rounds up the usual or sometimes “unusual” suspects and Lucifer asks them their darkest desires. Man can literally persuade the murderer to confess and it will be held in court because who will believe the “devil made me say it” line, take that 48-hour rule! I just think she is the smartest choice for me here. – Maznah Shehzad
Agent Olivia Dunham and the Bishop Boys (Fringe)
If I have to go out – and I don’t really want to – it’d better be in the wildest way possible, completely jaw-dropping headline news, unexplainable by conventional laws of physics, so unimaginable our brains can’t possibly fathom how John Saavedra’s torso is still in this universe but his bottom half ended up in another. That sort of thing, because I care how I’m remembered, and the ending is the most important part!
When the time does come to figure out how I was frozen in amber or disappeared out of thin air from a plane or my brain oozed out of my ears or a pack of very pissed-off butterflies got to me when no one was looking, I want Agent Olivia Dunham and Walter and Peter Bishop from Fringe on the case. Dunham will bring her excellent detective skills to the case to find my killer, while Walter and Peter conduct experiments back at the lab to figure out how they did it. Maybe the solution involves Walter’s pet cow, Red Vines, a strange contraption hooked up to what’s left of me to tap into my final memories of being alive, and perhaps even a trip to a parallel Earth. Whatever the case, I want my death to make them sweat a little bit, challenge them, and for the answers to make it all worth it in the end. Doesn’t that sound nice? – John Saavedra
Benoit Blanc (Knives Out)
Look, I’m sure I’ll hate it when I have to go, but if my exit off this mortal coil marks the chance to kickstart another delightful Benoit Blanc mystery, then I will at least know my murder was not in vain. This is dependent on a few things: First, Benoit Blanc mysteries are delightful, and for the friends and family who didn’t conspire in my untimely demise, it’s nice to think they’ll have a good time while keeping up with that nondescript “Southern” accent as it hurls accusations with more ham than a countryside Sunday dinner.
Secondly, and based purely on the pleasures of Knives Out and Glass Onion, it seems a Benoit Blanc mystery must always conclude with a rich and privileged monster being exposed and punished by the law. So in other words, my death will result in the last of the gentleman sleuths creating a lively weekend for those I leave behind, and some justified comeuppance for someone in the one percent. It makes no damn sense… but it does compel me. – David Crow