Best TV detectives of the 2020s ranked - from The Gold’s Brian Boyce to Idris Elba as Luther

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Idris Elba and Sarah Lancashire are just two stars who have become synonymous with the on screen TV detectives they play

Detective dramas are well-trodden ground, and there are some sleuths that have become synonymous with the genre - Poirot, Columbo, Jessica Fletcher, and Sherlock Holmes - to name a few.

But even though these kinds of shows have been around for about as long as television has existed, recent releases prove that mystery writers have plenty more in the tank. 

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And there’s still a massive appetite for detective shows among TV audiences, as viewing figures of series released in the first years of the 2020s attest. Millions of viewers globally are tuning in to catch the newest mysteries. These are the best TV detectives from shows released since 2020:

Brian Boyce (The Gold)

Brian Boyce is played by Hugh Bonneville in BBC true crime drama The Gold - the six part series follows the 1983 Brink’s-Mat gold heist in which more than £26 million in gold, diamonds and cash was stolen.

Boyce was a real detective on the case and Bonneville met with him to prepare for the role. Boyce features in each episode of the series, but unlike the other detectives on this list, the show does not revolve around him. Nor does he have an almost supernatural ability for sniffing out crime. Boyce is a more realistic, but no less interesting TV detective. The Gold is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now.

The GoldThe Gold
The Gold | BBC/Tannadice Pictures/Sally Mais

John Luther (Luther: Fallen Sun)

We’ve shoehorned Luther onto this list as the BBC series Luther actually ended in 2019, but with the release of the film spin-off Fallen Sun on Netflix this month, it’s only fair that Idris Elba’s hard-nosed cop makes the cut.

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In Fallen Sun, Luther, now disgraced and languishing in jail, breaks out and hunts for a psychotic serial killer who is terrorising the streets of London. The obsessive detective is not averse to using bursts of extreme violence if he thinks the ends justify the means, or if he’s just really ticked off. Luther: Fallen Sun is on Netflix now, and the complete Luther series is on iPlayer.

Luther: Fallen SunLuther: Fallen Sun
Luther: Fallen Sun | Courtesy of Netflix

Catherine Cawood (Happy Valley)

Despite landing on 1 January, the third season of Happy Valley may be the British TV event of the year. Each episode of the final season pulled in more than seven million viewers who were eager to see how things would land for world-weary detective Catherine Cawood. 

Sarah Lancashire plays the determined officer who balances her intense career alongside her tragic personal life following the death of her daughter. Throughout the series she comes up against the man she holds responsible for her daughter’s death and in the gripping season three finale, the pair finally duke it out. You can watch all of Happy Valley on iPlayer now.

Catherine CawoodCatherine Cawood
Catherine Cawood | BBC/Lookout Point/Matt Squire

Inspector Morse (Endeavour)

Shaun Evans plays the young detective Endeavour Morse in the prequel series to Inspector Morse which came to an end this month. Evans actually made more appearances as the young detective than John Thaw did in the original series.

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The series follows Endeavour as he works with CID on his early investigations and is moulded into the detective that we know and love. In some ways the younger sullen detective has eclipsed his older self, but it’s not a competition. All of Endeavour season 1-9 is available on ITVX now.

Endeavour | ITV

Karen Pirie (Karen Pirie)

It’s clearly something of a trend to name detective dramas after the lead character - although Karen Pirie may still be one of the lesser known detectives on this list. Lauren Lyle stars as police detective Pirie in the TV series based on the crime novels of Val McDermid. 

When DS Karen Pirie is charged with reopening a 25 year old cold case into the murder of a young barmaid, her investigations begin to uncover serious flaws in the original inquiry. The plot of the series follows a similar theme to several real life British cases which were derailed by investigative failures. The three-part series is available to watch now on ITVX.

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