Do Siblings Make Superior Sleuths?

Mabel-and-Dipper-gravity-falls-32865230-457-551We’ve all seen teams of crime-fighters and mystery-solvers, but are teams made up of siblings better?

It is possible that siblings or family members could work together more efficiently, since they have a shared history and know the capabilities of one another. Nevertheless, that same shared history could be more of a burden than a blessing in some scenarios.

Whether bonds of blood aid or hinder in teamwork, the choice of using siblings instead of strangers, or vice versa, is certainly deliberate.

How Do These Team Dynamics Work?

Throughout the history of literature, television, and cinema, we’ve seen numerous teams of crime-fighters, detectives, and monster hunters. The dynamics of the team members, both individually and as a collective, have also changed throughout the years. These changes reflect both the changes in audiences and the changes in societal views.

Some of the earliest detectives, including Poe’s Dupin and Doyle’s Sherlock, were often portrayed as individuals with genius-level intelligence. These detectives can see everything that regular people tend to miss or dismiss. As brilliant as the detectives may be, they don’t seem to work well on their own. They need a connection to the regular world in order to solve the crimes within it. These foil characters, (Dupin’s unnamed companion and Holmes’ Watson), prove vital on multiple levels.

First of all, the detectives need that connection between themselves and the rest of the world, since their brilliance limits their social skills in many situations.

Second, the detectives must work-out each problem, and so they bounce ideas off of their companions. Through vocalizing their problem-solving processes to their companions, and the reader, the detectives show-off their brains, which simultaneously boosts their egos and keeps them interested in matters at hand; if the detectives determine the cases to be beneath them, they cannot focus on the problems, because solving mediocre cases would not flatter their egos.

Third, whatever characters are created, they have to be relatable on some level to the reader. Few readers will ever match the intellect of such detectives as Sherlock, so readers often view the Sherlocks of detective fiction as brilliant but alien or foreign. Therefore, readers tend to identify with the companion characters, since these characters often resemble regular people.

WatsonAlthough Poe wrote his works prior to Doyle, Doyle’s Holmes/Watson duo has remained more memorable, and in many ways this pairing has become the formula:

If you have two crime-fighters or detectives, one has to be more book-smart and the other person more street-smart.

Don’t believe me? Check out these examples from modern television:

  • Bones – Dr. Temperance Brennan and Agent Seeley Booth
  • Doctor Who – The Doctor and his companion-de-jour
  • Monk – Adrian Monk and Sharona Fleming/ Natalie Teeger

There have been a few team-ups that have altered the formula slightly. Instead of super-brainy and advanced people skills, the team may consist of a more lawful, by-the-book character paired with an easy-going, brilliant but chaotic character. Examples would include:

Other variations have occurred as well. Contrary to logic, the formula shows how two opposite personality types can and do work very well together. In addition, most readers/viewers can relate to one extreme personality or the other, so characters created under this formula are more accepted, and are more likely to become fan favorites.

Siblings or Strangers – What’s the Difference?

The formula above represents a basic technique for pairing characters within a plot line. Certain variables will significantly affect the formula’s dynamic.

With strangers, you can add a socioeconomic factor by making one partner rich and the other poor. You can address challenges of diversity in several ways as well, such as making each partner a different ethnicity, making each partner opposite sexes, making each partner identify under a different sexuality, or by making each partner different religions, and so forth.

In drama, it has become quite popular to pair opposite sex characters as a way to push a heteronormative sexual coupling. If the characters are always fighting these “secret” sexual desires, it adds further tension to their work relationships, especially since most paired characters work for law enforcement, which is an employer that typically frowns on employee fraternization. As a side effect, if the characters try to resist their desires by dating other people, it adds more drama to the side stories.

While sexual tension makes a great spice for increasing conflict in any story, it’s not the only spice in the rack!

Instead of using strangers, using siblings or family members helps writers get away from this overdone forced romance obsession. By having sibling crime-fighters or mystery-solvers, you can add tension to the plot through such elements as sibling rivalry, family loyalty, parental pressures, and an array of third-party interactions. Furthermore, the formula still works. As long as you have two individuals, each person can be one personality type extreme or the other (brains vs. brawn or lawful vs. chaotic).

Audience members also react differently to sibling team-ups. Viewers/readers often relate on a very intimate level when watching siblings work together, since people identify aspects of the character interactions with their own personal sibling relationships. Audience members who have never had siblings may not identify all the sibling nuances. Nevertheless, when audience members see the connections, the familial levels of acceptance, and the bonds between siblings, it can stir a sense of longing inside of viewers; in some regards, it may even let viewers/readers experience sibling relationships vicariously through the characters within the story.

When it comes to detective fiction, one of the most noted examples of sibling team-ups would probably be The Hardy Boys. A modern day mock-up of The Hardy Boys would be The Venture Brothers, although the show focuses more on a whole dysfunctional family dynamic rather than just the sibling dynamic. According to research, sibling team-ups have been fairly popular in middle grade and young adult fiction, since the sibling experience is all too common for people in these age groups.

Surprisingly, not many mainstream books or shows currently utilize the sibling team-up dynamic. Of the few shows that do use this dynamic, two of the most well-known shows are both within the same genre of paranormal mystery. Those shows and their sibling pairs are as follows:sam-dean-supernatural


Perhaps the bizarre nature of paranormal events lends this genre to the sibling dynamic. In other words, with the bond of blood binding you together, as long as you stay together, the monsters can’t hurt you . . . usually. There is also the element that, because you are connected by familial bonds, it could make it more difficult to reject the paranormal events as reality, since to reject what both you and your sibling have seen is, in some respects, rejecting your sibling. Paranormal creatures can also prey on that sibling bond, which adds more tension and conflict.

In the end, can we definitively say whether sibling sleuths are better than stranger sleuths?

I suppose we could compare numbers of cases closed.

With Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, one cannot provide an exact number of cases. According to Doyle scholars, there are 60 stories told to us by Dr. Watson, but within the stories, Holmes boasts solving upwards of 500 other cases, and Watson mentions other cases as well. Of the other stranger sleuths, Dr. Brennan and Agent Booth from Bones have solved cases in nearly every one of their 170 episodes, and they are still hard at work on their next season. Detective Beckett and Richard Castle from Castle have solved about one case in every one of their 127 episodes, and the show is still going.

In comparison, of the sibling sleuths, there are 66 books in The Hardy Boys series, implying that they have solved at least 66 mysteries. In the Supernatural series, Sam and Dean Winchester have somehow lived through eight seasons for a total of 172 episodes, and their new season starts in a week. Granted, the Winchester boys did not solve a case in every single episode, but it’s been pretty close.

So by the numbers, it looks like both dynamics show about the same level of effectiveness. If anything, this comparison proves how well the formula works, regardless of whether the detectives are siblings or strangers.


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