Lots of good stuff in this article (from The G*ard*an) in which crime writers write about their favorite characters, but Benjamin Black is particularly good on Richard Stark's Parker:
Parker – we do not learn his first name, if indeed he has one – is an elemental force, a Nietzschean Übermensch beyond good and evil.... He is a sort of marvellous machine, and utterly convincing. The books are intricately plotted, cool as burnished steel, exciting and intellectually satisfying.
Also Lee Child on Martin Beck:
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö did two things with Beck: they created the normal-cop-in-a-normal-city paradigm, the dour guy a little down on his luck; and they used a crime series explicitly as social critique. All was not well in Sweden, they thought, and they said so through accessible entertainment rather than political screeds.And even though I've gone on too long, the pretentious and fascinating David Peace gives a pretentious and fascinating answer: After listing about a dozen novels that could be a pretty good reading list of uber-literary crime classics, he picks the obscure Derek Raymond (soon to be available in nice new editions from Melville House) and quotes Raymond's pretty good definition of 'noir':
And along the way they gave birth to a whole stream of successors. From the current Scandinavians to Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko to Ian Rankin's John Rebus, they're all Martin Beck's grandchildren.
He defined the black novel as one that "seeks to present as forcibly as it can the terminal psychic situation that occurs in people who have arrived at a point where they have no hope, no motive, and no longer even the desire to conceal anything from themselves; the black novel intervenes at the moment where a human being approaches his last moment."