Cobber, Chrony, Confidante

One of my favorite things about this blog and our monthly themes is that I’m encouraged to think about my reading and writing in new ways. This month’s theme, sidekicks, had me reviewing the books that stay close by, even long after I’ve read them a time or two. What keeps me going back to those particular stories–nearly always a part of a series, by the way–and why? Besides the obvious (great hook, tight story, twisty plot, a protagonist I want to have a relationship with), what sets a book apart for me? A great sidekick.

The term sidekick, according to Wikipedia, “originated in pickpocket slang of the late 19th and early 20th century. The “kick” was the front side pocket of a pair of trousers, and was found to be the pocket safest from theft. Thus the pickpocket’s “side-kick” became an inseparable companion.” A quick thesaurus search for sidekick offers cobber as an Australian alternative for pal, chrony and confidante as similar American alternatives. (This is why I write slowly–I get distracted!)

As a reader, I love a smorgasbord of choices. I tend to stick mostly to mysteries, but within the broad genre, I’ll read almost anything: thriller, cozy, traditional, paranormal–I’m not choosy. (NOTE: I lump weird things together. I think the concept of genres and sub-genres has gotten a bit out of control, taken over by corporate marketers who need a new hobby. Just sayin’.)

But, as I reviewed some of my favorites, I realized that few had a protagonist who existed on his/her own. Instead, my faves all had classic and not-so-classic sidekicks. Dr. Watson convinces us that Sherlock is a good person, something the reader might not have seen without him. J.D. Robb’s Peabody helps the reader see that Eve Dallas does, indeed, have a softer, caring side. Lucy Burdette’s Hayley Snow has a whole cast of sidekicks, creating a family of sorts, one that provides all that a traditional family might: support, blunt truths, encouragement, and more. Even Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone, a dedicated introvert and loner, learns to trust and lean on Henry, and adores Rosie.

Sidekicks provide writers all sorts of sneaky ways to share information, insight, and other juicy tidbits with the reader, showing without telling. Sidekicks also provide a multitude of opportunities and incentives to the protagonist, influencing the choices s/he make in the stories. These invaluable characters add a lovely dimension. It turns out, I really adore a good compatriot to the protagonist in my favorite stories!

I can’t wait to hear what the Mysteristas have to say about sidekicks this month. Who’s your fave sidekick?



Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

15 thoughts on “Cobber, Chrony, Confidante”

  1. I like the spicy sidekicks. Lately I’ve been rereading Adrian McKinty’s The Troubles series. Something I’ve noticed, and I’m not sure how often its been done by other authors, is that his protagonist cycles through sidekicks. Haven’t thought about it much, but it seems that doing that could be useful in developing the overall protagonist’s character development arc. At least it changes up the banter.


  2. What a great way to kick off this month’s theme! Thanks for that explanation. My latest favorite sidekick is the dog in Robert Crais’s Suspect.


  3. The origin of the word is fascinating. And I find the sidekicks are often essential to understanding the protagonist. Could we put up with Holmes without Watson? Poirot without Captain Hastings? Would Harry Potter have triumphed without Ron and Hermione? Probably not. I go back and forth as to whether the female “co-protagonist” in my series is a sidekick or not. The truth is, she probably is – but then is the “main” character sort of her sidekick? Hmm. I may have to explore this idea on Thursday.


  4. OH Sue, NO! — I LOVED the Maggie the dog! I was so glad that she made a subsequent appearance in “The Promise.” I think that having the dog be a “sidekick” ass very appropriate since many, many people have pets whom they view (almost) as members of their families. It gave another dimension to a “detective” story that I think brought in new readers — people who love dogs but who were not really “mystery” readers. I also appreciated Maggie as a character in the book because she was written as a dog not a cartoon human. She did not think/speak like a human. She was a dog; a very intelligent dog, but still a dog.I think having Maggie as part (even the main part) of the story made it real.


  5. Great post! Hermione (to Harry Potter), Watson (to Sherlock), Sancho Panza (to Don Quixote), Shug Avery (to Celie) and all of Dorothy’s sidekicks on the way to Oz are a few of my faves. 🙂


  6. Between Pamela and Mary my brain is getting a workout for a Monday! Could it be that if you have co-protagonists (Rizzoli & Isles) a third character becomes the sidekick? Rizzoli’s mother?

    Sue and 3 no 7, I too loved Maggie. That’s probably my favorite Crais novel.


  7. I find sidekicks easier and much more fun to write. Even though they’re still three dimensional, you can explode and exploit one of their characteristics to serve your purposes and amuse. I guess with Sherlock and Holmes, the opposite is true, but you know what I mean!


  8. Oh, great post! Harriet to Lord Peter – they were such wonderful foils. Paul to Thea in the Thea Campbell mysteries – they are the epitome of a literary Tracy and Hepburn. Sidekicks can make or break a book. If the chemistry is right, they are far more interesting than the protagonist who carries a different burden.


  9. Great post, Pamela! Sidekick is such a fun theme, and I loved reading about the origin of the term! I love sidekicks that steal the show, that end up becoming a hero unto themselves (Hermione to Harry, Sam to Frodo, etc.), but Sue mentioned another soft spot for sidekicks: pets. Koko from The Cat Who Series comes to mind when I think of furry little sidekicks 🙂


  10. One last comment about “side kicks” — my biggest “pet Peeve” (if you will), about sidekicks is when well-meaning authors try to change friendships into romantic attachment. Unless the “team” was a couple at the start, there is almost no way that a sidekick can become a romantic partner without ruining both characters and the stories. I have seen it happen time and time again. When they become a couple, I stop reading. It is totally possible and much more realistic to have friends remain friends and professionals forever, than it is to have friends become lovers and still maintain that previous professional relationship. Better solution — give them both different romantic partners and keep the professional relationship (and the stories) in tact.


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