Many years ago I had the privilege of being a co-chair to a Bouchercon. This is the granddaddy of mystery events, and I was honored to serve. I’m also very proud that our event was highly successful—yes, I’m biased, but we did receive rave reviews.
But here’s the point: It couldn’t have happened without a cast of sidekicks. My sidekicks were mostly pulled from Sisters in Crime, and I’ve come to think of them as my village. It takes a village to work together and accomplish a mighty task.
Fast-forward a bunch of years, when I wrote my first Nell Letterly mystery. As her story unfolded, it seemed that Nell was going to have three sidekicks, and then I worried that three sidekicks would be too many for any sleuth. (We can always find some doubts to undermine us, right?) But I wrote them anyway. It felt right.
Nell’s stories are all about family, and her sidekicks are her family:
- Terra, her know-it-all teenage daughter,
- Nell’s cranky and over-protecting dad, and
- Gillian, her opinionated, soon-to-be ex-sister-in-law who is everything Nell is not.
I couldn’t eliminate any of them. They’re all the family Nell has. And besides, it takes a village to make a family, too. These characters are fun to work with, as family dynamics play them off each other. Each one has a special skill that helps Nell find the information she needs to sleuth. The extent of their roles varies in each book. Sometimes they shift out of sidekick role and become secondary characters with other purposes.
Next month, the third in the series will be released: Murder for a Cash Crop. In that book, Gillian takes on the dominant role as sidekick, on account of the nature of information Nell needs to uncover. Terra and Dad are still there in the story, but with lesser roles.
It’s not so very different from Bouchercon, when on a monthly basis the importance of my sidekicks shifted due to the order of tasks and when they needed to be completed. But I still wonder: are three sidekicks too many for a mystery novel? What do you think?