Sidekicks: It Takes a Village

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:

  1. Terra, her know-it-all teenage daughter,
  2. Nell’s cranky and over-protecting dad, and
  3. 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?

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14 thoughts on “Sidekicks: It Takes a Village”

  1. Three sounds perfect to me and each brings something special to the party. I especially like the idea of each taking a more featured role in the individual books. That should keep the readers interested, and the writer too, I would think. Well done!

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  2. Thanks, Kait! And Mary, I’m not planning on getting rid of any of my guys. They work well for my purposes. My question is about sidekicks in general. Usually we just think of one sleuth and one sidekick. Holmes and Watson. They work as a pair. Is a gaggle as effective?

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  3. I’ve seen other writers have more than one sidekick. Look at Inspector Gamache! He ends up having ten or twelve by Book 9, How the Light Gets In. The UK Detective Inspectors usually have two, a detective sargent and a detective constable. Only your imagination limits you and how many you need and how to use them.

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  4. I’m dying to go to Bouchercon. I need to pick your brain about it.
    I love dads as sidekicks. My favorite is Keith Mars, Veronica’s dad. I find myself writing adult mysteries where the dad is a sidekick. Fun way to incorporate family into the story.

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  5. I think multiple “sidekicks” are appropriate and, in fact, very realistic. In books I read, I appreciate the family dynamics and social interactions among multiple friends. After all, if no one in the books likes the person, how can I? Even murders have many friends and co-conspirators.

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  6. Yeah, I think the classics always have one, but really – I think you can have more. I mean consider real life. You don’t have just one friend, right? Different friends for different situations. So too with sidekicks.

    And yes, Kimberly – just go!

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  7. Great post, Sue! I think there can be many sidekicks. As long as each one adds something different to the story, which yours do, the more the merrier! And I love that each of your literary sidekicks gets their own spotlight in different books 🙂

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  8. Glad to know that you all agree! Rotating Gaggle, ha, Peg! Right, Kate, they’ve got to add something different to justify being there.

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