Sidekicks: We Are Family

My favorite mystery series have character arcs that span the entire series. One tool for said over-arching character development is exploring the relationship between the protagonist and his sidekicks as they develop shared experiences.

We are all familiar with Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache canon where over time the Inspector’s experiences seem to soften him while his disciples, a couple of whom are  like his own children to him, are strengthened by his example of vulnerability.

In Adrian McKinty’s The Troubles series, set in 1980’s Belfast at the height of sectarian unrest, the strongest relationship is between DI Sean Duffy, a Catholic and DC (later DS) “Crabbie” McCrabben, a Presbyterian. At first their relationship is tentative as one would expect. But by the most recent book, Rain Dogs, Duffy is the godfather of Crabbie’s boys.

There is a touching scene where they both travel to London for the day and Duffy brings back two Toblerones chocolate bars for the boys.  Crabby frets because he forgot presents. Duffy suggests Crabbie pass the candy off as his own but Crabbie refuses. He wants his kids to know that their Uncle Sean thought of them. Who couldn’t love both of these characters more by the end of this scene? They ennoble each other.

I just started reading and listening to the Rebus series. In the most recent book, Even Dogs in the Wild, Rebus is retired. Inspector Siobhan Clark, his former sidekick, has convinced her superiors to bring him back as a consulting detective for a particular case. Also in the broil is Rebus’ former nemesis, Inspector Malcom Fox, who had been with the Scottish equivalent of internal affairs and whom Clark is kind-of now dating. Being the twentieth book, the theme of which is parents and children, the characters’ rich history and family-like relationship provides bedrock for the story.

The upshot of which is I’m going to spend a lot more time working on my sidekicks’ back stories.

Final thought: I genuinely appreciate the different topics we focus upon in Mysteristas as they make me ponder those aspects of my own writing, contemplation of which I would made time to indulge in.


9 thoughts on “Sidekicks: We Are Family”

  1. Love this! We have to talk sidekicks at Malice. I find that some of mine are more or less prominent in each book. I also found that someone I thought of as more peripheral – my protagonist’s grandmother – is now front and center. And the character I thought would be a sidekick – my protagonist’s friend – is receding a bit. Funny how that happens.


  2. Excellent post. Until this month, I never realized how important sidekicks are to both the story and the protagonist. Like you, Keenan, I am going to be spending a lot more time developing mine. Intrigued by The Troubles. Never heard of the works. Have to check it out.


  3. This month’s theme has really gotten me thinking about how I can enrich my sidekicks’ character arcs. And my TBR pile has gotten larger.


  4. Thanks all and thank y’all for your posts this month. Ellen, I love the grandma. She’s a crackerjack. Hope to see more of her.


  5. This is like the third time people have mentioned Rebus. I tried and gave it up. I’m going to have to try again.

    I actually spent a good bit of time thinking about my sidekicks’ backgrounds. That background is an important sub-plot in AND CORRUPTION FOR ALL, and Tom Burns insisted on his own short story to explore his backstory. Funny how those minor characters get so demanding!


  6. Fantastic post, Keenan! I like what you say about character arcs lasting through the entire series, elevated by how the sidekick-protag relationship grows. And now I have more books to add to my TBR pile!! 🙂


  7. Short stories are a great way to explore back stories. And I totally agree about how our Mysteristas topics make us ponder our own writing.


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