Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The proverbial side-kick

Let's talk about gumshoe side-kicks.  You know, the Doctor Watson wannabes.

I've never really liked'em.   I'm thinking of creatures especially like Hercule Poirot's Captain Haskins in the early Agatha Christie novels.  Or  the bungling, but lovable old buffoon of a Dr. Watson played by Nigel Bruce in the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies of the 1930's.

Clownish amateurs there to screw up the crime scene, maybe give a little humor to a story, but really present to build up the brilliant detective work and intellectual genius of the main character.

Two emotions come to mind at the same time.  One is Yuck! And the other is Why?

The Yuck comes to mind because, in my opinion, the buffoonish nature of a Captain Haskins is just too distracting to the overall story.  It is a physical and obvious insertion of a sounding-board . . . or automatic applause machine . . . the author slaps in to get the reader to appreciate the main character better.  Unneeded and unappreciated.

The Why? comes in asking this question;  "Why so buffoonish?  And why so amateurish?"  Can't an author create a side-kick who is smart and intelligent?  One who can infuse a little humor (if its needed) into the plot without making him look like he was just released from a loony farm?

I say there is.  And I have a few examples (although two of them are not the 'humorous' kind of fellas to be around).

If you've ever read Robert Crais' Elvis Cole series you run across a character by the name of Joe Pike.  Ooooooh . . . . one mean SOB!  Someone you wouldn't want to be on their bad side.  But one hell of an ally when the chips are down.  Joe Pike is no second hand caricature to be easily dismissed.  He's every bit as talented and every bit as tough (maybe even tougher?) than Elvis Cole.

A second side kick that comes to mind is Hawk from Robert B. Parker's Spenser series.  Big.  Mean.  Bald.  And very loyal.  So good in fact one quietly speculates on what would have happened if Hawk and Spenser became enemies.  Who would come out the winner on that one?  It'd be a toss up, fella.  A real toss up.

The absolute best example of a side kick I'd root for is the Robert Downing Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies featuring Jude Law as Dr. Watson.   Two movies in this re-imaging of of this classic character where  Dr. Watson is portrayed as being a near-intellectual equal to Holmes.  But more importantly, Watson is absolutely essential to Holmes' success.  Therefore he is an equal to his more famous compatriot. 

Jude Law's portrait of Dr. Watson brings wit, sarcasm, humor, humanity and genuine friendship to play in these moves.  Absolutely astonishing to watch!  I could watch (and fervently hope the do!) this cinematic series forever.

I'm writing this as a blog today because of the red headed guy in the artwork at the top of the blog.  The red head is Frank Morales.
The side kick to Clark Gable lookalike, Turner Hahn.  Both of'em are homicide detectives and partners.  And so far, in the 23 or so short stories and 3 novels I've written featuring them, both are in almost every scene together playing off each other.

But maybe it's time for Frank to spread his curmudgeon's wings and fly on his own power.  He's certainly is capable of taking on cases by himself.  Technically he's smarter than Turner when it comes to sheer IQ numbers.  And his personality is . . . shall we say . . . a little more brutally direct than Turner's.

Together Turner and Frank make a great investigating pair.  But separating Frank from Turner and giving him his own cases to solve creates some interesting possibilities.  Of course the red headed SOB won't like it . . . being on his own.  He's very smart and very observant.  But the one thing he isn't is he doesn't play nice when he's on his own.

But not being able to do the nice-nice makes for great possibilities.  Don't you think?