Fictional characters have a lot to lose, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the mystery novel. Our characters have flaws–great big FAT flaws, and lots of them.
To show you what I mean, let’s take a look at the four principal characters in Elizabeth George’s wonderful Inspector Lynley series. Poor Tommy Lynley was born with a silver (or is it gold?) spoon in his mouth. When he was 17 he caught his mother en flagrant delicto with his father’s physician. He can’t fit in with normal police officers because he is a one-percenter. We alternately want to make him a cup of tea or slap him.
On the other hand, his sidekick Barbara Havers’s family is working poor. Her father is sickly; her mom is taking trips in her mind; and Barbara, when she’s not catching killers, looks after them. A depressing and limiting world, that one.
Simon was crippled in a car accident when Tommy was driving drunk. Tommy lost his girl, Deborah, to Simon, but Deborah can’t have children because of a botched abortion. (She was carrying Tommy’s child.)
Are our collective bosoms heaving yet? If not, they should be.
Then there’s Emma Golden, who has lost much in her 55 years, mostly because of alcoholism. She pieces together a life while her more fortunate friends take six-week vacations in the South Pacific. Emma has secrets. She’s often bad-tempered and mouthy, and she hasn’t been laid since well before she left her husband seven years ago. On top of that, she’s nosy and keeps getting into situations where people try to kill her.
What we are talking about here is “the wounded hero”. These anti-heroes come with baggage–tons of it. It affects their relationships and it makes their paths more difficult.
We love our mystery heroes and heroines because down deep they’re just like us. We can identify, and we desperately want them to succeed.