Re: RARA-AVIS: sidekicks

Date: 13 Nov 2001

I've got to weigh in on this, because I have very pronounced opinions about the "dark side" partner trend in PI fiction. Of course, I guess I have very pronounced opinions about almost everything, but I'm redeemed by invariably being right.

I think Parker's introduction of the "bad"
(psycho/sociopathic/call it what you will) sidekick is the WORST thing he introduced into PI fiction.

Actually, to set the record straight, he didn't really introduce it. Hawk doesn't appear until the fourth book, PROMISED LAND (1976), and he's an antagonist of Spenser's in that book (though he sort of comes through in the end). He doesn't really graduate to
"partner" status until THE JUDAS GOAT. Ralph Dennis, on the other hand, has the Hardman/Hump working relationship firmly established in ATLANTA DEATHWATCH
(1974), the first Jim Hardman entry.

What Parker did do first, however, is have the
"bad-ass sidekick" do the things that the "hero" was too morally earnest to do, and that whole concept has always bugged the hell out of me.

First of all, it makes the hero seem like a wimp, rather than a truly moral or ethical man. If he won't, for example, kill an unarmed man, but he stands by and lets his partner do it with only a token protest, then he's complicit in the murder, whether or not he was an active participant.

Mike Hammer and the Op may have done things that can't be condoned morally or legally, but at least they did it themselves, and suffered whatever consequences, to their legal status or to their consciences, may have resulted. They held their own water, and whether you agree with their actions or not, they earn a measure of respect for this.

The post-Spenser character on the other hand, allows the distasteful stuff to be done, but keeps his own hands free of the blood. This is the crime-fighting moral equivalent of Al Capone basking in the Florida sun on St. Vlaentine's Day while, back in Chicago, his flunkies take out George Moran's gang.

If there are things the "hero" thinks he shouldn't do, than maybe those things shouldn't be done. By anybody. And the hero should oppose those things being done by anybody.

If the plot is constructed in a way so that makes it absolutely necessary for those things to be done, then it should be the hero who does them. That's what courage is all about. Making difficult choices and weathering the consequences.

The "bad-ass sidekick" is a deus ex mahina whose main function seems to be removing the necessity for making those hard decisions from the hero.


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