RARA-AVIS: Useful sidekicks

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 14 Nov 2001

Okay, I agree that Parker and a few others may have created dark side alter egos for their lead characters. But I agree with Dick Lochte that many of these sidekicks are simply handy ways for writers to get from here to there. If something needs to be done that, ahem, might be a bit ethically questionable, why not have someone in the series capable of doing the dirty deed. That's very handy for a writer.

I mentioned in an earlier post the cliche of the cop boyfriend of women amateur detectives. I once was moderator on a Malice Domestic panel with four authors of series, all of which featured a cop boyfriend. I raised the question and talk about being the skunk at the picnic! Cutting through the defensive fog, the cop boyfriend was just a handy way for the writers to get from here to there. I suspect the shady sidekick is often born of the same need, not some philosophical motive.

With some hesitation, here are a few other random observations on sidekicks.

It used to be common in harboiled fiction that the PI had sidekicks within the system to help out, while our PI was the guy functioning outside the system making things happen. Remember the early Mike Shayne novels? He had the cop and the reporter pals to help out but when something outside the system had to be done, Shayne did it.

A separate observation: Chandler's Philip Marlowe is the classic tarnished knight going down those mean streets. He was a force outside the system but he generally stayed within the lines drawn by the system. At the same time Chandler's friend Cleve Adams was writing the Rex McBride series. McBride did his own dirty work, as did many other pulp heroes. He was a cretin, famous for his statement that "An American Gestapo is goddamned well what we need." Marlowe became the model for the future, the classic tarnished knight. McBride, for the few who have read him, is one of the most repugnant characters in detective fiction history. Lessons learned.

Finally, I have trouble with the hair-splitting on morale codes that okay bad stuff done on the behalf of (but not personally by) our fair-haired hero.

I'm no Parker expert. I read a couple of early Parkers and found them unsatisfactory. Yet with Bill Crider and others I respect sticking up for him, I know he deserves another chance. But I will say I am troubled by the concept of a black guy doing the dirty work for a white guy. I grew up in the south and, brother, do I know that story.

Richard Moore

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