RARA-AVIS: Re: More Likable P.I.s?

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@sbcglobal.net)
Date: 28 Sep 2009

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    AH, the fun you can have with forgetting to press "SEND"...

    On Sep 14, 2009, at 1:21 AM, someone (Dave? Jim?) wrote:

    > Back to your question--more than likable, readers expect PIs, at
    > least for series, to be decent people (which Lane, as much as he'd
    > like to think otherwise, is not). It's hard to think of series PIs
    > where the author doesn't attempt to make the PI at least someone
    > very decent (and sometimes bending over backwards to do so). Nero
    > Wolfe is probably as much a curmudgeon as any, but even with all his
    > idiosyncrasies, is still someone the reader develops a fondness to,
    > and of course Archie Goodwin is likable to a fault to more than
    > balance things out. I'm having a hard time thinking of a single main
    > character PI who isn't at least decent (other than Lane...). Even
    > with the Continental Op's willing to blow up a town because he's
    > pissed off, his doggedness and general professionalism makes him
    > likable (even if he is willing to steal a crutch from a cripple).

    Well, this is why I was wondering if he meant likable, as in friendly.

    Certainly, we want characters we can like as characters. But a likable character isn't necessarily the same as a likable person. I'd wager there are tons of fictional characters we'd probably not want to hang around with too much in real life.

    Heck, I like the Joker, but I prefer him in the pages of a comic book rather than next door.

    Decency is a whole other thing -- and probably even harder to pin down than what's likable. Naturally, any series character is going to have to have some sort of admirable quality to keep bringing customers back, but it might not necessarily be decency. It could be, as you suggested, doggedness or professionalism. I'd toss courage into it, and compassion, and resilience and some sort of solid integrity, and others may look for other things.

    But a strong moral code might be a better word for decency. Even though the solid moral code of, say a Mike Hammer or a V.I. Warshawski would vary greatly from that of Marlowe or a Jack Taylor or a Sam Spade. After all, even though he's not a P.I., Stark's Parker isn't exactly "decent," but his pragmatic professionalism at all costs can be fun to watch. and proved to be throughout the series.

    What makes a character likable might, in fact, be the gap between his
    "decency" (his admirable qualities) and his flaws. If the Op were a simple Boy Scout would he have been so influential?

    Kevin Burton Smith Editor/Founder The Thrilling Detective Web Site
    "Wasting your time on the web since 1998."

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