In a recent post, Moira at Clothes in Books offered an excellent discussion of Patricia Wentworth’s Ladies’ Bane. In it, she mentioned two characters who were underused. And it got me to thinking about characters I’ve read who don’t appear much, but who are still very interesting and who could play an important role in a story. Of course, everyone has different opinions about which characters are interesting and worth more exploration; here are a few I’ve encountered.
In Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate the murder of the 4th Baron Edgware. His wife, notorious actress Jane Wilkinson, is the obvious suspect (she’d even threatened to kill him, so she would be free to marry again). But she says that she was at a dinner in another part of London at the time of the crime, and there are twelve other people who are prepared to swear that she was there. So, Poirot, Hastings, and Chief Inspector Japp have to look elsewhere for the murderer. Then, there’s another murder. Carlotta Adams is found dead of what turns out to be an overdose of barbiturate. Her death is linked to Lord Edgware’s death, and Poirot is determined to find out who’s responsible. One of the people he talks to is Carlotta’s good friend Jenny Driver, who owns a millinery shop. She gives Poirot and Hastings insights as to Carlotta’s character, and she is (to me) a well-developed character. It would have been interesting to know more about her and have her featured more in the story.
Bill Crider’s Too Late to Die introduces Sheriff Dan Rhodes, of Blacklin County, Texas. He’s recently been widowed, so his daughter, Kathy, who’s a teacher at the local school, comes to stay with him. One day, the body of Jeanne Clinton is found in her home, and Rhodes and his team begin the investigation. The most likely suspect is the victim’s husband Elmer. But he claims he was at work at the time of the murder, and there’s never been any evidence that he had a motive to kill his wife. Besides, there are other suspects, as the victim had what used to be called ‘a reputation.’ Kathy appears in a few places in the novel; she serves as a sounding board, and it’s clear that she cares about her father. She’s a strong character, and, speaking just for myself, I could easily have seen her play a larger role.
Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice is the story of Thea Farmer, a former high school principal who’s had a custom home built for herself in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains. Sadly, bad decisions and bad luck have put her in a precarious financial position. So, she’s had to sell her dream home and settle for the house next door – a place she refers to as ‘the hovel.’ When the home she still thinks of as hers is purchased, she immediately resents the people who bought it, Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington. Then, Frank’s niece Kim comes to stay, and, against the odds, forms a sort of friendship with Thea. When Thea begins to believe that Frank and Ellice are not providing an appropriate home for Kim, she tries to get the police involved, but there’s really not much they can do. So, Thea takes matters into her own hands. We learn Thea’s story through a journal she keeps for a writing class she’s taking. The facilitator, Oscar, is an interesting character who gives the class thought-provoking assignments. We learn a lot about Thea’s character from the way she responds to the assignments and to Oscar, and it might have been interesting to see more of Oscar, and have his character play a stronger role in the novel.
Timothy Hallinan’s Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty series begins with A Nail Through the Heart. Rafferty is an ex-pat American rough travel writer, who now lives in Bangkok. He also has a talent for finding people who don’t want to be found. So, when Clarissa Ulrich gets concerned about her Uncle Claus, she asks around for Rafferty. Claus Ulrich hasn’t contacted his niece for some time, and they’ve always been close. So Clarissa is worried that something has happened to him. Rafferty agrees to ask some questions, and starts looking into the case. In the meantime, he is hoping to adopt a street child named Miau, who’s been living under his care. To do that legally, he needs to go through the official process. And for that, he’s turned to a man named Hank Morrison. Morrison runs a school for street children, takes care of them, and works to get them adopted or at least fostered into loving homes. So he knows which papers to fill out, what needs to be done, and so on. As it turns out, Morrison also has some information that’ll help Rafferty with the case he’s working on, too, so we see a little of him. But he’s a strong, interesting character, and I can see how he might be more prominent in the novel.
And then there’s Charity Norman’s See you in September. Cassy Howells and her boyfriend Hamish have recently finished university, and have decided to take some time off before they start working. They’re going to travel to New Zealand and do some volunteer work at a wildlife sanctuary there, and then explore. The trip starts out well enough, but things soon go wrong. Cassy and Hamish begin to argue, and then Cassy discovers to her shock that she’s pregnant. Hamish wants no part of being a father, so Cassy is left alone in a foreign country with a baby on the way. She is rescued by a group that lives in an eco-friendly commune, and they invite her to stay for a bit until she makes some decisions. She is drawn to the group and makes the decision to stay with them. She’s glad of her decision at first, but soon enough, we see that this group has a dark side, and is preparing for something the leader calls Last Day, which could be disastrous. Meanwhile, back in the UK, Cassy’s parents, Diana and Mike, are worried for her. She hasn’t been in contact, and they sense something is wrong. Her sister Tara is upset with her for disrupting the family. They’re going to have to find a way to free Cassy from the group and bring her home before she comes to real harm. Tara is a strong young person with her own opinions and way of looking at the world. She loves her sister, but is also angry with her. There seems more to her than meets the eye, and it might have been interesting to see her take a larger role in the story.
There are some characters that are like that – that we find appealing, or strong, or interesting, and could play stronger roles. These are just a few examples. Which ones have stayed with you?
Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Leisure’s Know You Better.