I Want to Get to Know You Better*

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.


14 thoughts on “I Want to Get to Know You Better*

  1. Very interesting post, Margot. You are spot-on, there are certain characters who do not get much space in the book but you really wish to know more about though the only one coming into mind right now is Theodore Nott in Harry Potter. I think there was something about his father being a DE and yet his mother was killed by DEs. I would have loved to know more about him esp as Slytherins were presented as one-dimensional followers of evil.

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    1. Thank you, Neeru. You make an interesting point, too, about the Slytherins. They really do have more than one dimension to them, and I think those layers add to characters. You have to wonder about Theodore and his parents, too, now I think about it… At any rate, there really are characters who are engaging enough that you want to know them better, and wish the author had devoted more space to them.

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    1. You put that well, Prashant. Some stories’ secondary characters are at least as interesting as the main characters are. I remember some of them almost better than I do the main characters!

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  2. I love when secondary characters surprise us. As a writer, I think it’s important to pay attention to reviews that mention secondary characters. It’s an easy way to know whether readers want to learn more about them. Thought-provoking as always, Margot.

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    1. Thanks, Sue. And I think you’re absolutely right about paying attention to what readers say about secondary characters. If they notice them and want more from them, that’s an important thing to know. As you say, you never can tell what a secondary character might turn out to be like if you’re not open to it.

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  3. Can’t think of any specific examples off the top of my head, but secondary characters often give a lift to crime fiction, I think – the main characters often have to be relatively unlikeable and quite serious, so secondary characters give the author the chance to introduce a lighter aspect.

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    1. You have a well-taken point, FictionFan. If the major characters aren’t serious and don’t have focus, then the story can be too ‘frothy,’ and that tends to be off-putting (well, at least for me). On the other hand, a book with no lighter moments or quirkiness or… can be too serious, if I can put it that way. That’s fine for people who like real bleakness, but I think it can add to a story when secondary characters have their own personalities and are allowed to grow a bit.

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  4. I’m always so proud when I feel I have inspired one of your posts Margot! you take an idea and really run with it – illuminating it with your encyclopaedic knowledge of crime books.

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    1. Thanks, Moira – that’s so kind of you! One of the reasons your blog is a must-visit for me is that I always, always get good ideas, and not just for books to read. I also get good ideas for ways to think about crime (and other) fiction.

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  5. I always wanted to see more of Clete Purcelll in the Robicheaux books, though he does have an impact and presence in more than a few. Also I think there was a half brother, Jimmy who maybe featured in a couple of the early ones, but never or hardly ever afterwards. I kind of thought it a contradiction because Robicheaux always cared about his family.

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    1. I hadn’t thought about that, Col, but you’re right. It does seem strange that someone like Robicheaux wouldn’t have steadier contact with his half brother. That’s an interesting point. And I like Clete Purcell a lot, too. He adds a lot to the stories where he features, doesn’t he?

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