Well, I Guess We Just Don’t Get Along*

It’s arguably become a trope in crime fiction: two characters who don’t really like each other, but who have to work together. This premise has a lot of potential if you think about it, because there are so many possible plot points and outcomes. The two characters could end up continuing to dislike each other, and that can build tension in the story. Or, they could come to some sort of understanding, if not friendship. That outcome can add some closure, or at least a sense of resolution, to a plot. There are cases where the characters fall in love, too. Speaking just for myself, I find it harder to make that outcome believable. Still, it does happen, and it can work. Whatever the outcome, when two characters dislike each other, but still have to work together, that dynamic can add to a story.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to France in response to a letter from Paul Renauld. He claims that his life is in danger, and that he needs Poirot’s help. When the two sleuths get to France, though, they find it’s too late: Renauld has been murdered. M. Giraud of the Sûreté is investigating the case, and, right from the start, he and Poirot heartily dislike each other. In fact, the friction becomes so bad that they agree to a 500-franc bet on who will solve the case first. Poirot’s feelings towards M. Giraud do not soften as the story goes on, and it’s interesting to see how that conflict adds to the story.

Several of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus novels feature the character of ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty, an Edinburgh crime boss. He and Rebus dislike each other; in fact, Cafferty refers to Rebus as ‘Strawman.’ Rebus has a few ways to refer to Cafferty, too. There are a few novels though (I’m thinking, for instance of Black and Blue) in which they have to work together. When they both have an interest in, say, in stopping a particular criminal or solving a case, they do share information. As time goes on, they see that they have some things in common, and they develop a grudging respect for each other. Later in the series, they both have to cope with the realities of getting older, and of a police/criminal world that has changed. It’s a very interesting dynamic, and it brings extra layers to the series.

One of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s series features Reykjavik attorney Thóra Guðmundsdóttir. At the beginning of the series (Last Rituals), we learn that she and her law partner are required by the terms of their office lease to employ the landlord’s daughter Bella as secretary. Unfortunately, Thóra and Bella do not get along at all. Bella behaves unprofessionally, is sometimes rude to clients, and is frequently rude to the lawyers. She smokes (which is forbidden in the building) and she’s lazy, too. If it weren’t for the terms of the lease, she would have been fired long ago. But she’s not stupid. As the series goes on, her character develops, and she even ends up helping in a few cases. She and Thóra never become best friends, but they do develop a working relationship, and even learn that they can co-operate and get things done.

Geraldine Evans’ Rafferty and Llewellyn series begins with Dead Before Morning. Detective Inspector (DI) Joe Rafferty and Detective Sergeant (DS) Dafyd Llewellyn investigate when the body of a young woman is discovered on the grounds of the Elmhurst Sanatorium. The two detectives are quite different in temperament. And neither particularly likes the other. For Rafferty’s part, Llewellyn is too strait-laced, sometimes morose, and an ‘education snob.’ Llewellyn dislikes his boss’ occasional tendency to act before thinking. He’s also not fond of the way Rafferty sometimes bends the rules. But they do have to work together, and they know that they won’t solve the case if they let personal differences get in the way. Gradually, they learn to respect each other’s strengths and work productively. They don’t always agree, but they’ve learned to get along, even though each gets on the other’s nerves at times.

Liam McIlvanney’s The Quaker features Detective Inspector (DI) Duncan McCormack. It’s 1969 Glasgow, and a killer known as ‘the Quaker’ has found his third victim All three victims have been women who went to the same nightclub, but the police don’t really have any solid leads. They’re drained and frustrated, and the media isn’t helping. McCormack is seconded to Glasgow to help in the investigation, but, to put it mildly, he is not welcomed with open arms. His new colleagues are suspicious of him, and don’t see him as doing ‘real polis work.’ For his part, McCormack doesn’t like the way they do things. They’re all supposed to be working together, but there’s so much tension it’s hard to do. Things are particularly strained between McCormack and a colleague nicknamed Goldie. At the heart of it, though, both want to catch the killer. Both are smart. And over time, they come to see each other’s skills. As the novel ends, they certainly don’t become best friends. But they have learned to respect each other, and there’s the promise of a sort of awkward friendship between them.

It’s a fact of life that we sometimes have to interact, even work with, people we dislike. Sometimes we end up finding the other person isn’t as bad as we thought. Other times we find quite the opposite. In either case, the professional thing to do is to try to work through differences and co-operate. It’s not easy, though, and crime fiction shows us just how challenging and interesting it can be (Right, fans of Paul Levine’s Solomon and Lord series?).


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Kathy Valentine’s We Don’t Get Along.

10 thoughts on “Well, I Guess We Just Don’t Get Along*

  1. Hi Margot!! There were images of different people I have had to deal with popping into my mind as I read your article. These memories are mostly cringe worthy, but taught me how to convince them that we are friends. It’s become a game.


    1. Hi, Sue! I think you have a good idea about making a game of it. Sometimes we have to work with/deal with people we don’t like. Making a game out of finding ways to get along can make the process seem a whole lot less arduous.


  2. Hope you a nice Thanksgiving weekend, Margot! As I read your post, I couldn’t help but think of the stories where one minute the characters hate each other, the next minute they’re lovers. I flip back through the pages, wondering how that happened or if I missed something. It’s a tough troupe to pull off, and it can work against the author if s/he doesn’t slow down and let it happen naturally.


    1. You’re right, Sue. If the change in feelings doesn’t fall out naturally from the story, it just comes across as contrived. And that makes it hard (well, for me, anyway) to warm to the characters and be drawn into the story. It just feels forced. I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving holiday!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am an absolute sucker for an odd couple detective pairing, I always really enjoy it.
    Here’s an obscure one, though wouldn’t be surprised if you knew them! Stan Cutler wrote a few books in the late 80s or early 90s featuring ‘aging tough guy P.I. Rayford Goodman and hip, gay writer Mark Bradley’. They were set in and around Hollywood, and had film-related titles, eg Shot on Location. I liked them very much – though I wonder how Goodman’s prejudices would come over nearly 30 years later….


    1. Oh, thanks for mentioning Cutler, Moira! I’ll confess I’ve not read his work, but I have heard of it, and I’ve wanted to read them, biases and all. I appreciate the reminder of them. And you’ve got a well-taken point. the odd couple pairing can work very, very well when it’s done effectively.


  4. I’ve just started a book which features a pairing of a PI with a broken arm and a bent nose, teaming up with the tough who gave it to him, to look for a missing girl. It’s a novelisation by Charles Ardai of a film – The Nice Guys. It’s started well, at least.


    1. That’s a really interesting premise, Col. There are lots of possibilities there for plot development, and a really intriguing pairing. I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of it, and post a review.


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