Using Flawed Characters as Detectives by Larissa Reinhart by Jean Henry Mead
Larissa Reinhart began her writing career in second grade when she sold her first publication to a neighbor for a nickel. After moving around the Midwest, Japan, and the South, she now lives in Georgia with her husband, daughters, and Biscuit, a Cairn Terrier. She loves small town characters with big attitudes, particularly sassy women with a penchant for trouble. Portrait of a Dead Guy is a 2012 “Daphne du Maurier” finalist, a 2012 “The Emily” finalist, and a 2011 “Dixie Kane Memorial winner”. Still Life in Brunswick Stew, A Cherry Tucker Mystery #2, releases in May 2013.
Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Larissa, on this 12th day of the Mystery We Write Tour. Please tell us about using flawed characters as detectives.
I have to admit, I don’t read mysteries for the mystery. Don’t get me wrong. I love trying to solve the puzzle and figure out whodunit before the end of the book. But it’s the characters that stay with me. Many times I forget the puzzle after I solve it. And the characters that stick with me the most are the ones I worry about after the book is closed. The flawed detective who does not do everything perfectly. Yes, they may be brilliant, but their personality or real life tends to be a mess.
Agatha Christie didn’t like Hercule Poirot. She found him “insufferable,” and called him a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep.” Yet, he’s arguably her most popular character and the star of thirty-three novels, one play, and around fifty short stories (thank you, Wikipedia). I find him amusing, and I’m guessing most other readers do, too. Christie uses wonderful characterization for Poirot from his meticulous nature and his dandified wardrobe. We know very little about him other than he’s Belgian and had been a famous police detective before World War I. Yet, Christie cleverly had Poirot insinuate himself into people’s lives delivering strong opinions that were not popular but always correct. Miss Marple is similar. She always comes off a bit annoying to the “young” people in the book until she astounds them with her sleuthing skills, based on her understanding of personalities.
Great detectives make for great mysteries, but you need to care about the detective to want to continue reading a long running series. I love how P.D. James’s made her Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh a brilliant poet and wounded man. My heart breaks for him because he exudes loneliness. Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse can be crabby and a bit of a drunk and a lecher, but loves crossword puzzles and Wagner. I love his crabbiness and hatred of spelling errors. Martha Grimes has many wonderful characters in her Richard Jury series, particularly Detective Jury and his aristocratic sleuthing pal, Melrose Plant. They can’t seem to get it together in the women department, although we see them trying. All these mysteries fall under the classic English Gentleman Detective, but they are not mere characterizations of their quirks and personalities. We come to understand through their detecting that they are flawed men seeking justice as a way of purging themselves from whatever demons ride them.
I have a flawed character of my own, Cherry Tucker. She’s not a detective, but does seeks justice for crimes, riding the line of vigilante. She makes bad decisions. Her judgement is flawed. She’s outspoken and stubborn. She’s fearless, which is not always a good thing. And she has a terrible weakness for good looking men, which she blames on her mother’s genetics. But for all her faults, she’s likable (I think) because she owns up to her flaws and wants to redress wrongs. Readers have told me “she’s crazy” and they like that craziness. She’s also Southern, which fits in the history of “crazy” women in Southern literature.
Flaws are something to which readers can relate. Memorable flaws mean memorable characters. Memorable characters are ones you want to return to again and again.
You can find Larissa chatting on Facebook; Twitter; and Goodreads. She loves pinning on Pinterest. Her character, Cherry Tucker has her own Pinterest site now, too, for her love of DIY clothing, art, and Southern food. You can also find more information on her website at larissareinhart.com.
In Halo, Georgia, folks know Cherry Tucker as big in mouth, small in stature, and able to sketch a portrait faster than buckshot rips from a ten gauge — but commissions are scarce. So when the well-heeled Branson family wants to memorialize their murdered son in a coffin portrait, Cherry scrambles to win their patronage from her small town rival.
As the clock ticks toward the deadline, Cherry faces more trouble than just a controversial subject. Her rival wants to ruin her reputation, her ex-flame wants to rekindle the fire, and someone’s setting her up to take the fall. Mix in her flaky family, an illegal gambling ring, and outwitting a killer on a spree, Cherry finds herself painted into a corner she’ll be lucky to survive.