Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Jeri Westerson on Sidekicks
Jungle Red: Today we welcome L.A. native Jeri Westerson, who writes a medieval mystery series with a decidedly hardboiled twist. Her newest release, SERPENT IN THE THORNS—A Medieval Noir, blends her love of medieval history with her other love of noir.
We Get our Kicks from Sidekicks
By Jeri Westerson
Sidekicks can serve an important role for a sleuth. Though Sam Spade started off with partner Miles Archer, it was clear his sidekick was really Effie Perine, his faithful and not faint-of-heart secretary. A sidekick does the legwork (and what legs!) and in some instances, can also be the source of the sleuth’s finding an important clue (it’s the sleuth that has to really solve the case, however, otherwise there’s no reason to spend three hundred pages with him!)
A sidekick can also be the source of some much-needed comic relief when the action gets dark and heavy. He’s a sounding board for the detective to bounce ideas off of. He—or she—can be in jeopardy, the damsel in distress, for the heroic detective to save.
Whatever the purpose the sidekick serves, he had better be more than a cardboard cut-out or there can be no empathy for his thankless and often tireless work.
A sidekick can be as cunning as Bunter for Lord Peter Wimsey, or the conscience of the piece as Sancho Panza is to Don Quixote. Without Dr. Watson to write it all down, we’d never know about all of Sherlock Holmes's adventures. And Robin Hood would have no one to mourn him without Little John.
A knight’s sidekick could very well be his squire, but since my hero Crispin Guest is no longer the knight he was, there can be no squire as such. Only an orphaned street urchin would be fitting for a man who now had to eke out a life on the mean streets of fourteenth century London. And so Jack Tucker--orphan, cutpurse, thief and street urchin--stumbles into Crispin’s life. More comfortable on the streets and with the low-lifes he and Crispin encounter, Jack is often a go-between. He may be young—eleven when we meet him in the first in the series, VEIL OF LIES—but he’s whip-smart, even though he can’t seem to give up the “habit” of cutting purses, the medieval equivalent of picking pockets (no pockets yet). Jack often humanizes the plight of the poor and uneducated to Crispin who has come from wealthy and intellectual origins, who had no inkling of the lives of his servants on his erstwhile estates anymore than he had a clue about the lives of the people he passed on the streets of London.
We need our literary sidekicks. And it’s even more wonderful when we want to know more about them. What motivates them to play second fiddle to the hero? What sort of rewards can they expect? While Marshall Dillon slinks off with Miss Kitty, what’s Festus up to?
And will Robin ever get to drive the Batmobile?
Crispin writes his own blog (yeah, everyone’s got a blog these days) and he sometimes writes about Jack Tucker. For more on the newest release in Jeri’s medieval noir series, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, go to www.JeriWesterson.com.