Showing posts with label sidekick. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sidekick. Show all posts

21 May 2021

The Psycho Sidekick


(C) 1985 ABC

Back in the day, Robert B. Parker introduced us to Hawk, a mysterious ex-mercenary who made split decisions in morally ambiguous situations. In his earliest appearances, his appeal came from being the wildcard. Could Spenser trust him? Did he need someone like Hawk to do what his personal code would not permit?

In terms of the story Promised Land and the next few follow-ups, the answer is yes. He's a wildcard. He's not on Spenser's side. His priorities merely coincide with his. Once the series's initial run ended, however, Hawk became a set piece, a witty sidekick to add irreverence to Spenser's snappy patter. But Parker had left his mark on the PI genre. Now everyone had to have a sidekick, most notably, Dennis Lehane's Kenzie and Genaro series with sociopath Bubba Rugowski. Robert Crais managed to raise the game with this type of character in Joe Pike, the stoic ex-soldier partner of his daffy Elvis Cole.

While Pike is a great read, I often wonder if the archetype was even necessary. When I began writing, I made it a point to avoid the psycho sidekick. To me, the PI was a loner. He or she choose that life because they really don't want many connections tying them down. Originally, this was narrative. The Continental Op traveled everywhere. Philip Marlowe had to be a singular presence in his cases. Perhaps the best example of all comes from Ross McDonald. McDonald described Lew Archer as a man who would disappear if he turned sideways.

Of course, readers demand more than a guy in a trench coat and fedora slinking down back alleys. Spenser is a war veteran, ex-cop, and former boxer. Kinsey Milhonne might cherish her solitude, but her elderly landlord has a crush on her, and the Hungarian diner owner insists on feeding her. 

Hawk added a certain dark element to the Spenser series in its heyday. Unfortunately, he became a rote character others used because that's what Robert Parker used. When he or she is fleshed out, it works very well. Alas, there's a bad tendency to make them one of those X-Men that show up in the Deadpool movies with no Ryan Reynolds to play off of them.