Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Thoughts on a two-headed protagonist, plus the return of a question for readers

A December discussion here at Detectives Beyond Borders concerned crime writers who shift protagonists from book to book within a series. More recently, I posted about Garry Disher's deft handling of two parallel investigations with two separate investigators in his novel Chain of Evidence.

In another entry in his guest-blogging stint at Moments in Crime, the Norwegian author K.O. Dahl discusses one practical advantage of having two main characters:

"The good side of having to protagonists is the possibility to change. When I am tired of the first one, I can go on working with the other with a fresh mind. But mostly, they fill each other out. Sometimes they remind me of an old, married couple."
One of those protagonists sounds like people I went to high school and summer camp with:
"He loves music, and music means rock from the seventies. He likes those bands from the seventies not everybody remembers, like Edgar Broughton band, Captain Beefheart, Colosseum, Gentle Giant and King Crimson. If you ask if he likes Genesis, he would say, yeah, those records with Peter Gabriel.

"In high school Frølich thought Frank Zappa was some kind of a prophet."
I always wondered what happened to those guys. My old classmates, I mean, not Captain Beefheart and Gentle Giant. I guess they grew up to become cops in Norway.
=========================

Who are your favorite multiple protagonists? Ask me, and I'll suggest Bill James' Harpur and Iles or Janwillem van de Wetering's Grijpstra, de Gier and their commissaris, or chief. But who are your favorite dual, triple or team protagonists? How does the author make the team work? Do you sometimes with the author would settle on one of the team and focus on that character as protagonist?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

Technorati tags:


Labels: , , ,

16 Comments:

Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

Hard to beat van de Wetering's Grijpstra, de Gier and their commissaris in print. Inspector Lynley and what's her name are good too though. Oh and Morse and his helper (Colin Dexter was very good). On tv, I'd pick Cagney and Lacey though.

April 01, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Van de Wetering seems to have made an impression on quite a number of crime-fiction readers and authors. I am always pleased to find a fellow Grijpstra and de Gier reader. It's too bad that van de Wetering has apparently ended the series.

His practice seems to fit what K.O. Dahl said about the practical advantages of having two protagonists. He always had multiple possible focuses of "human interest": Grijpstra's family, de Gier's love life and, possibly best of all, the commissaris and his wife and pet turtle.

This, of course, was in addition to the compelling interplay among the three.

April 01, 2008  
Anonymous Iain Rowan said...

Olen Steinhauer's series set in an unnamed Eastern European country does this over a stretch of fifty-two years.

The protagonist in the first book, THE BRIDGE OF SIGHS is Emil Brod, who has just joined the militia.

In the next book (THE CONFESSION), Brod takes a minor role, and the protagonist is now Inspector Kolyeszar from the same milita department.

In the third (YALTA BOULEVARD, aka THE VIENNA ASSIGNMENT in the UK), and fourth (LIBERATION MOVEMENTS) the focus shifts to Brano Sev, the state security officer in the office who was such a figure of distrust to both Brod and Kolyeszar in the first two novels.

Brod then makes a reappearance in the fifth and final novel, the young recruit now Chief of Homicide.

I was thrown at first when I read THE CONFESSION, because I was expecting more Emil Brod. But seeing the same characters from a different angle was fascinating, and it's such a fantastic novel anyway, that it soon didn't matter. Same goes for the rest of the series too, from what I have have read and heard ( I've yet to read the last two myself).

April 01, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the note. I have the first in the series in the old to-read pile, but I had not known that the series followed the path that you mentioned.

I did know that the name "Brod" has a certain resonance in Central European history, thanks to Max Brod. Your comment makes me want to read the series, and not just the first book.

April 02, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn and Chee come to mind.

April 02, 2008  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

SJ Rozan's Bill Smith and Lydia Chin series in which one books narrative is from Smith's perspectiev and the next from Lydia's is one way to keep things fresh.

April 02, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Linkmeister, what's their strength as a team? I have read that one of them -- Leaphorn, I think -- is older and more assimilated into the white world, while the other is younger and more interested in Navajo traditions. Is that the case? If so, how does Hillerman use this to make the pair a compelling team?

April 02, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Uriah, I wonder if switching one's point-of-view character from book to book does even more to create an illusion of reality than does doing so within a novel. (I'm assuming Chin and Smith are each interesting enough to carry a book.)

The interesting thing about Disher's strategy in Chain of Evidence is that he seems to have been building toward it. The series began life billed as Hall Challis novels, but Challis and his sergeant, Ellen Destry, share billing in recent books. Also, an earlier novel in the series switched point-of-view characters from chapter to chapter. Chain of Evidence does some of that, and it takes the further step of relating two parallel cases that stay parallel -- they never meet. It's an interesting way of telling a story, and Disher manages nicely to weave the two storylines into a coherent novel.

April 02, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

RE: Leaphorn and Chee

From the PBS intro to the Mystery series of Hillerman books:
"Leaphorn and Chee didn't start out as a classic crime-fighting duo. In fact, they almost didn't exist at all. Leaphorn was originally a minor character in Tony Hillerman's first novel, while Chee emerged only when Hillerman found the need for a less savvy protagonist. Long after their first appearance on the fictional reservation landscape, they came together finally in Skinwalkers and have had trouble getting rid of each other ever since."

I remember reading the early ones and thinking "at some point these two cops are going to have to collaborate." I admit to falling away from his books after the first six or seven (although I still own a lot of them: my family kept giving them to me), so I'm not really familiar with their style as a team.

April 02, 2008  
Anonymous Iain Rowan said...

Peter, do give Olen Steinhauer's series a try, it's really very good.

In fact, I think (might as well go out on a limb here) that The Confession is one of the best crime novels of the last ten years.

April 02, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Linkmeister, it's interesting that the second protagonist emerged from literary need rather than generic convention. I wouldn't mind reading Hillerman's thoughts on the subject. He's been around long enough that he's probably set his thoughts about the matter to paper somewhere.

What made you think that Leaphorn and Chee would eventually have to collaborate?

April 02, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Iain, Olen Steinhauer also commented here on a post I made sometime back about books whose titles are changed for foreign publication. This, in addition to the high praise for his novels, disposes me in his favor.

I was especially interested in your comments about what he did with his protagonists. It's refreshing to be reminded that for all the series' ambitious historical sweep and its focus on a crucial period of history, the books are, after all, works of fiction.

April 02, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

I think the thought process went as follows:

They're both Navajo tribal cops; the force isn't that big. Eventually one of Leaphorn's investigations will have to overlap one of Chee's.

In that PBS story I linked to is a link to an interview with Hillerman in which he does discuss the two characters.

April 02, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks. I'll read the article.

It must have been a rush to find that you had anticipated Hillerman's decision to bring Leaphorn and Chee together.

April 02, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Grins. It didn't have the feeling of impending doom I've had in other circumstances.

April 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

I get a kick out of thinking I can recognize what an author is trying to do. Usually this involves Garry Disher, Donald Westlake, and some of the interesting ways they have of building plots or telling stories.

April 03, 2008  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home