Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ray Banks, or, Who are your favorite supporting characters?

Ray Banks' series about a Manchester private investigator is known as the Cal Innes series, after its protagonist, yet its most recent entry, Beast of Burden, divides the narrative voice between Innes and a police detective sergeant named Donkin.

Donkin is a greedy, uncouth, small-time screw-up, but he becomes sympathetic when, in moments of enlightenment, he realizes, without self-pity, what a screw-up he is. Here he narrates his confrontation with an unexpectedly bold superior:
"He didn't back down. He was supposed to. Everyone else did when I got this close, this aggro."
And here he is, carrying on with his work even though he's under suspension:
"Then, course, there'd be the chance that Goines would carve us the fuck up, or else expect to be arrested. Because who the fuck was I but a fat bloke with a temper right now?"
This is my first Banks novel; I don't know if Donkin appears in the earlier books or if Banks is in the habit of dividing narrative chores or giving Innes such a doppelganger. Donkin is, among other things, an amusing lampoon of the heroically principled renegade cop who can't be constrained by his superiors.

Who are your favorite supporting characters?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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44 Comments:

Blogger Matthew E said...

The one that comes to mind immediately is TJ in Block's Matt Scudder series. Every new book in that series, I'm always worried that Block's going to kill him off.

October 13, 2011  
Blogger Dana King said...

Two who pop to mind are Declan Hughes's Tommy Owens and Timothy Hallinan's Arthit from the Poke Rafferty books. Neither is the stereotypical sidekick (though I do love Hawk and Joe Pike and Louis), and both draw things out of the series heroes in ways no one else dies.

October 13, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Havers in the series by George. An absolutely super character and the only female cop I'll have any truck with (except the Helen Mirren character)

October 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, Tommy Owens does remind me a bit of Donkin, in that both are screw-ups, so I’ll call them distant cousins. Tommy lacks the self-awareness that Banks’ Donkin has, though. He’s more a hardcore screw-up with a heart of gold and a resolution of considerably baser substance.

October 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Matthew, I'm embarrassed to admit that it's been so long since I've read any of the Scudder novels, and I've read just two or three, that I don't remember or don't know T.J. Fill me in!

October 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I'll try to come up with a female cop you might like.

I'll have to keep my eyes open for supporting characters who function as Donkin does: doppelganger. co-narrator, and rival, and something like a nemesis, though not Cal Innes' main antagonist.

October 13, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

...An absolutely super character and the only female cop I'll have any truck with.

I.J., were the two of us separated at birth?

But before you give up, have you read Adrian McKinty's Fifty Grand? This is one of my favorite crime fiction novels of the last couple of years. I resisted it at first partly because a woman cop is the main protagonist. Mercado Suarez (Suarez? Hmmm...). Anyway, please try it and let us know what you think.

Don't care for McBain's women cops --he tried, his were the best of a disappointing lot. Perhaps the woman cop-man cop romances detracted from my interest in them as lead characters solving crimes. Officer Patricia Gomez, Ollie Weeks' love interest is an exception, but she is a minor character.

Don't care for most fictional female cops. Most are of the tougher-than-nails, ball-busting variety all-too-common on TV. Or else they're the chip-on-the-shoulder, single-mom in a man's world, blah blah stereotype. Perhaps because I'm female, male stereotypes are easier to handle.

Yes. Peter, if you can think of a woman cop I.J. and I might like, please let us know.

October 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I thought of you when I read I.J.'s comments about female cops. One female crime fiction protagonist who strays a bit from the formula is a nurse rather than a cop -- and no, she's not all empathetic and nurturing. It may mean something that her creators are two female authors: Lena Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis. (Pardon my lack of Danish characters), authors of The Boy in a Suitcase.

October 13, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I don't know...if Banks is in the habit of dividing narrative chores...

In Banks' first Cal Innes novel, Saturday's Child, he does "divide narrative chores" between the detective-like lead protagonist and his main nemesis. Usually via chapters. Their "voices" are clearly distinct from each other.

Speaking of narrative... This novel did employ a lot of first-person, real-time description such as: I walk down the path to the car and open the door, get in and turn the ignition, etc. I imagine this is to, at least in part, create a sense of immediacy but it only really works in action scenes, passages filled with tension, not when applied to a man waking up, getting out of bed, and getting dressed. But it was a first effort and I haven't given up on Cal.

a nurse rather than a cop

Ah, but here we run into the issue of, Is it really likely a nurse (lawyer, pet store owner, wealthy playboy, librarian, etc.) would actually investigate a crime? I have not read the book in question so can't pass final judgment on this character device.

October 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, in this case the nurse is an activist involved in a rescue mission that seemed plausible to me. She was not some plucky amateur sleuth who gets herself mixed up in murder, in other words. She is not an investigator.

I had a feeling Banks might use this device in other books. In this book, Donkin is a nemesis of a kind, but the villain. That role is reserved for the Tiernan family.

This discussion reminds me of Anders Roslund's remark at Bouchercon that the books he writes with Borge Hellstrom do not put a good guy against a bad guy. Rather, he said, each book is a "dance of two," with each character variously acting as protagonist and antagonist. It sounds trite, but it makes some sense if one reads their books, at least "Three Seconds."

October 13, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Favorite supporting characters: Signorina Elettra, and Inspettore Vianello in Donna Leon's Brunetti series.

Montalbano's team, including all of the eccentric characters in the department.

And Commissionaire Adamsberg's team members in the Fred Vargas series.

October 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, as soon as I saw your name, I thought "Catarella." And Fred Vargas' novels are ensemble pieces; they're bound to have some good supporting characters. The best are Danglard and Retancourt, I'd say.

October 13, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Clemenza.

And not just for the cannoli line. Also for his spaghetti sauce recipe and his shotgun massacre.

October 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You won't let that cannoli thing go, will you? In fact, I think just about the entire case of The Godfather was nominated for a best-supporting-actor Oscar (Duvall, Pacino, Caan), which must mean something.

October 13, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

In the Godfather book the Frank Sinatra character is a really creepy supporting character who fantasises about murdering his wife etc.

I know Ellroy always says that he was inspired by Tolstoy and Dostoyevksy but many of the supporting characters in American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand are really Mario Puzo's.

October 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I vaguely remember that character in the movie as a kind of innocent tool of circumstances. The movie producer in whose bed the horse's head winds up is a really creepy character who has mothers bring their young daughters to him for his pleasure, if i recall correctly. I think that may be merely hinted at in the movie.

October 13, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

In the movie the singer is a whiny schmuck not an evil dickhead. Sinatra did threaten them so maybe that's why it got changed.

There's a lot less sex in the movie. In fact none. A chaste kiss between Al Pacino and his Sicilian bride.

October 14, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

At least Sinatra (or his people) read the book. Oh, yeah, the sex in the book got youths of my generation salivating.

October 14, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Its funny though because in real life Sinatra pushed hard for and used his mafia connections to get the part of Maggio in From Here To Eternity, which is a story retold almost line for line in The Godfather. But in the book Maggio is a homosexual prostitute and pimp, not exactly Sinatra material.

October 14, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Which reminds me that a pizzeria in my neighborhood had pictures of the Holy Trinity on the wall: JFK, Sinatra, and the Pope. Call Sinatra a homesexual prostitute and a pimp, and I'd suggest you don't do it around where I live.

October 14, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Look carefully at the Pope. I'll bet its John Paul II not the current one.

October 14, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Ah, Elizabeth, you must be right. I'm generally the one who has drastically differing opinions from everybody else (which hasn't stopped me from expressing them), but every once in a while I run into a kindred spirit. We are a very small, select group. :)

Adrian is on my TBR list. Looking forward to it.

As for toggling back and forth between cop and criminal (is this what's happening?), my problem with that is that making the criminal one of the protagonists also demands sympathy and understanding for the character. I prefer not to sympathize that much with killers.

October 14, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I’m sure you and Elisabeth have so much to talk about, so I’ll leave you two alone. I’ll say only that Donkin in Beast of Burden is no killer. I mentioned Three Seconds in passing. The police informant who shares the novel’s pivotal role is a criminal but not the killer.

October 14, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, the restaurant is defunct. And of course the Pope honored on the wall was John Paul II.

October 14, 2011  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Matthew, I'm embarrassed to admit that it's been so long since I've read any of the Scudder novels, and I've read just two or three, that I don't remember or don't know T.J. Fill me in!

TJ is the street kid who has sort of become Matt Scudder's assistant. Smart, funny, streetwise; has a habit of calling people by other names in order to make a rhyme (doesn't sound funny but it can be kind of neat, Pete).

October 14, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I may have read only the early Eight Million Ways to Die and When the Sacred Ginmill Closes. That could mean that when it comes to recalling T.J., I'm in a jam, Sam.

October 14, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Vargas books: Yes, Danglard and Retancourt are the best team members.

And in Wash this Blood Clean from My Hands, stars Retancourt and Adamsberg in the best hidden detective in the bathroom scene ever written. It caused me to laugh for weeks and retell it to Vargas fan friends.

This is why I'll forgive her Serbian vampires.

October 15, 2011  
Blogger Pat Miller said...

Among the Australian crime series, Garry Disher's Challis and Destry police procedurals have a terrific cast of supporting characters, some getting more of the spotlight than others from book to book, but all wonderfully developed.

As for female cops, there's a new kid on the block in outback Australia - Emily Tempest, who returns in Adrian Hyland's second book in the series, Gunshot Road, as a fledgling Northern Territory policewoman. Tempest by temperament, it is fascinating to read about her getting used to her new role in a community that has a very healthy suspicion of authority.

October 15, 2011  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

On this side of the pond, Meyer in the McGee books.

October 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Pat, Disher did a wonderful thing with characters in “Chain of Evidence,” keeping his two protagonists working on separate cases but somehow making them part of one coherent story. That’s not quite on topic but still an interesting way to deploy characters.

And Adrian Hyland always surrounds Emily Tempest with a colorful cast.

October 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, and isn't there Ed McBain's Meyer Meyer?

October 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, that hidden-detective scene annoyed at leas tone reviewer, who found it implausible. But Retancourt is something like a superhero. She weighs something like 220 pounds, yet she is easily the fastest on her feet of anyone in Adamsberg’s squad.

October 15, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Why would that scene annoy a reviewer? And why do I care?

I loved it, told a Vargas fan/friend, and we both laughed.

No one but Vargas could dream this stuff up.

Wait until you read An Uncertain Place and its themes.

Then two people in a bathroom, one hiding the other will seem like small potatoes. (And Retancourt isn't just heavy, she's tall and very strong. I think of Olympic women discus throwers.)

October 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think the reviewer found the scene implausible. One can understand that, I think. It's one of the odder scenes in crime fiction.

I'd say an Olympic discus thrower would be about right for Retancourt, thought she can sprint as well.

October 15, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Odd! Gosh, I've read crime fiction with a lot more implausible scenes than that, like earthquakes that happen just a a villain is about to jump on a detective.

The ground opens up: Voila, the guy is thrown off guard into the crack, gun and all.

Help arrives just in the nick of time in many books, when no one has summoned them.

And then there are the means of murder, very creative -- and almost impossible -- in some books.

I admire Vargas' imagination. That is a major reason I enjoy her books, not run-of-the-mill mysteries, full of her own brilliant quirkiness.

I know what to read if I want routines and play-by-the-book police procedurals.

Though I enjoyed Nemesis by Nesbo, both plots are somewhat implausible, both solutions.

I won't detail these, in spoiler avoidance.

Anyway, 18 severed feet found in Paris in Vargas' latest is a bit unusual, but it's fun.

October 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You may be right about implausible scenes. Maybe the reviewer thought the scene implausible because it was too much like slapstick comedy.

October 15, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Hmm, Vargas isn't really a crime fiction writer. The books are over the top unrealistic. I think they're meant to be funny. A number of writers have taken that approach and merely use the conventions, playing their own games with them.

October 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

There's much about the comic tale, even fairy tale, to Vargas' books, that's for sure. Yet readers, reviewers, and prize juries have no trouble considering her work crime fiction. I'd call that a testimony to the breadth of the field.

October 15, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Vargas won three CWA Daggers and was nominated for this year's for An Uncertain Place.

She is controversial, I grant that. Some people love her books, others don't. It's individual taste.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think the French may have have a special taste for odd mysteries. At least, there are Vargas and Daniel Pennac, with his own odd cast of characters.

October 16, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

How are Magnan and Manchette?

Manotti's Affairs of State has its own individual character, its own style.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Magnan is brilliant on the odd, slow pace of rural life, the acceptance of fate, the long-concealed secrets, and so on.

Manchette is a bit like Manotti, though with very much more on the manipulated individual rather than on the powerful people who do the manipulating. Each is very much worth reading.

October 18, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I may not be able to get Death in the Truffle Wood at the library, but I think it has The Murder House -- is that the right title?

Manotti gave me a workout, so I'll hold off on similar writers.

October 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Manchette's novels are brief so, though the workout may be intense, it will be short.

October 20, 2011  

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