Each author will have his protagonists pause amid the main action to engage in something like old-fashioned vaudeville cross-talk, one character cutting the other's verbal legs out from under him as they veer off into comic mutual misunderstanding. It can be great fun, and it does much to humanize the characters.
Then a Detectives Beyond Borders reader pointed out a passage from Dashiell Hammett's early story "Arson Plus" that does something similar. Hammett has the Continental Op stop, step back, and reflect upon the investigation in which he is engaged:
"We poked around in the ashes for a few minutes—not that we expected to ﬁnd anything, but because it's the nature of man to poke around in ruins."The humor here is darker and more introspective than Leonard's or Nicol's, but it similarly does much to flesh out the protagonists. The device helps explain what readers mean when they that say the characters are likable or that the authors have created sympathetic heroes (or, in Leonard's case, villains).
© Peter Rozovsky 2012