If you’re a crime fiction fan, there are probably a number of reasons you like the genre, and there are plenty of good reasons to choose from. One of them is that we find the protagonists appealing in some way. Some of them can even serve as role models. That doesn’t mean that they have to be perfect; in fact, most fictional sleuths are more interesting and appealing if they aren’t perfect. But there’s something about these characters that we want to emulate. Of course each of us has different values and different traits we admire. So, each of us will have different fictional role models for different reasons. Just to show you what I mean, though, here are a few sleuths who are role models for me.
One of them is Agatha Christie’s fictional detective Ariadne Oliver. Christie fans will know that she is said to have been Christie’s way of poking fun at herself, but for me anyway, she’s a lot more than a parody. One of the things I really admire about her is that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. In Cards on the Table for instance, she is invited to give a talk about how she writes her books. When Poirot telephones her, she’s only too grateful for the excuse not to present. She sees writing this way:
‘…first you’ve got to think of something, and when you’ve thought of it you’ve got to force yourself to sit down and write it. That’s all.’
And she’s not particularly comfortable with seeing herself as a bestselling talented author either although she’s both. Here’s what she says in the same novel about one of her titles:
‘I rather fancy The Affair of the Second Goldfish myself. It’s not quite such frightful tripe as the rest.’
I admire the fact that she doesn’t believe the hype about herself if you like to put it that way. But she does care about her readers and the quality of what she writes as we learn in Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, when she locks horns with up and coming playwright Robin Upward about some –er – changes to a novel of hers.
She’s courageous too as we learn in Third Girl. In that novel, she decides to follow a suspect to try to find out the truth about an enigmatic young woman who claims she may have committed a murder. In the process of following that suspect she ends up being attacked. Not that I aspire to being attacked of course, but I do admire Mrs. Oliver’s courage. Oh, and I wouldn’t mind selling as many books as she has, either…
Another fictional sleuth who has come to be a role model for me is Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. He has plenty of faults and personal demons. But here’s why I really look up to him; he believes that everybody matters, no matter who it is. Here’s how Bosch puts it in The Last Coyote:
‘‘But in homicide there is one rule that I have when it comes to the cases I get.’ [Bosch]
‘What is that rule?’
‘Everybody counts or nobody counts.’
‘Just what I said. Everybody counts or nobody counts. That’s it. It means I bust my a** to make a case whether it’s a prostitute or the mayor’s wife. That’s my rule.’’
I try to see the world that way too. I’m not a cop but I try to emulate Bosch’s view that every person one serves, whether it’s a crime victim, a patient, a student, a customer or anyone else, is important. I like that work ethic.
Bosch is also a role model for me because he is tenacious. He doesn’t give up until a case is solved even if staying with it costs him dearly. In several of the novels featuring Bosch he is offered ‘the easy way out’ of cases. That’s not his choice. I look up to people who aren’t afraid of challenges and hard work to reach their goals. He’s one of them.
Kerry Greenwood’s accountant-turned baker Corinna Chapman is another of my crime-fictional role models. One of the things I like best about her is that she is absolutely comfortable in her own skin. She isn’t what most people think of as beautiful (although her lover Daniel Cohen thinks she is). She’s not rich either. But she is happy with herself exactly as she is, and I admire that. People who are comfortable with themselves are easy to be around and much more confident than are people who aren’t and we can see that in the way Chapman deals with the world.
Here, for instance is what she says in Earthly Delights about being overweight:
‘My mantra is that I am fat because I am fat and there is not a lot I can do about it…I could not get… thin if I starved myself for ten years, and that is a fact. We are famine survivors, we fat women and ought to be valued for it. We must have been very useful when everyone else collapsed of starvation. We would have been able to sow the crops, feed the babies and keep the tribe alive until spring came. If you breed us out, what will you do when the bad times come again? At the very least, you could always eat us. I reckon I’d feed a family of six for a month.’
Chapman really does have a terrific attitude towards herself that I would like to emulate.
I also admire Chapman’s compassion and her loyalty to her friends. In several of the novels in this series Chapman helps friends and acquaintances who are in trouble in some way. And her compassion extends to a lot of people she doesn’t know. For instance she regularly bakes bread and rolls for the Soup Run, a mobile soup kitchen. She takes her turn traveling with the Soup Run and serving food, coffee, medicine, and so on to Melbourne’s street people. And the best part about it? She does so without judging or being self-congratulatory. She’s quite matter-of-fact about it.
Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma. Precious Ramotswe is another sleuth whose compassion I admire. That’s one of the reasons that she too is a fictional role model for me. She became a private detective in the first place so that she could help people solve their problems and that remains her first priority. In many, many cases that she takes, she is drawn to her client because of that sense of compassion.
But it’s not just her compassion that I respect. Mma. Ramotswe isn’t judgemental (which by the way is another quality about her that I admire), but she has a code of ethics by which she lives. Those ethics have as their underpinning a respect for others and for the land and that compassion that I just mentioned. Here, for instance (from The Full Cupboard of Life) is Mma. Ramotswe’s thought about her husband Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni:
‘…Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni was…one of the kindest and most gracious of men. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni would do anything for one who needed help, and in a world of increasing dishonesty, he still practised the old Botswana morality.’
She lives up to that standard, she admires it in others and I admire it in her.
And then there’s Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn. Along with being a political science academic and political reporter, she is a loving and caring mother. And what I truly respect and admire about her is that she lets her children grow up and become adults – and is still their friend. That is no easy feat. In Deadly Appearances, the first novel in the series, we meet her three children Mieka, Peter and Angus while Mieka and Peter are teenagers and Angus is just getting ready for those years. As the series evolves we see those young people and later, Kilbourn’s adopted daughter Taylor, grow up, make their own choices and start their lives. And through it all Kilbourn remains their staunchest ally. Even when they don’t make choices that she wants them to make, she still supports them. For instance, in The Wandering Soul Murders, Kilbourn has to deal with the fact that Mieka has left college and is taking a serious business risk. She also has to cope with the disastrous fallout from Peter’s relationship with his former girlfriend Christy. Although she makes her feelings about these choices clear, Kilbourn also loves her children for who they are, not for who she wishes they would be. She’s a real role model for me of how to make friends with your children.
The thing about role models is that they don’t have to be perfect. In fact they’re best if they are not. But they can show us how to get where we want to be, and that’s what I love about these fictional role models. Who are yours? I don’t just mean sleuths you like, either. Which ones do you look up to as role models?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al.