With All the Force of a Great Typhoon*

Age often brings with it a certain amount of self-confidence and strength of character. That’s arguably why so many fictional characters we think of as indomitable are also no longer young. They have whatever wisdom experience brings, and they’re no longer overly concerned with what people think of them or their opinions.

Those characters can add a lot to a crime novel. Sometimes they serve as mentors; sometimes they simply add to a context. Either way, they can be very interesting in and of themselves. In some cases, they even steal the limelight, so to speak, from the sleuth or other protagonist. Space won’t permit me to mention all of them; here are just a few. Oh, and you’ll notice I’m specifically not mentioning indomitable sleuths who are no longer young. Too easy.

Agatha Christie included several indomitable characters in her stories. One, for instance, is Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, whom we meet in Murder on the Orient Express. In that novel, Hercule Poirot is en route across Europe on the famous Orient Express train. On the second night of the journey, fellow passenger Samuel Ratchett is stabbed. Poirot is asked to investigate, and he starts looking into the case. The only possible suspects are the other passengers in the same car, and one of those people is Princess Dragomiroff. Here is how one character describes her:

‘‘She is a personality…Ugly as sin, but she makes herself felt.’’

And she does. She cooperates with the investigation, but it’s clear throughout that she isn’t in the least bit – at all – intimidated by Poirot or by the process.

Tarquin Hall’s sleuth is Delhi PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri.  He owns Most Private Investigators, Ltd., and supervises several employees. He’s not easily threatened or intimidated. But even Puri has learned that it’s often best to defer to his indomitable mother, Mummy-ji. It’s not that she’s particularly autocratic (she’s not), or overbearing. But she has a strong force of will, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She’s smart, too. For instance, in one plot thread of The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, Mummi-ji and her daughter-in-law (Puri’s wife), Rumpi, attend a kitty party. Every guest brings a little money which is pooled. Then one guest’s name is drawn, and that guest wins the money. This party is different, though, because a thief breaks in and steals the money. The quick-thinking Mummy-ji finds a way to scratch the thief, though, and insists that DNA samples be taken of her hand, and prints lifted from her purse, where the money was, so as to identify the robber. And she’s not at all intimidated by the lab attendant who tells her she’s been watching too much crime television.

Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant is a Saskatoon PI who’s lucky enough to have several people in his life who care about him. One of them is Anthony Gatt, owner of an extremely successful upmarket men’s clothing company. Gatt isn’t domineering or high-handed. But he has a way of making his presence felt. And he knows everyone who is anyone, especially among Saskatchewan’s gay community. In one scene in Flight of Aquavit, for instance, Quant stops in at one of Gatt’s stores, and Gatt happens to be there. At one point, Gatt says,

‘‘I can’t have you in here like that…or at least I can’t have you leaving like that.’’

Before Quant knows it, he’s got new clothes. Gatt makes his personality felt in other ways, too, including to mentor Quant.

There’s also Lucian Connally, who features in Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series. Connally is the former sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. He’s elderly now, but he is still very much a force to be reckoned with. He lives in an elder care home, but he’s by no means intimidated by the staff there. And he’s one of the few people who can get away with telling Longmire what to do, if I can put it that way. He’s got his own past and his own secrets, as we all do, and they come out in a few story arcs. In some ways, he serves as a mentor for Longmire, and he has a good memory. So, he also is a sort of living history of the county.

Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay introduces her sleuth, Victoria-based PI Caleb Zelic. In the novel, Zelic and his business partner, Frankie Reynolds, investigate the murder of Senior Constable Gary ‘Gaz’ Marsden. He and Marsden have a long friendship, and he was found with Marsden’s body. So Zelic is very much a ‘person of interest.’ He knows he didn’t commit the murder, and he wants to find out who did. So, he and Reynolds start asking questions. The trail leads to a very dangerous person known only as ‘Scott.’ And the closer he gets to Scott, the more dangerous things become for him. Zelic and his ex-wife, Kat, may be divorced, but they still communicate, and they still do care a lot about each other. This means that Kat, too, is in danger, and that plays its role in the novel. But Kat is not easily intimidated. Nor is her mother, Maria. Both are indomitable people, with powerful personalities. Maria in particular has a way of exerting her personality, although she’s not pushy or rude.

There are plenty of other characters, too, who have that quality of being indomitable. They can add to a story in many ways, and they can certainly be interesting characters. These are just a few examples. Your turn.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Matthew Wilder and David Zippel’s I’ll Make a Man out of You.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Craig Johnson, Emma Viskic, Tarquin Hall

18 responses to “With All the Force of a Great Typhoon*

  1. I’m sure there are plenty of examples (they are such fun characters to write, after all), but for the life of me can’t think of one at the moment. Other than the quintessentially intimidating Lady Bracknell from The Importance of Being Earnest, but of course that’s not crime fiction.

    • No, but it’s a great example, Marina Sofia, so thank you for that. And you’re right; they are fun characters to write. I love it that they say precisely what they want, when they want to say it.

  2. mudpuddle

    James Yaffe’s series about a Coloradan detective’s mom is good, i thought… Dave works for the local public defender as an investigator; when the going gets tough he pays a visit to his mom, a prototypical jewish mother with a talent for unraveling crimes and a devoted desire to see her son succeed… it all makes for humorous reading and entertaining detection… “A Nice Murder for Mom” is the first book…

    • Oh, that’s a great series, isn’t it, Mudpuddle? I really enjoy it, and I think it doesn’t get the attention it might. And Dave’s mother is most definitely one of those indomitable characters, isn’t she?

  3. Interesting topic, Margot. Lucy Angkatell in Christie’s The Hollow springs to my mind – she is charming but quite ruthless in making sure that things go the way she wants. And though it is ages since I’ve read the Stephanie Plum books, I seem to remember an outrageous grandmother who is in danger of stealing the show.

    • Oh, yes, of course, Christine! Grandma Mazur is an important (and indomitable!) character in the Stephanie Plum series. I’m so glad you mentioned her. Good point, too, about Lucy Angkatell. It doesn’t seem so on the surface, but she is redoubtable, isn’t she? I’m glad you brought her up, too.

  4. Margot, one of my favorite quotes is, “Youth is wasted on the young.” That could include wisdom, common sense, good judgement, and a host of other traits only accrued through the trial of years. Ah, if only we were blessed with such accumulation of knowledge and experience while also having the physicality to wield it in a sage and timely manner! 🙂

    • You’ve got a strong point there, Michael. All of those traits (wisdom, common sense, judgement, etc.) develop over the years as we live our lives and gain experience. Of course, the price we pay for that is getting older, with all that happens physically. Oh, well, one can’t have it both ways!

  5. Col

    I did enjoy Viskic’s Resurrection Bay and I’m hoping to cross paths with Craig Johnson’s books soon.

    • I do think you’d like Johnson’s work, Col. And I agree: Resurrection Bay is a fine read. I actually have the next one – And Fire Came Down on the wish list.

  6. Spade & Dagger

    Reginald Hill’s PI Joe Sixsmith is pretty indomitable. Made redundant, Joe finds a new career solving crimes on the housing & industrial estates of Luton. PI’s, especially black ones, are rare in such an area & Joe is really up against it most of the time, for example when he investigates suspects in a fancy golf club, no one believes he is an investigator & treat him like golf club staff.

    • Joe Sixsmith really is a great character, isn’t he, Spade & Dagger? He’s well-developed, and a smart PI. And I honestly think not enough people know about him (most think of Dalziel/Pascoe when they think of Hill). Glad you brought him up.

  7. In Margery Allingham’s Campion books, the policeman Stanislaus Oates is something of an older mentor figure – and as time passes he becomes even more so, as the much younger Charlie Luke comes to the fore.

    • That’s quite true, Moira. And what I like about Oakes is that he makes his presence felt without being overbearing of obnoxious. And that takes talent (and writing skill).

  8. I just finished one of the Hildegarde Withers mysteries by Stuart Palmer (Murder on the Blackboard) and Miss Withers is a strong-willed, outspoken woman.

    • She most definitely is, Tracy. She certainly has a way of making her presence felt, doesn’t she? And yet, although she can be acerbic, she’s not overbearing. She has a way of getting people to cooperate without resorting to bullying.

  9. Kathy D.

    Not a major character, but Dr. Lotty Hershel in Sara Paretsky’s books is quite a presence. She’s not ruthless, but she is always right, and when she tells V.I. Warshawski to do or not do something, V.I. usually listens.
    In Elly Griffiths’ series featuring Ruth Galloway, Harry Nelson, chief police investigator is a commanding figure who expects everyone to do what he says.

    • You’ve got two solid suggestions there, Kathy. Both characters are strong, and Lotty Hershel, especially, is an indomitable ‘force to be reckoned with,’ isn’t she? Both of those series are well-written, too.

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