No-one is perfect. We all make errors in judgement, and we all make mistakes. That’s why it’s so helpful to have someone in our lives who will tell us the truth, whether we want to hear it or not. That person doesn’t have to be cruel or harsh, but does have to be able to bring us up short when it’s necessary.
For instance, I’m a writer. Some of what I write is not good at all. It helps that I have
a husband an honest critic who will tell me when what I’ve written doesn’t make sense. Or isn’t realistic. Or isn’t interesting. Or…
Fictional characters need those honest people, too. In crime fiction, sleuths sometimes need someone to tell them, for instance, that they’re getting too close to a case. Or that they’re forgetting something important. Or…
In a lot of cases (certainly not all), that honest person is a spouse or partner. For Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti, it’s his wife, Paola Falier. She is not at all afraid to tell him when he’s not seeing things clearly, or when he’s forgetting something. For example, in Fatal Remedies, she takes a drastic measure to call police attention to a travel agency that’s mixed up in sex tours of Thailand that sometimes involve children. She ends up getting herself (and her husband) into trouble over the matter, but she does serve as his conscience. She doesn’t allow him to become complacent, or to stop doing his job the best he can.
Tony Hillerman’s Emma Leaphorn plays a similar role at times. Her husband, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, is a member of the Navajo Nation, and a member of the Navajo Tribal Police (now the Navajo Nation Police). Emma is a solid judge of character, and she has a keen sense of people. So, her husband often tries out his theories on her as he’s working out what probably happened in a given case. She’s not at all afraid to tell him when he’s completely wrong, too. She doesn’t do it in a harsh way; but she is honest when she thinks he’s on the wrong trail or misjudging someone.
In Linwood Barclay’s Bad Moves, we meet science fiction writer Zack Walker. He’s concerned for his family’s safety, since they live in a city. So, he moves the family to a new home in a suburb called Valley Forest Estates. His practical wife, Sarah, agrees to the move, but she has her reservations. Still, everyone settles in. Then, Walker witnesses an argument between one of Valley Forest’s sales executives and a local environmentalist. When he later finds that same environmentalist dead near a local creek, Walker gets drawn into a murky case. More than once throughout the novel, Sarah tells him he’s getting too involved, and tries to warn him of the consequences. And he knows she’s right. He can’t help himself, though, and ends up in real danger. Sarah’s not afraid to let her husband know when he’s being rude, or selfish, or…. And, although she makes her point clear, she’s not a nag. She’s just a very honest person.
Angela Savage’s Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney is learning to depend on her partner, Rajiv Patel, to tell her what she sometimes doesn’t want to hear, but needs to hear. When they first meet, in The Half-Child, he is fascinated by her PI work, and wants to join her. What’s more, he finds her attractive, so he’s motivated to work with her. But Keeney is accustomed to making her own choices and living independently. It takes her some time to learn that Patel has much to offer as a business partner as well as a partner in life. She doesn’t always agree with what he has to say, but she knows he is smart, perceptive, and truthful with her.
That trustworthy person – the one who will tell you what you need to hear – doesn’t necessarily have to be a partner. For instance, Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon-based PI Russell Quant isn’t married (although he’s had a few relationships). But he does have a group of friends who care enough about him to tell him the truth. One is his mentor, Anthony Gatt, who owns a very successful upmarket menswear business. Gatt’s known Quant for a long time, and isn’t afraid to give him good advice, and even ‘rein him in’ when it’s necessary. And the advice he gives isn’t just sartorial. Another person who will tell Quant the truth, even when it’s not exactly pleasant, is his enigmatic friend Sereena Orion Smith. As the series begins, she lives next door to Quant, and they take care of each other’s dogs when one or the other is out of town. She is also a friend, and she isn’t afraid to tell Quant when he’s wrong or is making a mistake. And it’s interesting to see how Quant reacts to these two people, who are among the few he really heeds.
It’s actually a good thing to have someone who will tell the truth when we need to hear it. It’s not fun to be told you’re wrong, or that you’re about to make a big mistake, or that you need to do something. But advice like that can be very helpful. Do you have someone in your life like that? If you’re a writer, who do you depend on to let you know when something you’ve written – er – needs a little work?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Mark Mendy’s Down (with Stban and Julie Elody).