A really interesting post from FictionFan at FictionFan’s Book Reviews has got me thinking about doubles. By that, I mean contrasting or complementary characters – two sides of the coin, so to speak. That duality can make for interesting contrast and tension in a story. It can also add layers to a character.
FictionFan discussed doubles in the context of Scottish literature, but we see this phenomenon in plenty of other stories, including crime fiction. And it’s not hard to see why. Duality can add much to a story.
For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, we are introduced to Linnet Ridgeway. She is blonde, beautiful, aristocratic, and wealthy. She’s one of those ‘golden’ people who seem to have it all. While she’s usually not icy and aloof, she’s somewhat reserved. Her best friend is Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort. Jackie is dark-haired, vivacious and passionate. She is also quite poor, as is her fiancé, Simon Doyle. Jackie wants very much to marry Simon, but they’re not in a position to do that. So, she asks Linnet to give Simon a job as land agent. Linnet agrees, but then the unexpected happens. Simon and Linnet begin a romance and end up marrying. On the second night of their honeymoon cruise of the Nile, Linnet is shot. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise, and he and Colonel Race, who’s also aboard, investigate. The most obvious suspect is Jackie, who’s been more or less stalking the couple. But it’s soon proven that she couldn’t have committed the murder. So, Poirot and Race have to look elsewhere. Throughout the novel, the contrast between Linnet and Jackie adds some tension and certainly character layers to the story.
Talmage Powell’s short story To Avoid a Scandal uses doubles as a powerful point of tension. Horace Croyden is a quiet, dignified, reserved banker. Scandal has never touched his family, and he wouldn’t dream of changing that. He lives by himself in quiet good taste, and does well at his job. His hobby is ciphers, and he’s devoted to that, too. Everything changes when he meets his boss’ cousin, Althea. She is warm and vivacious, and her habits aren’t as particular as Horace’s are. Still, they begin to date, and after a short time, Horace proposes. But the marriage does not work well, at least from his perspective. Althea shops without a list, doesn’t always get dressed before she eats breakfast, and so on. And then, she starts to change the décor of the apartment they share. That’s bad enough, but the worst moment comes when she gets rid of some of Horace’s beloved ciphers. Now feeling trapped, Horace comes up with his own plan to make his life right again…
Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit is the story of two brothers, Mason and Gates Hunt. Born into poverty, and the sons of an abusive father, they grow up with quite different responses to their pasts. Mason takes advantage of every opportunity he gets, and eventually wins a scholarship to law school. Gates, on the other hand, squanders his considerable athletic ability, and ends up living on his girlfriend’s Welfare payments and on money he gets from the young men’s mother, Sadie Grace. One day, Gates has an argument with his romantic rival, Wayne Thompson. The argument ebbs, and Wayne leaves. But later, when the Hunt brothers are on their way home from a night out, they encounter Wayne again. The argument flares up, and before anyone really thinks about it, Gates has shot Wayne. Out of a sense of loyalty, Mason helps his brother hide the evidence, and life goes on for both. Years later, Mason is a commonwealth prosecutor for Patrick County, Virginia. Gates is arrested for trafficking in cocaine and is given a long sentence. He begs his brother to help get him out of prison, but this time, Mason refuses. Gates threatens to implicate Mason in the still-unsolved Thompson murder if he doesn’t help. When Mason calls his bluff, Gates follows through. Now, Mason is under indictment, and will have to stand trial for murder. He’s going to have rely on his own skills and on help from his deputy prosecutor if he’s going to clear his name.
Caroline Overington’s Sisters of Mercy introduces two sisters: Agnes Moore and Sally Narelle ‘Snow’ Delaney. Born years apart, their lives have taken very different paths. Agnes was born in the UK during WW II and ended up in an orphanage. Later, she moved to Australia, and then back to the UK, where she married and had a daughter, Ruby. Agnes’ parents moved to Australia, where they had Snow, and started new lives. Agnes decides to visit Australia and try to find her younger sister. But while she’s there, she gets caught in a dust storm and goes missing. Ruby makes a very public call for any help in locating her mother, and that’s when journalist Jack ‘Tap’ Fawcett hears of the story. He writes an article about it, and then begins receiving letters from Snow, who’s in prison. Slowly, as the story goes on, we learn about Snow’s life, and, in the end, why she’s in prison. We also learn about Agnes’ life. The two sisters are very different, and that contrast makes for a really interesting set of character layers, as well as a source of tension.
And then there are law (and life) partners Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, who ‘star’ in one of Paul Levine’s series. They’re both skilled attorneys, but they couldn’t be more different. Solomon doesn’t have a lot of money, he didn’t go to an Ivy League university, and he doesn’t move in high social circles. Lord, on the other hand, is a ‘blueblood’ who went to Yale University Law School. And it’s not just their backgrounds that are different; it’s also their approaches to their cases. Solomon is laid-back, and he isn’t above using courtroom antics to get an advantage in a case. Lord, on the other hand, prepares very carefully for each court date. She uses a lot of adhesive notes, does all the background research she can, and so on. Their skills are very different, but arguably complementary, and those differences add to the series.
And that’s the thing about doubles. They can add tension, even suspense, to a story. And they can add interesting layers of character. Thanks, FictionFan, for the inspiration. Now, folks, give yourselves a treat and go visit FictionFan’s excellent blog. Fine reviews and discussion – and the fretful porpentine – await you!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Avril Lavigne’s Sk8r Boi.