I’m looking at building characters this week, and looking at them through the lens of traditional detective novel characters. Today, we’ve got two characters who are important to the investigation of Warren Cole’s death in very different ways.
The Second Detective:
I’ve noticed over the years—and this is especially true of the novels of Raymond Chandler—that there are often two detectives in the average detective novel. The protagonist is, of course, one of these, but the other is usually a secondary or peripheral character working on the same case in a different capacity. A police detective or ADA, another PI, a meddling spouse, a house-dick working for a law firm or hotel or other establishment…Regardless of their background, these characters often exist to pop up at convenient—or, depending on the novel, inconvenient moments—to antagonize, momentarily assist, or otherwise trade banter with the protagonist detective.
These characters don’t always have a whole lot of screen time, or even a lot to do over the course of the novel (though Jonathan Lethem rather brilliantly gave one his own novel with 1999’s Motherless Brooklyn). Most of them are ultimately working on the wrong side in some way or the other, and a lot of them get shot up and die unceremoniously. It’s a character type that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, and one that I want to play with a bit in this novel. Which is where Sydney Bessette comes in.
Bessette is the UN’s Chief of Security for McMurdo-Lunar, and Dow’s primary contact in the colony. Born and raised in Montreal (which gives me an opportunity to use the sacres, and that’s always a plus) she had a decade in the SPVM (Service de police de la Ville de Montréal) before moving into UN Facilities Security and eventually working up to her current position.
A highly capable and confident woman, Bessette manages her staff well and is proud of their work. Because of that, she’s not overly pleased to have Dow in her playground, but she collects a UN paycheck and is willing to accept that they have deemed it necessary for the lead investigator on the case to have anonymity and distance from the lunar population. Her staff are a good team, but none of them have really worked a murder before and function mostly as a public relations group…and she’s willing enough to admit that she’s running an oversized drunk tank/lost and found. She’ll help Dow as much as she can, which—coupled with his necessary anonymity and distance—give me an excuse to partner her with him for much of the book and put a character into play who maybe has more investigative training.
Sydney is taller than Dow (though most are). Let’s call it 5’10” on Earth and an even six feet in low gravity. Slender, blonde, green-eyed, and a little long in the face. Wears her hair a little more on the long side, despite the potential for annoyance in lower gravity. She’s in her early forties to accommodate the length and development of her career to this point, and she enjoys a good relationship with her staff and most of the colony’s inhabitants. She might even have a couple of confidential informants who help her out from time to time with gambling rings and contraband smugglers. She’s ultimately a little too close to the population to bring herself to ask hard questions on the investigation, though.
She and Dow need one another on this thing, and that’s something that I think is going to be important to capture early on…even if they take a little time to start trusting and respecting each other. I think that she’ll be good for that in this current form.
The Client in a detective novel is something of a force to be reckoned with, usually. Someone who can whip the detective into action whether he’s ready to move or not. Someone who can incite a little fear or panic or lust or awe. Someone whose presence can be felt throughout the narrative, even with often-minimal screen time.
The client is pretty obvious in this case, of course: The UN. How do you present that, though? We’ve established that Dow got his initial gig through an old army buddy, but it seems unlikely that Dow would report to that man, or even necessarily the same person twice(I suppose he primarily works with whoever is coming into the region and needs his assistance). In this case, though, I think someone a little more anonymous might be appropriate. Someone whose entire job it is to deal with this sort of situation both in orbit (because, of course there have been other suspected murders and other guys who have been dragged out of their lives to look into them) and in any terrestrial UN facilities. The guy who oversees the chosen investigators and maybe, just maybe, decides how to spin the results or if the whole thing just ought to be covered up.
So, we’ve got James Kinneman—Mr. Kinneman—who’s our semi-anonymous slick creep in a suit. We don’t spend much time with him (and most of it will be over cislunar comms given that he stays on Earth), but I do think he needs to make something of an initial impact. Give him a little sense of menace. An implication that there’s something larger going on behind all of this for him. I’m not entirely sure what his deal is going to be yet, as I think, with a character with this little physical presence, that there’s plenty of room to work on it and improvise some as writing progresses…So we’ll see how that goes.
Physically, Kinneman’s not much to look at. American, early middle age, dark skin and hair and starting to go grey. A very tidy and compact man, walking around in a suit that seems oddly off-the-rack for someone who has a private VTOL and can swing a seat on a space-shuttle on short notice. Sort of unassuming. Builds quietly to bigger things. The seminal CIA man, basically.
That is, in itself, something of a cliché, but I don’t know. I think it works in this particular context. The guy’s kind of a fixer for the UN, but in the absence of his own physical skills he handles his assignments as a manager rather than as a direct participant. He’s an archetype, but a little bit of a subversion in that he’s not some sort of stuffed shirt who ends up being a surprise ass-kicker. More of a strong-willed taskmaster.
I sort of like that. It feels like the kind of thing that could work well in small doses, which is all that the client really has to do at it’s core level.