Sherlock Holmes had Watson. Poirot had Captain Hastings. The crime fiction sidekick is an integral character in many of the most popular mystery series – and for good reason. Sidekicks help move the story along and serve as surrogates for readers – asking the same questions we’re wondering and offering our own theories and eyes. Today’s crime fiction sidekicks have evolved even more – and our favorite heroes couldn’t be heroes without them.
Fans of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series know the private detective wouldn’t be the same without his closest friend, Hawk. A rougher, shadier version of Spenser, Hawk’s darker and more violent nature allows Spenser to rely on him as an enforcer without ever having to violate his personal code of wrong and right. Robert Crais uses the crime fiction sidekick in a similar way, pairing up the strong and silent Joe Pike with kinder, gentler detective Elvis Cole. Like Hawk, Pike often does the dirty work while Cole gets the glory. In both series, these crime fiction sidekicks allow their heroic counterparts to catch the bad guys without compromising their principles.
Crime fiction sidekicks also help to keep our heroes human – often in the disguise of a significant other. In Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man, Nick and Nora’s banter provides much needed comic relief in a hardboiled crime novel. The Nob Hill heiress counterbalances her private eye husband, providing companionship and redemption in the dark world of crime noir. In the Jack Davis series, women also help to soften the rough-around-the-edges PI. In No Way Out, Jack’s field investigator girlfriend Lucy Trent helps out with much of the legwork, and in Shakedown, his new girlfriend Kate Scranton teaches him to read faces to solve cases. Both women keep Jack optimistic – appreciating his good life in spite of the evil he confronts every day.
Even female detectives have sidekicks, expertly evidenced by Sue Grafton in her Alphabet Series. With two ex husbands, few friends and no children, Kinsey Milhone is about as independent as they come, but that doesn’t stop her from leaning on good old Henry Pitts. Part father figure, part friendly-ear, the 80-something Henry Pitts keeps an eye on Kinsey, feeding her dinner or plying her with baked treats while she rehashes her latest mystery. His comforting presence, aged wisdom, and useful insights provide exactly what a good crime fiction sidekick should – helping Kinsey solve the case without ever stealing the spotlight.
As they say, we all get by with a little help from our friends. Watch to see what role the crime fiction sidekick plays next time you read your favorite mystery or thriller series – and you may be surprised to discover the real hero in the story!