Monday, December 6, 2010


Where would be be without what’s-his-name?

Allow me to get on my soapbox. It gives me a chance to speak in praise of sidekicks, the downtrodden heroes and heroines of mystery novels. Where would we writers and readers be without them? When mystery protagonists are being shot at, stalked, seduced and otherwise distracted, who do you think is getting the background on suspects, making sure the dog gets walked and, even getting food on the table? The sidekick, that’s who. Does the average sidekick really get the attention they deserve? I owe such a huge debt to mine that I thought it would be worth recognizing their contributions, as my three protagonists never seem to be the slightest bit thankful.

For instance, Camilla MacPhee is a fortyish lawyer who sleuths grumpily around Ottawa, consumed by her quest for justice. She has two faithful assistants. Is she grateful to them or to me for providing them? Well, if she is, there’s no sign of it. Mrs. Violet Parnell, now in her eighties, never lets her bad hips or her walker interfere with her enjoyment of life or her enthusiasm for her current challenge. The World War II veteran just may be my favorite character in the twelve books I’ve written so far. To show my appreciation, I let her continue to enjoy Harvey’s Bristol Cream by the tumbler and smoke her Benson & Hedges. What the heck, there’s no second hand smoke in fiction. Plus, men of a certain age find her irresistible. In return, Mrs. P. uses her prodigious technical skills to find out information that Camilla could never obtain legally. We don’t want to look too closely at Violet Parnell’s, research, um, methods but I’m glad she has those talents, otherwise, far too many crimes would go unsolved.

And then there’s Alvin Ferguson. Oh sure he’s the world’s worst office assistant – and aspiring artist and decorator -- and Camilla’s ongoing attempts to fire him fail because his mother and her father go way way back. Never mind that Alvin can’t be counted on to deliver a message or run an errand successfully, but when the going gets tough, he’ll redecorate the house. Oh wait, that’s not so useful. So what? It’s not his fault his apartments keep blowing up. Well, at least, he’s learning to cook. He’s also been tossed in the frozen river, been propelled though a plate glass window into an art gallery and so much more in the service of Camilla and her sleuthing. She takes him for granted, but I’ve noted that Alvin has a fan club starting up. Take a hint, Camilla! I think I’ll let him get a new tattoo.

My second sleuth, Fiona Silk, is a charmingly unsuccessful romance writer with no sex life (coincidence?) and a desire to be left alone. That body in her bed is not her fault and the police will come to realize that in time, with luck, even if her small town neighbors never stop gossiping. Fiona would be lost without her young helper Josey Thring, Fiona’s a reluctant sleuth. Sixteen year old Josey’s a determined assistant and always available. Cut your lawn? Weed your garden? Groom your dog? Steal a few books from the library? Set up a machine to answer your door for you? All part of the service. Too bad about her criminal relatives and backwoods connections, because really, she’s the best thing ever to happen to Fiona. And I guess it is possible that she actually does have all those days off from school.

Charlotte Adams declutters homes and organizes lives in a historic town in the Hudson Valley. Her high school friends (the Misfits) still live there too, and come in handy in so many ways. I suppose they are sidekicks, especially Jack Reilly – tall guy with tousled hair, so close to that PhD in philosophy, busy with his bike shop, his dog rescue work, and such a good landlord to Charlotte. When will they realize they’re in love? Oops, sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. But the real sidekicks in the Charlotte Adams books seem to be Truffle and Sweet Marie, the miniature dachshunds that Jack rescued and foisted on Charlotte. They don’t talk, they don’t solve mysteries and they are two princessy for words. But they make connections and sometimes their ears and noses come in handy. I make sure they get plenty of treats.

Whether I’m writing or reading, to my mind sidekicks are the measure of a mystery.
They are the characters I want to reconnect with when I read someone else’s books or write my own. I look forward to the time when they make it on the covers of my books. How about Closet Confidential: a Charlotte Adams mystery featuring Truffle and Sweet Marie? Not sure how my publisher will feel about that, but it’s worth a try! You can see their real live counterparts on my website

Tonight I plan to raise a glass of wine to my favorite fictional sidekicks – my own and other authors. I hope you’ll join me in a toast! And once we’ve mellowed out, maybe you can tell me what draws you to a sidekick and while you’re at it, let’s hear who your favourites are.

Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three, soon to be three and a half, mystery series. You can check them out at

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