The Psycho Sidekick in PI Fiction
Hawk. Win. Joe Pike. Bubba Rogowski.
These characters aren’t exactly Robin to their books’ Batman.
I love the psycho sidekick in private investigator fiction. Sure, he’s usually a bit of a cheat. He takes the onus off the private investigator, doing the nasty stuff and keeping the hero’s conscience clean. I don’t love that part—no. But usually they are very compelling characters.
Hawk, the granddaddy of them all, started out as a villain in Robert B. Parker’s Promised Land. But Parker, and Spenser, clearly saw potential in the champagne drinking former boxer and brought him back to help out Spenser in the following novel, The Judas Goat. We don’t know much about Hawk, throughout the series. Bits and pieces here or there, but mostly Hawk just is.
And that’s what makes Hawk cool. He shows up, does what Spenser needs him to do, and then goes back about his business. Hawk is arguably more Parker’s signature creation than even Spenser is.
For a long time, Robert Crais took the same path with Joe Pike. Pike was the mysterious former Marine who did the dirty work Elvis Cole couldn’t—or wouldn’t—do. But, in one of the greatest PI novels of the past 20 years—L.A. Requiem—Crais started to peel the onion. We learned more about Joe Pike to the point where he actually headlined some of the more recent books, with Cole taking the side role. Pike was given more depth than any psycho sidekick I can think of. He was actually no longer a sidekick, but a co-lead instead.
When I started my own private investigator series, I promised myself I wouldn’t give Jackson Donne a psycho sidekick. It was my intention to have Donne do the dirty work himself, and the soul of the previous four books have been about Donne trying to keep himself sane—in a way. He knows that anytime he gets himself into a new case, people usually die.
At the end of the last book (yes, SPOILERS), An Empty Hell, Donne imprisons himself. He feels he needs to be punished for all the death he’s been surrounded by. And, he sees someone who works cases better than he does.
You see, instead of creating my own psycho sidekick for Donne, I decided to create someone whose hands are a bit cleaner (but definitely not spotless) than Donne’s. In fact, Matt Herrick—another Jersey PI—doesn’t even use a gun. And compared to Donne, he’s a saint. Like Hawk and Pike are the darker mirror images of the PIs they work with, Herrick is what Donne wants to be.
And now, in the latest book, Blind to Sin, Herrick and Donne have to contend with a situation where keeping their hands clean won’t solve anything. And they are forced to face the dirty side of the private investigator business again.
If only they had their own Hawk, Win, Bubba or Joe Pike.
It would certainly make life easier for the two of them.
But who wants to read about easy these days?