by Terry Ambrose
In the world of mysteries, the sidekick may serve any number of roles. From Dr. Watson narrating the Sherlock Holmes stories to Robert B. Parker’s Hawk doing dirty work in the Spenser series, sidekicks come in all forms, shapes, and sizes. Everyone has their favorite and numerous polls have tried to determine who readers consider the best crime-fiction sidekick.
In April 1984, Johnny Carson hosted the Academy Awards ceremony in which Jack Nicholson received the Best Supporting Actor Award for his role in Terms of Endearment and Linda Hunt received the Best Supporting Actress Award for her role in The Year of Living Dangerously. With that “Pearl Anniversary” sentiment in mind, welcome the “Buddy Awards,” a lighthearted look at the sidekicks that make our favorite protagonists shine.
Dr. Watson is either the most tolerant or the most obtuse character alive. Given Watson’s ability to relay the exploits of his detective partner, this is one character who couldn’t possibly be considered obtuse. Therefore, for his (or her, if you happen to be an Elementary fan) ability to remain grounded while Holmes is espousing his own brilliance and powers of deduction, Watson is easily the winner of the Patience of a Saint Award. Watson, who remains grounded at all times, makes Holmes tolerable—and even, yes, fascinating—to us mere mortals.
Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series brought an unlikely sidekick into the fray. While Stephanie is in general, a hapless bounty hunter, Lula is no better and at times less capable than Stephanie. Lula, however, keeps Stephanie going when she’s down. More importantly, the overweight former hooker with a penchant for spandex—hands down—takes the Worst Dressed Award.
In a nod to the Sexiest Man Alive award, there is a second sidekick in the Stephanie Plum novels who deserves an award of his own. Ricardo Carlos Manoso, aka Ranger, takes the Sexiest Sidekick Alive Award. Ranger is also a strong runner up for the Patience of a Saint Award for his tolerance of Stephanie blowing up his cars. He might even win the award were it not for the fact that this dark knight has strong ulterior motives where Stephanie is concerned.
What happens when a main character doesn’t get around much? That’s where the Best Gopher Award comes in. Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin describes himself in The Red Box, Chapter 12. “Aside from my primary function as the torn in the seat of Wolfe’s chair to keep him from going to sleep and waking up only for meals, I’m chiefly cut out for two things: to jump and grab something before the other guy can get his paws on it, and to collect pieces of the puzzle for Wolfe to work on.” How could anyone else take this award away from a guy who describes himself in such glowing terms?
What award ceremony about secondary characters would be complete without a Most Likely to Succeed category? British author Colin Dexter’s Detective Sergeant Robbie Lewis in the Inspector Morse series is a sharp contrast to Inspector Morse. Morse, the well-educated bachelor, insults Lewis, who is a working-class, family man. But, Robbie Lewis is the man with the hunch, and even though Morse chooses to demean those hunches, they are often proven to be correct. While Robbie Lewis transcended the role of sidekick on the written page to main character on television, it raises the question of whether that transition will work it’s way back to the written page.
Another perennial favorite for best sidekick is Spenser’s friend Hawk. Hawk should probably receive several awards including Best Dressed and Bigger is Better Award (The gun—remember the gun?). However, his ultimate achievement would be winning the Badass Award because this sharply dressed master of the streets gives Spenser distance from the dark side of the streets while letting him extend his reach when needed.
Janet Evanovich has no corner on the market for having two sidekicks in this race because Robert Crais has two strong contenders of his own. A solid runner-up for the Badass Award would be Joe Pike. But Pike, who is Elvis Cole’s sidekick in the first Robert Crais novels, easily takes the Most Troubled Sidekick. Joe, the strong, silent type, is a stark contrast to Elvis, who winds up playing second fiddle to Joe on occasion. So, for his ever-present ability to knock out the one-liners, Elvis Cole takes the Best Wiseguy Award.
Last, but not least, is Elizabeth George’s Sgt. Barbara Havers, assistant to Inspector Linley. Havers takes the Most Persistent Award for her continued efforts to survive and succeed despite the difficult personal and social issues she faces. Sgt. Havers might have more than her share of things going against her, but she never stops trying.
These sidekicks are critical components for the novels in which they appear. Without Watson, Holmes would become intolerable. Without Lula, Stephanie would be far less funny. And without Hawk, could Spenser have solved all those cases? So, let’s hear it for the best sidekicks. They are The Buddies, the ones who make the heroes great!
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