I’ve just finished reading Henning Mankell’s An Event In Autumn, a Kurt Wallander thriller. It includes a 14-page afterword, in which the author reflects on how he came to start writing novels about a Swedish detective.
I was pleased to see that he chose crime fiction, as a way of exploring the problems in society, which is one of the main reasons that I began my Cornish Detective series. He quotes a Danish-Norwegian novelist Aksel Sandmose, who said ‘The only things worth writing about are love and murder’, though, Mankell reckons that money should be added, to create a perfect trinity. After all, the old adage in criminal investigations, of ‘Follow the money,’ often leads to the culprit.
Apparently, Mankell is frequently asked what books Kurt Wallander reads. In the eleven Wallander novels, he regularly listens to music, usually classical, but books are rarely mentioned. Mankell thinks his fictional detective would be a big fan of Sherlock Holmes.
It made me wonder about my own protagonist Chief Inspector Neil Kettle, who is a left-wing, Green and Bohemian copper. He’s unlike the normal rogue detective or private investigator, who are heavy drinkers, gamblers, and drug-takers with women problems; I’m bored with that old trope. My hero is eccentric, and though the son of a farmer, is rather cerebral, painting watercolour landscapes and reading books on art. I briefly mentioned in Book 1, Who Kills A Nudist?, that he prefers American crime novels (as do I), but perhaps I should say which authors he likes.
He could share my reading tastes—James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Walter Mosley and Lawrence Block—but, not Lee Child, James Patterson, Dan Brown, Tom Clancy or Stephenie Meyer.
In creating a rounded character for my protagonist, it’s important to include his preferences in music, art, clothing, food, vehicles, cinema and his attitude to the natural world. Interestingly, Mankell’s readership increased when he gave Wallander diabetes. My detective worries about going bald, went through two years of severe depression and needs to attend massage therapy to treat old injuries. It’s important to remember that readers bond with characters as much for their weaknesses as their strengths.
Fictional characters who read books include Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, Elizabeth Bennett from Pride & Prejudice, Scout Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird, Holden Caulfield from The Catcher In The Rye, and Walter Mosley’s private investigator Leonid McGill is a real bibliophile.
Do your fictional characters read books?
Is their choice of reading matter a surprise, or does it fit their character and their profession?