Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Male and Female Sleuths, Part II

The reason why I enjoy Michael Connelly's Hieronymus Bosch series is that this writer manages to create a truly complex and ever-evolving male protagonist. This is a risky proposition since it means that the novels in the series have to be read in order. Otherwise, Harry Bosch's personality simply doesn't make sense. I have now read seven of the novels in the series and the main character still manages to surprise me. 

There is, however, one area of Harry Bosch's life where he sadly resembles the classic male sleuths of Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Chesterton. What Holmes, Poirot and Father Brown have in common is a complete absence of any personal life whatsoever. Not only are these characters completely and utterly sexless, they also lack any family members. It is true that Miss Marple is also not known for her wild sexual exploits. She does, however, have a slew of relatives whose stories provide her with clues she uses to solve her mysteries.

The reason why the classic male protagonists of mystery novels lead such sexless lives is, in my opinion, that the authors of these books cannot afford to antagonize their female readers. In the noir genre and the spy novels that are geared mostly towards male readership, male protagonists engage in numerous sexual adventures. Female readers, however, do not appreciate male characters who have too much sex. When recently Elizabeth George killed off the character of Helen, Inspector Lynley's wife, and had Lynley have sex with another woman, a huge number of her readers reacted with outrage. 

Of course, Connelly couldn't have Bosch, a police officer in Los Angeles at the turn of the XXI century, lead a completely sexless existence. Instead, the writer chose the path of turning Bosch into a constant and wistful victim of women who use him, manipulate him and dump him. Every single one of Bosch's love affairs follows the same path: he acts the role of a sad troubadour to a woman whom he keeps serving long after she betrays and abandons him.

Connelly's Bosch novels are an important step in the direction of creating believable, multi-faceted male sleuths. This project, however, is far from being complete, and even Connelly took a huge step back when he introduced his new Mickey Haller series which features a one-dimensional protagonist who follows all of the worst conventions of the genre.


2020 said...

May I sagest Kurt Wallander created by Swedish author Henning Mankell for an example of a male sleuth who's as interesting to learn about as it is to see him solving a case. I should admit that I've never read any of the books I've only ever seen the TV show which stared Kenneth Branagh but it was really multidimensional and a fascinating character study and did make me want to seek out the books. Was this any help to you?

Clarissa said...

This is very interesting. I think that Scandinavian writers might be of a huge interest to me. Recently, I started reading a mystery writer from Norway. i'll publish a review as soon as I'm done.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of mystery/crime writers, you might like the husband-wife team of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.


I've been told by my swedish friends that these books are an amazingly accurate account of life in sweden in the 70s.


Clarissa said...

This is also a great recommendation. i will be reading a lot of these Nordic writers this summer to escape from the intolerable Midwestern heat. :-)