Living in COVID times has forced us to reassess all of the everyday life activities that we had taken for granted: Casually dropping into the grocery store; going to the movies or a show; hanging out at the mall. And then there are relationships. We are learning the hard way how important human connections are and how we have to work at those relationships. Perhaps it’s the approach of a holiday season like none other that is highlighting for me the importance of our family and friends to our very well-being.
In crime fiction, one of those important relationships is that between the protagonist and their sidekick. Sidekicks serve many functions. They provide a balance and complement to the main character’s strengths. They can share information with the listener by asking innocent or probing questions. They can discuss the case with the lead character and often provide new perspectives and sometimes “accidentally” provide just the missing connections that solve the case. And sometimes they provide the much-needed humor to offset the darkness. Of course, the classic sidekick is Watson to Sherlock Holmes.
GATORS AND GARTERS by Jana DeLeon provides an interesting and humorous take on sidekicks. In this Earphones Award-winning audiobook, Cassandra Campbell voices former CIA assassin Fortune Redding, who is currently a private investigator. She teams up with two seniors, Ida Belle and Gertie, to investigate the disappearance of another interesting character, former cage fighter and now caterer Miss Molly. The action-packed, truly funny mystery takes place in Sinful, Louisiana, and calls on Campbell to bring all of her talent with accents. The two lady sidekicks provide a different kind of humorous toughness to balance Fortune’s straight face. Trust and genuine friendship shine through.
Another different take on the sidekick is the relationship between Deputy Mattie Cobb and her canine, Robo, in Margaret Mizushima’s HANGING FALLS. Narrator Nancy Wu has been the voice of this series through the six audiobooks. Cobb is a Colorado deputy whose territory includes rugged backcountry. Robo, her sidekick, is a loyal and talented tracker. The story intertwines police procedural with an unusual family history and budding romance. Yes, the sidekick is a dog, but he does his job as a trusted balance to Cobb’s more fragile and complicated personality.
And then we have John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport and his pair of sidekicks, Bob and Rae, who provide the double dose of support and dry sense of humor that this series is known for. In the most recent book in this series, MASKED PREY, narrator Richard Ferrone provides the deep gravelly voice for Davenport and the voices of Bob and his U.S. Marshall partner Rae. Just like the old-time radio hosts their names pay homage to, these two have a constant banter that serves to relieve tension and complements Davenport’s mission-driven personality.
Can a wife be the sidekick to her spouse? Consider one of AudioFile’s 2020 Best Mystery audiobooks, Louise Penny’s ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE, narrated by actor Robert Bathurst. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache investigates the mysterious circumstances surrounding his godfather. Gamache’s wife, Reine-Marie, a professional archivist and researcher, uncovers important information and helps Gamache navigate tense family relationships. In listening to the recent podcast interview with Robert Bathurst (check it out here), I learned that the audiobook was directed by one of my favorite narrators, Lorelei King.
So, I feel I must point out that Lorelei King voices one of the greatest protagonist/sidekick teams in audiobooks— Stephanie Plum and Lulu in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. As I’ve talked about King’s narration of this series several times in this blog, I won’t go into great detail other than to say without Lulu as her sidekick, Stephanie Plum would be quite ordinary. Lulu, who describes herself as “underrealized,” is always growing, learning, and trying out new things, contrasting Stephanie’s static situation, as is evidenced in the latest audiobook FORTUNE AND GLORY.
While we have quite a variety of sidekicks represented in the above sampling, they all have in common a deep relationship with the lead investigator based on trust, profound friendship, support, and a guarantee that “I will always have your back.” In these isolating times, wouldn’t it be nice if we all had a sidekick or were that sidekick?