Sunday, September 20, 2009

"The Regulars"

In every well-written mystery series, there are characters that you might call, "regulars." They're not sleuths; they're not even always major characters. Yet, they appear in several of the novels in the series and they play an important role in the novels. They add life, zest and a unique quality to each series. They are, in many ways, like regular patrons of a restaurant, pub, club or other favorite haunt. We sometimes go as much to see "the regulars" as for anything else. It's the same thing with a mystery series. "Regulars" in a mystery series give fans another good reason to look for the next novel in the series.

In many of the Ellery Queen mysteries, Sergeant Velie is a "regular." He's a big, beefy officer who's very protective of Ellery and his father, Richard Queen. He's not famous for his brains, but he has street sense, and I've gotten to like him.

Another interesting "regular" is Louisa Bourbonette, an anthropologist who makes her first appearance in Tony Hillerman's novels in Coyote Waits. She and Joe Leaphorn work together on that case and end up getting involved with each other. Bourbonette is smart, accomplished and independent. She's almost as familiar with the Four Corners area of the American Southwest as Leaphorn is, and her expertise is often helpful to Leaphorn and Jim Chee.

Lilian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who.... series has a whole host of "regulars." One of my favorites is Arch Riker, editor of the Moose County Something. He is the former boss of Braun's sleuth, Jim Qwilleran. In fact, the two grew up together in Chicago. Riker knows Qwilleran about as well as anyone could, and the two have developed a deep and lasting friendship.

Some "regulars" are family members. For example, an interesting "regular in Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford series is Wexford's daughter, Sheila. She is, admittedly, his favorite of his children. She's an actress in the Royal Shakespeare Company, and is famous in her own right. She plays a major role in The Veiled One when a car bomb meant for her actually injures her father. Another "regular" who's also a family member is Cully, the daughter of Caroline Graham's Inspector Tom Barnaby. Cully is also an actress and, in fact, her involvement in acting takes Barnaby into the world of acting in Death of a Hollow Man. Cully is Barnaby's only child, and he dotes on her, although her free spirit is a cause of more than a little concern to him.

Other "regulars" are work colleagues and employees. Two of the most famous are Agatha Christie's Felicity Lemon and Mr. Goby. Felicity Lemon is Hercule Poirot's frighteningly efficient secretary. When she's not busy organizing Poirot's life, she is busy inventing a filing system that she wants to patent. She has no time to be idle, and no patience with what she sees as frivolity. In Hickory Dickory Death (AKA Hickory, Dickory Dock), we learn that Miss Lemon has a sister; in fact, it's that sister who gets Poirot involved in investigating the mysterious disappearance of some odd things. Mr. Goby's business is getting information. He is a small, insignificant-looking man who finds it impossible to make eye contact with his clients. Poirot relies on Mr. Goby quite frequently to track down information on different characters. In After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal), for example, Poirot uses Goby's services to test the alibis of several relatives of a very wealthy man who dies suddenly. Poirot isn't the only one who uses Goby's services. For instance, in The Mystery of the Blue Train, Goby assists Rufus Van Aldin, whose daughter, Ruth, is murdered while on her way to the south of France for what's supposed to be a vacation. Mr. Goby is a little mysterious, and I find his character interesting.

One of my favorite "regulars" is Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, who appears in Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. He is the owner and chief mechanic at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. He is a simple, but intelligent man who has a strong sense of honor and a deep love for machines - especially car engines. He also loves Precious Ramotswe, the sleuth of that series; in fact, the two eventually marry. He has no patience with shoddy workmanship and is willing to help anyone who needs him. He's the kind of person with whom you can really imagine enjoying a cup of bush tea.

"Regulars" can make a mystery series richer and more interesting - and let's face it, more fun. For instance, in Joan Smith's Loretta Lawson series, Loretta's friend Bridget adds humor to the series. She is also a very good friend to Loretta. She's an ardent feminist and somewhat impulsive; but she has a warm heart and is fun to be with.

In my own Joel Williams series, Joel's friend and former boss, Bert Schneider is a "regular." He's the captain at the local police precinct. He's a workaholic who enjoys sports bars. He has a lot of respect for the detectives who work for him and, unless there's a problem, generally trusts his officers to do a good job. He and Williams often exchange information, and he relies on Williams' perspective, even though Williams is no longer on the police force. I could enjoy having a beer with Bert Schneider; I like him.

What do you think? Who are your favorite "regulars?" Do you read the next novel in your favorite series to catch up with them?


  1. I don´t know if you would consider Bunter Peter Wimsey´s sidekick or a regular, but he is certainly a character I like. The same with Lord Peter´s mother, e.g. the role she plays in Busman´s Honeymoon.

  2. Thanks, Dorte, for those reminders : ). I agree with you that Bunter is a great character. Of course, Sayers is wonderful at creating characters, isn't she? I like Wimsey's mother, too.