Tropology: Heroes and Girlfriends


It’s a common trope in novel series that the tough-guy hero who solves mysteries and kicks ass will get a new love interest each time out. The gold standard, of course, is James Bond, who often gets several new women in every book or movie. But it goes all the way back to The Odyssey, in which Odysseus manages to rack up time with both Circe and Calypso as he works his way back home to Penelope. Even Philip Marlowe, the greatest literary detective of all, sarcasms his way through a bevy of ladies until, in the unfinished novel Poodle Springs, he finally decides to marry one.

"YOLO, Odysseus. YOLO."

“YOLO, Odysseus. YOLO.”

When I created Eddie LaCrosse, I had two choices: I could make him a womanizer, like these others (although perhaps more in the tradition of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, who was always up front with his lady friends about what they could expect from him); or I could give him a steady partner, a wife or a girlfriend who would be a constant throughout the series.

The James Bond model is attractive, especially as wish-fulfillment. The idea of having the most beautiful girls in the world available with merely a glance is a teenage boy’s dream. And that, ultimately, is the problem: it’s a boy’s view of relationships, a glorification of immaturity. But it’s also the standard trope in detective fiction, which is one of the genres the Eddie LaCrosse novels embody. Luckily, though, it’s not the only trope.

Nick and Nora Charles, of Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man, are brilliant, funny, and most important, totally devoted to each other. Each makes crucial discoveries toward solving the mystery of what happened to Clyde Wynant (the actual “thin man” of the title), but most importantly, Hammett shows how much they simply love each other’s company. Spenser and Susan, from Robert B. Parker’s series, mirror the creator’s experiences with his wife (even splitting up at a time when the Parkers were struggling), eventually becoming one of the series’ solid, unshakable relationships, and a big reason readers kept coming back.

"Only you, darling. Lanky brunettes with wicked jaws."

“You got a type?”
“Only you, darling. Lanky brunettes with wicked jaws.”

And that’s ultimately the trope I decided to use.

In the first Eddie LaCrosse novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, Liz Dumont is introduced at the end, although she has ties to the earlier story (you’ll have to read the book to find out what they are). In the second book, Burn Me Deadly, she becomes a full-fledged main character, and she’s there in supporting roles in both Dark Jenny and Wake of the Bloody Angel. Now, in the newest novel, He Drank, and Saw the Spider, she’s back to prominence as a major force in the story, right there beside Eddie with her own share of quips, compassion and action.

I adore Liz. I think she’s funny, sexy, and exactly the kind of woman any man would want at his side. I try to make it clear that Eddie adores her, too, and would never do anything to jeopardize the relationship (which limits me in telling stories where he might meet a new love interest, but as Dark Jenny  showed, there are always work-arounds).

Still, there are issues. Foremost is the Joss Whedon/George RR Martin gambit, the idea that at any point I could kill Liz off as a way to motivate Eddie. That’s a Women in Refrigerators trope; nothing supposedly motivates a hero like revenge for the death of a loved one (or even just a liked one, as in the film version of The Avengers). But beyond any gender issues, that also strikes me as a sign of immature storytelling, as much a wish fulfillment as James Bond’s sexual conquests.

So that’s why I’ve frequently, and publicly, promised my readers this: that Liz will never die simply to motivate Eddie. She will not be killed by the villains, she will not die tragically saving Eddie’s life, and she will certainly not be stuffed in the secondary-world equivalent of a refrigerator for him to gruesomely find. I don’t want readers who, like me, find Liz delightful company to ever dread my next book.

So when you read He Drank, and Saw the Spider, I hope among other things that you enjoy hanging out with Eddie and Liz.  I like them both, I like writing them together, and I hope that comes through.


6 Comments on “Tropology: Heroes and Girlfriends”

  1. Can I just say “Thank You!”? As a big fan of these novels, not the least reason being the relationship between Eddie and Liz, my relief is palpable.

    I agree with you that doing it your way, which in my opinion is the hard way, is indeed more mature. And frankly it adds a degree of both hope and stability to these imaginative adventures. I think one thing readers look for is hope. We can’t all be swashbuckling heroes, perhaps none of us can be, but we can be heroic in the eyes of someone we love, and they in our eyes, and that hope amidst the chaos is something to cherish and champion.

  2. Thanks, Carl. I’m glad you agree, and I appreciate what you said. If you haven’t read them yet, you might enjoy my Firefly Witch short stories (available in 3- and 4-story ebook bundles on Amazon); the main characters are heavily influenced by Nick and Nora, much more so than Eddie and Liz.

  3. Whew! I adore Liz too. (And yes, the relationship of Ry and Tanna in the Firefly Witch stories is part of what makes them some wonderful.)

  4. Here’s a quote about John D. Macdonald that I often see bouncing around the web (I hesitate to quote from Wikipeida, which we all know is generally stuff we can wipe our asses with, but this seems legit). “Macdonald is by any standards a better writer than Saul Bellow, only Macdonald writes thrillers and Bellow is a human heart chap, so guess who wears the top grade laurels?” That’s from Kingsley Amis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *