In the second of our series looking at books with a crime and legal slant for readers of Legal Life, Bath author and a former solicitor, Lesley Kenward, gives BLS members her tips for crime, detective and legal fiction. Looking for a book for that well-deserved holiday, Lesley has a choice or two for you.
Where would you be without friends? A little sadder maybe, with a single cinema ticket and a lonely table for one? Stalking facebook perhaps, or pretending to enjoy the basket-weaving night class? For Myron Bolitar the answer is more straightforward. Without friends, he would almost certainly be dead. So, like Myron, if you are a bit of an amateur detective planning on investigating criminal activity which looks like it might spin dangerously out of control, you had better choose your friends wisely.
And that’s exactly what award winning author Harlan Coben does for his creation. Myron is a sports rep, almost a PI but of the untrained, accidental sort. So Coben, with the foresight to see that such a poorly equipped investigator is unlikely to survive past the first few pages, gives him, as necessary sidekick and protector, the fabulously original, thoroughly patrician Windsor Horne Lockwood III (or more usually, Win.) With his martial arts trained ability to inflict extreme violence when the inevitable threat demands it, and, given Win’s predisposition to seeing no real value in the majority of the human race, sometimes when it doesn’t, Win keeps Myron alive. Coben also gives Myron the feisty Esperanza Diaz and marvellous Big Cyndi, resplendent in sparkly lycra, both one-time professional female wrestlers. They provide Myron with a whole other relationship model based on more emotional support and less killing.
The Myron Bolitar series are for those who want a break from the soul searching solitariness of the lone sleuth and fancy a journey into an environment where flashing wit, incomprehensible friendship and loyalty support the characters against a suburban rather than global backdrop of solid plots that won’t disappoint your inner detective. The crimes themselves are gritty, plausible and well-paced intricate affairs of a type that start small-town and widen into seriously threatening scenarios, always retaining the human element that underlies them. The superbly written wise-cracking counterbalance to the criminal plotting, maiming and use of heavy weaponry which invariably ensues, is provided by the brilliantly executed sidekick, Win.
What is it about men behaving (very) badly that is simply laugh-out- loud funny? With Win and Myron, it’s all in the dialogue. Myron himself is a hothead with a heart of gold – an attractive enough combination and workable as chief character. Win, on the other hand, ought to make PC alarms flash if not entirely give up the ghost and quietly retire abroad – he is an essentially misogynistic killing machine, an immaculately turned out, hugely wealthy, scarily staccato psycho. What’s not to like? I may not be comfortable with the idea of a living, breathing Win but as a literary creation – single-faceted (and that facet is almost entirely unpleasant,) I am besotted. I generally like my crime with a complex monologue/dialogue which reveals something of the soul of the speaker(s). Win hasn’t got a soul and yet I find his manner of communicating with Myron and the world so compellingly funny that when I spy a verbal encounter between Myron and Win on the horizon, I genuinely slow my usual speed-read devouring of the pages so that I don’t miss a single word of the exchange. It’s man talk. It’s fast wit with little emotional substance, sparky, hard-edged, tough talk and it makes me laugh. I know I shouldn’t approve. Win is my guilty pleasure.
There are few other sidekicks who inspire in me the sort of incomprehensible devotion to Win to which I succumbed at first meeting. I found recently that a (sadly undervisited) facebook page has been created just for Win. It was good to know that I am not the only member of his fan club. As sidekicks go, he is the best. Only John Connolly’s Louis and Angel come close – the same quick fire exchanges, the same out-there, unexplored, big personalities, the same total loyalty and the same one-lining humour that I find irresistible.
So what is the test for a great sidekick? Obviously enough, the sidekick provides the lead character with a sounding board enabling the plot and possible solutions to be posited in conversation and developed realistically. Win does that. The sidekick supports the lead. Win kills the opposition, so tick. The sidekick is often entertaining. Go Win! For me, personally, the test to be passed is whether I would name a pet after them. I have owned cats, Louis and Angel, in the past. I have yet to own a Win – single syllables don’t work well with pet names. The next cat will definitely be Windsor.
Even if you belong to the club which believes that overt, unabashed moments of comedic light have no place in the darkness of the crime novel, I’d give Myron and Win a go. Their forays into the criminal underworld are not the sort of lightweight (yet fabulous of its kind) humorous capers you might find in Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. With Myron and Win, sharp-shooting wit overlays “proper” crime plots.
Myron and Win appear together in a series of ten books – some of their earlier adventures I have only found on the US site Amazon.com but they don’t break the bank and are worth every dollar. Harlan Coben has also written several stand alone novels in which they don’t star – I would recommend those too as the superbly crafted crime thrillers they are, but I don’t love them in the way that I love Myron and Win. And, when you have bought the entire series, please go and write a comment on Win’s facebook page.
Myron and Win appear together in Deal Breaker, Drop Shot, Fade Away, Back Spin, One False Move, The Final Detail, Darkest Fear, Promise Me, Long Lost and, very recently, Live Wire.