Every reader out there can tell you who their favorite author is. That's pretty easy. But when asked why they're their favorite, even the most fanatical fan can find themselves at a loss for words. It's not that they go mute. Quite the contrary. You'll hear the expected "They're great," or "They're really imaginative," or even "I love the dialogue." But you won't get much in the way of detailed, definitively solid reasons as to why this author has made it to the top of their list.
I think I understand, actually.
As with most voracious readers, I discovered books early on. As a youngster I was drawn to
The Hardy Boys as well as the Tarzan novels. Then, in high school, I graduated to Perry Mason, personally toying with the idea of becoming a lawyer. Eventually I discovered Robert Parker's Spenser novels and to this day mourn his passing. In retrospect, while these series were all very different, they do share some commonalities that have kept them successful.
Although each book brought me a new and intriguing adventure, it was the consistencies in each story that unconsciously kept me coming back. The adventure and intrigue were always exceptional. But the journey was better because we were taking it with consistent but interesting characters and supporting characters. For example, my generation grew up on James Bond films and each time you knew you were in for a fun ride. But without the stalwart M running MI6 with a firm hand, the flirtatious moments with Moneypenny, and, of course, the cool gadgets that Q always provided, the movie simply wouldn't have been as good.
These groups of characters, in a sense, become our literary family. We like them, we are comfortable with them and we know what to expect. We may not read about them every day. In fact we may go months between books, but each time we start a one, we realize how much we enjoy the time we spend with them. And like real families, the hero wouldn't be able to make it without a strong supporting team backing him up. Each has an important role to fill and with each novel the importance of that role becomes more and more defined.
In my novel, The Dark Side of the Cross, I introduced to the world the hero of this series, James MacBridan. Happily he was very well received. In fact one of my strongest critics said that MacBridan is the kind of guy he'd like to have a beer with. From this particular critic, that was high praise indeed. But without the help of the other characters in the book, MacBridan would have fallen short more than once. In fact, he probably wouldn't have lived long enough to make it to book two. But what is it that makes these supporting characters so important?
The short answer is that they not only complete the hero, but they provide aspects to the story line that the hero can't. Aspects that are not only very important to the plot, but go a long way to give the story greater depth. Staying with The Dark Side of the Cross, I'll focus on three very important characters, illustrating how this works. The first of these is Cori Hopkins.
Cori is a colleague of our hero, James MacBridan, and they know each other quite well, having worked together for the past few years. A very capable operative all on her own, she is a good match for MacBridan, not taking any guff off of him, keeping up step for step with every sarcastic line he throws her way. She is a smart, courageous, and insightful investigator who brings a feminine perspective to the story, something MacBridan simply can't do.
Next is Father Collin Sheary, an Irish Catholic priest who, in many ways, is an enigma to MacBridan. Father Collin brings a great deal of knowledge to the table, knowledge that neither MacBridan nor Cori would have access to. Much of this is due to the unique experiences life has brought to him. He brings with him a somewhat sordid and diverse background that has led him down the path of evil as well as to the grace of a forgiving God. Events that he has participated in have exposed him to a world quite alien to anything MacBridan has ever witnessed. Because of this, his work for Rome is rather specialized and his presence provides an unexpected, yet necessary asset, to MacBridan.
The last of the three, and the most unusual, is Ubel Obermann. Although he now works with Father Collin, he was not always on the side of goodness, in fact quite the opposite. Although they'd never met MacBridan knew a great deal about him. On an earlier case, MacBridan had been sent to track him down, but he evaded capture. Obermann, an East German, had worked for years as an assassin for hire, one of the most feared across Europe. A near death experience supposedly caused him to be rehabilitated; a concept MacBridan has trouble buying into. It is Obermann's character that can do the things MacBridan would never contemplate doing as they come from significantly different moral bases. Obermann's willingness to literally do anything for the cause, be it good or bad, enables the good guys to truly fight fire with fire.
As diverse as they are, Cori, Father Collin and Obermann make up MacBridan's team. And each of these three characters contributes a great deal, providing aspects of the feminine, the spiritual, and a touch of evil. It is also important to note that these are not one-dimensional characters. They have strong, well defined personalities, each attracting their own fan base. It is with their help that MacBridan is able to stand against an adversary more deadly and more terrifying than he has ever faced before. And it is also due to them that the story is complete.
Happily, for me and my readers, that's not where it ended, but where it began. The series has continued on and MacBridan, as well as his odd "family" of friends, have returned in
Relic of Darkness. And while more characters have made it to the forefront, his three colleagues were there to back him up. They are and will continue to be a welcome consistency to a wild ride.