Guest blog by Jeri Westerson
Sidekicks can serve an important role for a sleuth. Though Sam Spade started off with partner Miles Archer, it was clear his sidekick was really Effie Perine, his faithful and not faint-of-heart secretary. A sidekick does the legwork (and what legs!) and in some instances, can also be the source of the sleuth’s finding an important clue (it’s the sleuth that has to really solve the case, however, otherwise there’s no reason to spend three hundred pages with him!)
A sidekick can also be the source of some much-needed comic relief when the action gets dark and heavy. He’s a sounding board for the detective to bounce ideas off of. He—or she—can be in jeopardy, the damsel in distress, for the heroic detective to save.
Whatever the purpose the sidekick serves, he had better be more than a cardboard cut-out or there can be no empathy for his thankless and often tireless work.
A sidekick can be as cunning as Bunter for Lord Peter Wimsey, or the conscience of the piece as Sancho Panza is to Don Quixote. Without Dr. Watson to write it all down, we’d never know about all of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures. And Robin Hood would have no one to mourn him without Little John.
A knight’s sidekick could very well be his squire, but since my hero Crispin Guest is no longer the knight he was, there can be no squire as such. Only an orphaned street urchin would be fitting for a man who now had to eke out a life on the mean streets of fourteenth century London. And so Jack Tucker, orphan, cutpurse, thief and street urchin comes into Crispin’s life. More comfortable on the streets and with the low-lifes he and Crispin encounter, Jack is often a go-between. He may be young—eleven when we first meet him in the debut of the series, VEIL OF LIES, and is now fifteen in the latest Crispin Guest mystery SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST—but he’s whip-smart, and even gave up the “habit” of cutting purses, the medieval equivalent of picking pockets (no pockets yet).
Jack is growing up and coming into his own. He’s becoming invaluable to Crispin and their relationship matures as they grow closer to one another. In fact, Jack Tucker was never meant to be in the books more than once, but my agent and editor liked him so much, he was made into more than a walk-on. Which turned out to be serendipity. Jack is a reflection of what Crispin was, innocent, sometimes naïve, adventurous, before life’s realities crowded in around him. And I think that Crispin would also have been mired in his own private hell if Jack hadn’t come along as a distraction. Now, Crispin does, on occasion, wallow a bit in his own miseries, but he also knows he has a responsibility as the only mentor and role model for his new charge. Knowing now that he will never have an heir (and an heir to what?) he cultivates Jack as he was raised, not only teaching him how to read and write, but languages and the art of battle.
Jack often humanizes the plight of the poor and uneducated to Crispin who has come from wealthy and intellectual origins, who had no inkling of the lives of his servants on his erstwhile estates anymore than he had a clue about the lives of the people he passed on the streets of London.
He also serves as the reader’s chorus, asking the questions we might ask the sleuth ourselves; standing in for us when we haven’t got a clue. He’s the one to whom the sleuth explains his failings, his thinking process, the one to whom he says “Aha!” but doesn’t yet elucidate, leaving the sidekick to race after him with, “Wait! What did you discover?”
And after six books in the series, Jack is certainly coming into his own. We’ve seen him grow up, even mellowing his mentor and master, Crispin Guest. But as Jack grows and his backstory comes to the fore, he’s becoming less of a sidekick and more of a full-fledged partner. He does his own sleuthing. After all, he knows those dark streets of London better than his master. And soon, he will get his own young adult series of books, though they will stray from mystery and delve into the depths of fantasy and paranormal in the Jack Tucker Tales. He’ll test his mettle in ways he’s never faced before. It will serve as a fine compliment to the Crispin series as I delve more into the character and adventures of a young man, trying to find his way and his place in a world that seldom has room for his like.
We need our literary sidekicks. And it’s even more wonderful when we want to know more about them. What motivates them to play second fiddle to the hero? What sort of rewards can they expect?
Crispin writes his own blog (yeah, everyone’s got a blog these days) and he sometimes writes about Jack Tucker. Read it at www.jeriwesterson.com/crispins-blog. For more on Jeri’s newest release, SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST, including a series book trailer and book discussion guides, go to www.JeriWesterson.com.