Every writer wants to create memorable characters. Sometimes the character becomes more famous that the writer who created him (or her). Quick, now: Can you name the authors who created Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, and Captain Nemo? (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne.) More modern literary heroes include James Bond, Batman, and my wife’s favorite, Temperance Brennan. (Ian Fleming, Bob Kane, and Kathy Reichs.) The author who can give us such memorable characters certainly doesn’t mind being less famous than his or her creation, at least when they cash their royalty checks.
As an aficionado (that’s my big word for the day) of thriller novels, sometimes known as action/adventure, I’m partial to a strong character. An author who creates one of these can use him or her over and over again in a series, and sometimes it will take on a life of its own. Conan Doyle got so tired of Holmes that he actually killed him off in “The Final Problem,” with Holmes plunging to his death at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland as he struggles with his arch-enemy, Professor James Moriarty. As Holmes fans well know, Conan Doyle brought the detective back to life after an uproar from his readers. The struggle at the Reichenbach was recently recreated on the big screen in Downey’s Sherlock Holmes 2: Game of Shadows, and on the small screen in the excellent PBS/BBC miniseries Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a cleverly-done modern-day version of the sleuth.
Several months ago I picked up a paperback in my local bookstore by the author David Poyer, a graduate of the Naval Academy and a long-time Navy officer. It was The Crisis, and I quickly discovered this was the 12th novel in Poyer’s series starring Dan Lenson, an idealistic Annapolis grad who becomes an officer on a destroyer in the post-Vietnam Navy. Rather than start at #12, I looked up the series and started at the beginning, with The Circle. The story begins with Lenson, newly commissioned after graduating the Academy, reporting for duty aboard his first ship, an old destroyer that is soon off to the Arctic on a mission to test a new sonar device. Lenson soon has to deal with violent weather, devious shipmates, a seemingly indecisive captain and a rogue Soviet submarine.
Very few writers are fortunate enough to create a character that resonates like Holmes or Bond. It takes talent, certainly, but luck plays a big part. If President Kennedy had not mentioned one time that he was reading a Fleming novel, Bond might never have made such a big impact. Similarly, a favorable comment by President Reagan about The Hunt for Red October helped launch the career of insurance salesman-turned-thriller novelist Tom Clancy.
Perhaps President Obama will have time on the campaign trail this fall to read The White Vixen, when it’s e-published. I’ll send him the link, and make sure you get one, too. Even if the president doesn’t get around to it, I hope you’ll find Jo Ann Geary to be a compelling character.