As both a reader and writer of crime fiction, I have developed some strong opinions about what I like and dislike. One aspect of crime fiction I’ve found I can’t do without is a flawed protagonist. He or she doesn’t necessarily need to be an anti-hero, of course. But when I sit back and open a book, I don’t hope to find a sparkling, stout-hearted day-saver who can do no wrong. I like my protagonists a bit dark, somewhat world-weary. I want to see the cracks in the plaster, the seams in the wallpaper. To put it another way, I want to read about someone human.
We all have our flaws, writers and readers alike. So why shouldn’t our heroes be flawed, too? I admit, it’s sometimes difficult to walk the fine line between creating a flawed protagonist and someone readers will dislike (I may even cross that line on occasion). The hero, no matter how flawed, must still elicit sympathy in the reader. The reader must still want to get behind his cause. But that can be accomplished by a writer, even if his or her hero doesn’t always do the right thing, even if the hero is sometimes unsure about what is right and wrong.
For me, creating a flawed protagonist was easy, because my hero Kevin Corvelli is a lawyer – a criminal defense lawyer, in fact. So right from the get-go readers wonder whether he’s a true believer, a seeker of truth and justice, or just another stuffed shirt who will do anything, represent anyone, for a buck. In my debut novel One Man’s Paradise, Kevin Corvelli takes on the cause of a young man accused of killing his girlfriend on Waikiki Beach. Kevin is seeking redemption for a case he lost back in New York, a mistake that ultimately cost his innocent client Brandon Glenn his life. Right away, we know Kevin is flawed because he admits he screwed up back in Manhattan, that he was too busy playing to the cameras to overturn every stone in order to get to the truth.
Along with his past disgrace in the Big Apple, Kevin exhibits other flaws, some obvious, some not. He drinks too much, has deep-seated commitment issues. He’s somewhat neurotic, and of course, he’s paranoid. Clients have been lying to him his entire career and the result is that he trusts no one, not even his closest friends. As the story – and the series – progresses, Kevin realizes and works on his flaws, but even at the end it’s clear that Kevin Corvelli is only human.
“Still, the flight from New Orleans to Honolulu seemed like a long way to go just to die. A man could die pretty much anywhere these days.”
– LAST LAWYER STANDING (2012) by Douglas Corleone