Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin... In the world of detective stories this is a well-known formula – take a brilliant detective, give him a less intelligent assistant and get a book that the whole world will love. Why does it happen? Isn't a genius detective smart enough to solve cases alone? Doesn't a reader enjoy the progress of the investigation anyway? Today we will solve this riddle!
As with many good detectives, the answer to the question is right under our noses. When we open books about detectives and their investigations, our goal is not just to get some food for thought or to do an intellectual warm-up. We are looking for a good story. There's not so much a crime as an incredible detective who investigates it at the centre of the plot. We love to follow his thoughts, how new evidence pushes him to new ideas, how small details become an important step towards solving a mystery. We also love to watch how the character of a brilliant detective develops. What will reveal it better than relationships with other characters?
This is how famous detective duets appear – the main character and his assistant, a sidekick. A brief note: a sidekick is essentially a supporting character who appears in the story in close conjunction with the main one. An accomplice, an assistant and the right hand, all at once. Sidekicks appear nearly as often as stories of murder out of jealousy in detective stories. Wonder why?
This is where the "strange duo dynamics" comes into play. There are many books out there about bosom friends investigating crimes, but even more stories revolve around characters whose attitudes towards each other are more controversial. Let's be honest: we love contradictions. A clash of opposites among the characters, such that sparks fly! Extra points to the book in which the detective and the assistant are suspicious of each other.
When polarly different characters collide within a story, it causes internal tension, and the interaction between such characters looks no less exciting than the investigation itself. A classic example is Hercule Poirot and Captain Arthur Hastings. When we meet them in "The Mysterious Affair at Styles", they get along pretty well, and that's amazing, to say the least. Why? Because it is obvious, that Poirot often takes Hastings for an idiot. That being said, just think about how often Hastings made a major contribution to the investigation, not even suspecting that he did anything useful at all!
In this duet, polarly different characters meet – and this results in many details at once. Hastings is amused by Poirot's Belgian habits, and the fact that the captain is English to the core often gives hints to the detective and helps overcome some cultural differences. The characters also differ in such an important detail as personal life. Despite the fact that Poirot easily gets along with people, he has no personal life at all, which cannot be said about Hastings.
In general, the lack of personal life for one of the detectives in a duo is not uncommon. Arthur Conan Doyle may have hinted at Sherlock Holmes' interest in Irene Adler, but let's face it: his only love was riddles and cocaine. Nero Wolfe from Rex Stout's detective series has a similar problem. He lives almost as a hermit, shielding himself not only from romantic attachments but also from all family ties. Just in case, you know. At the same time, his assistant, Archie Goodwin, is a dandy, lady’s man and in general a very ordinary member of society from the very first appearance in the novel "Fer-de-Lance". John Watson, by the way, was married, and more than once. Authors of detective stories think big when it comes to contrasts between characters.
But do sidekicks have some other function, except to set off the main detective? Sure. We, as readers, should be immensely grateful for this function, because without the assistant characters, it would be much more difficult to read detective stories.
Despite the fact that sidekicks are often quite smart, they lack the vaunted genius of the protagonists. Therefore, each time during the disclosure of a crime, Holmes patiently explains the course of his thoughts to Watson, which eases the understanding for the reader. It is hard to identify yourself with a mysterious detective, whose way of thinking is at least non-standard. Unlike his quick-witted assistant. In each book, a reader, in some way, becomes an assistant of a great detective, because assistants are much more humane, which means they are more relatable. In fact, sidekicks become such an investigation board, where evidence, relationships and complex logical chains are thrown in one heap.
But why not tell the story on behalf of the detective? It's simple: great detectives somehow sharply lose their mysteriousness. They are usually quite dry and straightforward people as such; their train of thought is tough and is not sprayed with unnecessary sentimentality and all sorts of moral aspects. Their assistants are much more emotional. It is worth shifting the focus to them, as any scene of the investigation immediately becomes more colourful and ceases to resemble a police report.
Besides, of course, even the most ingenious detectives sometimes need a little push to get them back on track in their investigation. After all, every detective digs deep in search of mystery but often misses something on the surface. Scenes where a sidekick suddenly mentions something important for the disclosure of the crime in his reflections out loud, which becomes the last detail of a large puzzle are one of the most classic scenes in detective stories. As much as it is nice to get close to the riddle, it is even more pleasant to finally solve it. Think of "The A.B.C. Murders" – the assumption of Hastings puts everything in its place.
Besides, even the savviest detectives need protection, as criminals are almost always armed and sometimes very dangerous. Who else can save the detective at the very last minute but his assistant? Thus, Sherlock Holmes would not have solved any riddles if Watson had not saved him in the novel "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot". As for Hercule Poirot, he is too gallant to personally detain criminals. Let Hastings do it.
Our lives are full of mysteries, but there are even more mysteries in literature. Therefore, grab the books and immerse yourself in the stories of famous detectives and their brilliant assistants now you know why they are there. Isn't it a reason enough to reread detective classics and level up your deductive method? It is time to find all criminals and feel superior!
So long as the killer is not a butler.
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