The Comfort of (Fictional) Friends

By Laura Oles

Anyone else enjoy re-reading favorite novels?

After a year immersed in reading new releases by talented authors, I’ve taken a step back and retreated to the comfort of reading (and watching) some of my all-time favorite series characters. When life gets stressful, curling up in a corner for a few minutes at night with a beloved character is one of my favorite ways of tuning out the chaos of the day. 

Here are a few of my favorite series characters: 

BOOKS:

Lisa Lutz

Isabel (Izzy) Spellman: Isabel Spellman has been described as “the love child of Dirty Harry and Harriet the Spy,” which is one of the many reasons I love this character. As a licensed investigator in her family’s firm, she’s extremely capable and sharp, even as she navigates the pitfalls that come from working with her dysfunctional family. Her cleverness has an edge that keeps me turning the pages, and her sarcasm always sticks the landing. 

V I Warshawski:  I’m drawn to a strong and complex female protagonist, and VI absolutely fills this role. She doesn’t apologize for who she is and how she makes her way in the world. VI is skilled in a street fight, appreciates Torgiano red wine and doesn’t suffer fools. What’s not to love?

Tess Monaghan:  I discovered Tess during a time when my career required a great deal of travel. I picked up Baltimore Blues and never looked back. Tess’s investigative journalism background and her balance of strength and compassion compelled me to continue with the series. Laura Lippman gives us such a layered and authentic view of Baltimore through Tess’s eyes. And Tess ventured to go where few female detectives have dared—motherhood.

TELEVISION:

Sergeant Catherine Cawood/Happy Valley:  The first five minutes of Happy Valley remains, for me, one of the best openings I’ve ever seen in a series pilot. Sgt. Catherine Cawood is a dedicated police community officer working for the West Yorkshire Police Department.  Her personal life is enormously complicated, and a particular case consumes her (with damn good reason). Sgt. Cawood comes across as fully human, with a wit sharp enough to slice iron, and offers zero apologies for who she is and the choices she makes. 

Deputy U.S. Marshal Mary Shannon/In Plain Sight: Mary Shannon is U.S. Marshal working for the Federal Witness Protection program.  She’s a skilled investigator with a highly tuned (and hard-earned) understanding of human nature. Her complicated family backstory (her father is on the FBI’s most wanted list) informs her views on her cases and charges, but she’s first and foremost an outstanding hunter and protector. And her banter with her partner Marshall is pure gold.

Jim Rockford/The Rockford Files:. When I think about private detectives on television, my mind always goes to Jim Rockford. Maybe because he kept me company in my childhood. An ex-con who served time in San Quentin and then was later pardoned, he ran his investigative business out of a mobile home in LA and preferred fishing to most other pursuits. His father never felt being a PI was a real job, and the fact he was often getting shorted by clients didn’t help his end of the argument. Jim Rockford was fallible times, skilled at working cold cases but not always coming out on top in a brawl. He rarely used his gun. He was human, and I find that particularly appealing. And that theme song is pretty catchy, too.

Who is your favorite go-to series character? And why?

2 thoughts on “The Comfort of (Fictional) Friends

  1. Every once in a while, I’ll go on a rereading spree and revisit comfortable old friends in books. These sprees usually coinside with periods of high stress or sleep deprivation since both, for me, result in an inability to put energy into finding something new and an unwillingness to risk putting time into an author I don’t yet trust. For example, I reread a lot of books when my kids were infants and I was too sleep deprived to find something new. I’ve reread Dorothy Sayers — Gaudy Night and Busman’s Honeymoon specifically. I’ve reread suspense novels by Mary Stewart like Touch Not the Cat. I’ve reread Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. I’ve read Murder on the Orient Express more than once. I’ve reread poetry by Robert Frost. Thinking about it, there are many, many books I’ve read more than once, which is part of the fun of having an extensive book collection. If I’m too tired to find something new, I can pull an old friend from the shelf.

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