The Independent Sleuth

Wickeds, our sleuths need to be independent in order to solve crimes. What characteristics have you given your sleuth that shows their independence? What circumstances show it?

Edith: In my Country Store Mysteries, Robbie Jordan is an only child of a single mother, who raised her to think for herself – and learn carpentry too – but her mom passes away before the series starts. Robbie has her Aunt Adele nearby, but she makes her way in the world on her own merits. In the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, Rose is an independent midwife in business for herself and doesn’t let some of society’s critics stop her from seeking justice.

Barb: I’m laughing because I feel like I’ve done nothing but heap family, relationship, and business responsibilities onto my poor sleuth Julia Snowden since she moved back to Busman’s Harbor at the start of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Julia left home for boarding school and, though she worked during her school and college summers at the Snowden Family Clambake, she really never returned. Her post-MBA job at a venture capital company required long hours and lots of business travel, discouraging both friendships and romantic entanglements. But in Busman’s Harbor, she works with family, and initially lives with her mom. Then, she moves in with her boyfriend, and runs a winter restaurant with him in the space right under her studio apartment. It can get claustrophobic, and her friends occasionally tease her about it, but I have a feeling she wouldn’t trade it.

Liz: My Cat Cafe sleuth, Maddie James, puts a lot of responsibility on herself – she’s an entrepreneur, and she prides herself on running successful businesses, and as the oldest child she also puts a lot of responsibility on herself when it comes to family. She ends up staying in Daybreak Harbor after her grandmother’s death because she’s so concerned about what will happen to Grandpa Leo, and she’s always been the grandchild he’s favored. She also feels responsible for her business partner, Ethan, who moved to the island with her. But she’s a bit of a control freak, and meeting these responsibilities make her feel like she’s got her world in order.

Julie: Interesting that both Barb and Cate/Liz have sleuths that have lost some independence, but that’s what makes them better at their sleuthing.

Sherry: I love how Edith made Robbi a carpenter who can do her own renovations, how Barb sent the very independent Julia off into the world and then back home to deal with her family and roots, and how Maddie is very independent but also feels so responsible for everyone around her. Sarah shows her independent streak by staying in Ellington, Massachusetts after divorcing instead of heading home to California. And then she builds a business from nothing just her love of garage sales.

Julie: Independence can be defined in a number of different ways, can’t it? Most of our sleuths come to care about folks, which raises the stakes and makes them care about the outcome. But they’re also independent thinkers, otherwise they’d let the police solve the crimes. Which wouldn’t work in our books. What I love about Lilly Jayne from the Garden Squad mysteries is that she’s very independent. But she’s also fiercely loyal, loves her friends and is proud of her town. It isn’t that she wants to take over the investigations. It’s that she wants to make sure Bash Haywood doesn’t screw it up, because she cares a lot about him.

Readers, do you like your sleuths to be independent? Fellow writers, how do you show your characters independence?

15 Thoughts

  1. Sleuth Holly, is independent in that she is the head waitress in her mother’s restaurant. She drives her own car to go places and solve crimes. She is strongwilled in her way of doing and asking whatever she needs to find the truth too.

  2. Of course most of our sleuths are intelligent, experienced, intuitive, friendly, and like cats (and don’t faint at the sight of blood). But my character Maura Donovan in the County Cork Mysteries breaks most of those rules, and I chose to make her that way deliberately. She’s a newcomer to Ireland and knows nobody there, and she wasn’t even sure she wanted to stay. But she is observant and provides a different perspective on events (which is useful in a country where there is little crime and few murders, yet bodies seem to keep appearing in the books, even in small towns). Over time she is learning to connect to other people locally, and has been accepted as one of them, but she still has a lot to learn. It’s fun to write about her!

  3. I always want a character who is willing to make a stand – even if that stand is wrong.

    Jim Duncan is just a patrol trooper, but he doesn’t let that stop him from investigating when he feels he should. And Sally is determined not to be steamrolled – sometimes she’s too stubborn and independent for her own good!

  4. I think my sleuth Allie Cobb shows her independence by not bowing to convention. Taking her cat for walks and choosing to live life without owning a car in small-town Indiana are two examples of living life on her terms, regardless of what others may think of her.

  5. It’s interesting how this broke down in the discussion above. As I was reading I was thinking about my own life. After the first couple years making sure I had a friend to do each mud run with, I started doing them on my own. Good thing because it’s rare for me to find someone to do them with any more. But I wouldn’t have done the first couple without a friend doing them with me.

    You need a balance of both in your life. Even the independent sleuths on the list have friends and family they do things for. And even those getting enmeshed with family again still go out investigating on their own. Motives might be to help their family, but they are still acting on their own.

    1. I agree about the balance for our characters. As for doing things like mud runs on your own, I get it. I do the same thing for certain shows or activities. Rather than dragging someone with me and feeling responsible for their fun, I go on my own.

  6. I’m considered a very independent soul by those who know me, and I agree. But at the same time, I’m very interdependent with my husband and adult daughter. We all have our own lives but completely enjoy sharing them with one another. The best of both worlds in my opinion.

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