Dorothy Cannell: Many years ago I went on a fund raising house tour in my home town in Illinois because of one home in particular. I had been charmed by its creamy stone exterior and slate roof every time I passed it when in the area. The images sprang of a delightful, heartwarming life within where the past was preserved and the present embraced. On stepping into the hall my hopes were fulfilled. Behold the handsome staircase, the richly polished floor boards, a door ajar to a book lined library. I continued to be delighted throughout our prowling of the ground floor and the one above; all was proportion, harmony, and excellent taste. But as we proceeded upward and on I found it all rather monotonous; regretting that there wasn’t a single eyesore of the lumpy soap dish made by a six-year-old sort, or a garish picture gifted by a dear friend that required being put on display in case of a visit. I rethought the library with its matching leather bound books and decided a few tattered paperbacks would have suggested that someone in the house occasionally read something other than the house beautiful or yachting magazines. Suddenly the thought was there: ‘Perfection can be boring.’
I was reminded of this personal viewpoint last week when reading a mystery acquired in a secondhand bookstore that had been published a couple of decades ago. My interest in the main character waned on discovering she had no foibles or problems worth more than transient angst.
She was a successful career woman.
Age not specified, but young. My guess late twenties or early thirties.
Attractive. Policeman boyfriend refers to her gorgeous legs and how even when her hair is windblown she had never looked lovelier.
Organized and energetic.
Marvelous clothes sense.
A loyal friend. Her arrival on the scene is due to a phone call from another friend who is worried that a murder has occurred and that an ex-boyfriend may be involved.
A good sport. She camps out in derelict surrounding without complaint.
Patient listener, never putting in a – ‘Yes, but …”
Kind to an eccentric character who is ridiculed by others.
Policeman boyfriend is handsome, admired by and respected by his superiors, and revered by his subordinates.
Speaks of herself as being nosy, but it would be more appropriate to use the word ‘concerned’.
No idiosyncrasies. No foibles that make people endlessly compelling and dear in real life.
This is coming from me as a reader, not a writer. In connecting this read to that visit to the house that palled, I realized that I see a main character as the structure on which the traditional mystery, setting, and plot is built. This is the person who opens the door for us, invites us in, takes us through the rooms, and enlivens the visit. We need him or her to be someone with relatability, not someone who will make us feel we should rush back out and get a better haircut, a change of clothes, or keep our mouths shut about personal problems of which they could have no understanding.
Just a thought before I whip up a batch of homemade bread, finish up a piece of sculpture, and read the dictionary from cover to cover.