Can Alligators Kick Sideways?

Posted at Jun 26, 2015 10:32 pm

Originally posted on Sapphyria’s Book Reviews, May 25, 2015.

Nancy--George----Bess-nancy-drew-59141_321_367Nancy Drew had Bess Marvin and George Fayne (a girl). Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum has Lula. J.D. Robb’s Lieutenant Eve Dallas has Detective Delia Peabody. Who are these “secondary” characters? Why, they’re sidekicks, of course. Sidekicks are a staple in crime fiction and serve many diverse and important functions. They provide a personality counterpoint to the protagonist, an alternate point of view, or knowledge or skills that the protagonist doesn’t possess. Often, sidekicks provide comic relief. Perhaps most critically in mystery fiction, sidekicks serve as a sounding board to the sleuth as he or she investigates a case, by asking pointed questions and serving up theories of the crime. They allow the protagonist to expound on his or her thought processes. As such, sidekicks serve the function of a Greek chorus.

When I started writing my Dirty Harriet Mystery Series, I faced a dilemma. My sleuth is a female version of the iconic movie character Dirty Harry. That means she’s very much a loner (at least, she starts out that way – over the course of the series she develops a community of friends), and not much of a talker, to boot. Harriet is so much of a loner that she lives in a log cabin in the Everglades, far from civilization (although she does travel to town to make a living, as a private investigator). So my dilemma was, how could a solitary, silent protagonist have a sidekick to bounce ideas off of?

Invest-i-gator (2)Enter Lana. She’s six feet of muscle and mouth. Her skin is habitually cracked and mud-caked. Her eyeballs bulge, and one snaggletooth juts out over her upper lip. No, she’s not a butch women’s basketball coach or a Catholic school nun. She’s an American alligator.

Lana is Harriet’s next-door neighbor in the swamp, and they engage in a nightly rehash of Harriet’s murder cases. Meaning . . . Lana is a talking alligator. A talking alligator, you say? Yeah, that’s what some of my very literal-minded acquaintances say too. This is adult fiction, they argue – you can’t have talking animals! To which I say, who says? Others have asked whether Harriet is mentally ill, hearing voices. Nope. Now, if this were literary fiction, there would be a term for this device – magical realism. But folks, this is not literature – it’s fun. Harriet is not hearing voices and Lana is not really talking – Lana is merely a reflection of Harriet’s own thoughts, a voice of Harriet’s conscience.

golf course gatorSince I’ve developed Lana, I’ve developed a certain fondness for alligators. My South Florida neighborhood is abundant with them. Here’s one I recently spotted on the golf course behind our house.


gator collection


Family & friends often give me gator gifts. Here’s a sampling, which is on my work desk. The big gold one was a gift to myself, to hold my Dirty Harriet books. The crystal one was a gift from my husband to hold my author bookmarks. And the little gold one resting atop the big one and all dressed up, was a surprise from my audiobook narrator, Karen Commins (who, by the way, does an awesome voice of Lana!).

Here are a few fun facts about alligators:
• Only two countries on earth have them – the U.S. and China
• The average American alligator is 13 feet long and weighs 800 lbs.
• They can sprint at up to 30 miles per hour.
• As reptiles, they are cold-blooded (perfect for murder mysteries!)

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