Six of the Best Sidekicks in the Detective Business…
Where there’s mystery there’s a sidekick. Most of these can be described with the hyphenated long-suffering. In fact, that’s probably the main prerequisite for becoming a fictional sidekick. Their essential function is as helpmate and sounding board to the main character and usually acknowledged “real” detective of the story. The sidekick is forever straddling the line between pragmatism and becoming the main character’s partner in crime. In fact, I think my favorite sidekicks are the ones who overcome all voices of reason (including their own) to get directly involved with solving the murder plot—the wackier the better—as you may glean from my selections below.
- Sally Kimball – I remember reading my first Encyclopedia Brown story in the fourth grade. That’s a very impressionable time for a girl. I didn’t realize until later what an effect reading a character like tough, smart Sally Kimball had on me as a kid. She’s not just Encyclopedia’s sidekick and best friend; she’s his bodyguard, and I love that so much. She’s often described as smart, beautiful, and the best athlete in her class. It made quite an impression on me that those three things don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
- Bess Marvin and George Fayne – They’re Nancy Drew’s best friends and cousins (and both girls, despite George’s first name). I can still see the spines of 1940s editions of The Secret of the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase in the bookcase at the top of the stairs in my house growing up. Those editions probably belonged to my dad’s older sister, and they were my gateway into the mystery genre and resourceful female characters. Bess is the cautious one and George the athlete. It’s worth noting that their portrayal in the original series is a product of their time. I haven’t read the updated series, but I hope they’ve ended the fixation on Bess’s weight.
- Asta – The Wirehaired Fox Terrier owned by Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man movie series (originally a female Schnauzer in the books by Dashiell Hammett) is adept at sniffing out dead bodies or finding murder weapons hidden in drainpipes. He is also used as a comic foil, covering his eyes with his paws when the going gets rough or memorably tripping Nora with her hands full of Christmas boxes in the first Thin Man movie. There was a boom in the popularity of Fox Terriers in the 1930s because of the talented Asta (real name Skippy), and why not? Who wouldn’t want a cute, loyal, mischievous pup like Asta around?
- Scooby-Doo – The cartoon may be named for him, but let’s face it: Velma, Daphne, and Fred do all the heavy lifting with the crime solving. Occasionally, Scooby stumbles on a clue with his buddy Shaggy while hunting out snacks, but his main function is as comic relief. He’s there to bumble into something or make a silly quip at the end of the episode so that they can end on a high note. He may not be the most cerebral of (semi) talking dogs, but every traveling mystery-solving group of teens needs a Scooby.
- Burton Guster – He’s a skeptical pharmaceutical sales rep and the childhood friend of the psychic detective title character on the TV series Psych. He knows that his friend, Sean Spencer, is only pretending to be a psychic and goes along with the hi-jinks that entails (often against his better judgment). Gus tries to be the voice of reason, but always somehow finds himself dragged into the craziness.
- All of the sidekicks in Murder by Death – Maybe it’s cheating to include five characters in one entry, but hey, it’s my list. I saw this Neil Simon comic mystery film by happenstance as a kid. I didn’t even know the famous detective/sidekick combos it was spoofing at the time, but I loved it. The film’s main characters include takes on Charlie Chan (and, in this movie, his adopted Japanese son), Sam Spade (and Effie Perine), Hercule Poirot (and, in this movie, his chauffeur), Miss Marple (and, in this movie, her caretaker who’s older than she is), and of course Nick and Nora Charles (and Asta)—all of them turned deliciously on their heads. The movie’s even more amusing to me now that I know the source material.
Cheryl Honigford is the award-winning author of the Viv and Charlie Mystery Series including The Darkness Knows, Homicide for the Holiday,s and the upcoming Dig Deep My Grave. She lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her family. Visit cherylhonigford.com or follow the author on Facebook @CherylHonigfordAuthor and Twitter @CherylHonigford.