Mysteries are all about complicated people solving complicated plots. We love characters with issues—even a Fatal Flaw–that make them vulnerable and real. It’s why Spenser has his Code, why John Rebus hangs out in the Oxford Bar, why a 1000-year-old spirit lives inside Dr. Siri Paiboun.
My favorite flaw
One of the best examples of a hero with a Fatal Flaw is the Harry Hole series by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo. Harry is a brilliant Oslo cop with addiction and alcoholism issues. Sometimes Harry’s drug use and alcoholism are in check, other times they send him into a death spiral. Every time, the reader is pulled into his self-destructive yet brilliant narrative. Will the good times last? Or will this be the disaster that ends Harry’s career/life/relationships?
Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz’s Fatal Flaw is that she’s an accomplished and habitual liar. The talent serves her well, except when it comes to her interpersonal relationships. Unable to commit, and unable to be truthful, her emotional life is often in a tailspin.
Don’t make this fatal mistake
The trick to writing a character with a Fatal Flaw is making it part of their personality. The character has to be inbued with those traits. The Flaw isn’t a “once and done” thing.
I recently read a mystery novel which opened with the character doing something very much in keeping with the fatal flaw of Promiscuity. “Okay,” I thought. “This is promising.”
But the behavior/trait never came up again. In the rest of the book the character was more reserved, professional, and careful in her relationships.
The good start ended up gratuitous, as if the author threw it in to 1. Hook the reader with some spicy bait, or 2. Tried for a Fatal Flaw and assumed one scene was enough to get the message across. Either way the result was disappointing. The character was cardboard for the rest of the book and the opportunity for a zesty subplot was missed.
As I mentioned, Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole and his addiction issues have topped my Favorite Fatal Flaw chart for a long time. New favorites include Ernesto Mallo’s Inspector Lascano whose dreams of his dead wife invade his waking moments, and Estelle Ryan’s Dr. Genvieve Lenard who is a high functioning autistic savant.
What’s your favorite mystery character with a Fatal Flaw?
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My great-uncle Nicky was the second-to-the-youngest of my grandfather’s five brothers. He was missing most of his right index finger. During WWII, while my grandfather turned out copper ship hulls as a foreman at the Revere Copper and Brass rolling mill,...read more
My most recent book, 43 MISSING: Detective Emilia Cruz Book 6, was inspired by the events of September 2014 when 43 students from a teacher's college in the town of Ayotzinapa, near Acapulco in Mexico's state of Guerrero, disappeared in the nearby town of...read more
Fall is here. Our New Year’s resolutions petered out long ago and the holidays, with overspending and family drama, loom on the horizon. In this season between what-might-have-been and what-will-overwhelm-us-soon, dive into one of these life-changing...read more
I'm author Carmen Amato. I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco. Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat. More