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?
A KNIFE IN THE FOG and DUST AND SHADOW are both sensational thrillers. The two books have a few things in common, including exceptional historical research, an investigative trio, and a satisfying conclusion, yet each offers an original take on Victorian...read more
My "Simplify" theme for 2019 led to some housekeeping and that in turn led to the discovery of a lost chapter of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY.BackstoryThe novel was originally an 800 page (Not. Kidding.) tome all written from the point of view of the...read more
Dear 2019, With the benefit of having lived through your younger brother known as 2018, you will find me a bit changed. Older, wiser, and a bit more cunning. Love, Carmen From 2018, with love Every year, instead of a list of easily-forgotten resolutions,...read more
FYI: Carmenamato.net uses Amazon Affiliate links.