Meet the Lady of Kilmoon

Murder mysteries are complex constructions, when you think about it. As the author you’re at pains to kill off someone that enough other characters wouldn’t have minded seeing dead so you have multiple suspects—but at the same time somehow make the sleuth, often not a professional, care about the dead guy enough to solve the crime. The reader has to care, too, but the reader cares when the protagonist does. Which is why a book’s protagonist is everything.

(c) Bill Fitzgerald from http://www.panoramio.com

Kilmoon Church, Ireland (c) Bill Fitzgerald from http://www.panoramio.com

In Lisa Alber‘s KILMOON, the reader cares about what Merrit Chase cares about. Lisa skillfully introduces a body most of the novel’s other characters don’t need to see avenged, and yet the murder and its investigation keep messing up Merrit’s plans. All she wants is to meet her biological father for the first time on her own terms.

What I liked about Merrit was that she wasn’t easy to like. She’s done some morally complex things in her life and continues to make questionable choices as the mystery unravels. She doesn’t really care that much about the murder, doesn’t actually sleuth all that much, in fact. But she does lead the reader into this new unknown place, letting us see everything as a newcomer. Other characters get a chance to provide the point of view in alternating chapters. Some of them we’re not meant to like and some of them you might develop a crush on, but it’s Merrit we’re there to see through to the end.

There’s a lot of pressure, especially on women authors writing women, to make main characters likeable. They stand in for the reader on the scene, and we don’t like to think ourselves unlikeable.

I’m especially interested in this topic because my own main character has a likeability problem. (I’m hoping readers will see her point: she got shot. She’s a little peeved about that.) In Merrit’s case, she’s not been given much of a break in life, hasn’t had the right amount of familial love. She’s hopeful that her father will turn out to be the love of her life. She’s got some surprises yet ahead of her, but that hope is what made Merrit real to me.

I can see the wide world this story opens up for Merrit’s future and for future County Clare mysteries. I can’t wait to see what Merrit does with love in her future adventures. I also can’t wait for more readers to get to meet this twisty-turny, broody book and its delightful author.

What other difficult characters can you think of? What made you like them, in the end?

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Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

8 thoughts on “Meet the Lady of Kilmoon

  1. I agree with everything you said, Lori. A character that isn’t always likable is complex and straddles an area of moral ground that I find interesting and fun to read. Lisa does that beautifully. In my own WIP, I have a similar character.

    • I think Gillian Flynn’s books are good examples here, but Gone Girl nearly ruined it for the rest of us, frankly. I’m really interested in unreliable narrators, too, which is the kind of thing some readers just won’t like.

  2. I don’t know which offends me more — the “characters need to be likable” thing, or the “we have different rules for male and female authors (or male and female detectives)” thing.

    My detective character is not obnoxious, but she is arrogant (when she encounters a mystery, she talks in terms of “when I solve it,” not “if”), and she’s not exactly chummy. Her idea of relaxing and being friendly is loosening her tie. She’s sometimes lacking in empathy, and she seldom gives a damn about the victims (she can be a bit rough on the bereaved survivors, too). All of which would be fine for Hercule Poirot or Nero Wolfe, of course.

    It also goes along with the “teenage girl protagonists have to have romance, preferably a triangle,” rule, which also annoys me. My teenage protagonist (not the detective — a different character) has had zero romance so far, and she’s fine with that.

    I just bought Killmoon. I’m looking forward to a good mystery.

    • This is why I don’t think I could write YA, or at least not the kind that seems to be popular right now. I DO NOT CARE who the protagonist “ends up with.” These girls are 16 at best. They are not “ending up” with any of this yokels.

  3. Thanks for launching KILMOON week off at the debs with a thought-provoking post, Lori! You bring up a good point with gender roles. If Merrit were male, acting exactly as she does, would we be talking about likeability? I do wonder.

    Yesterday Susan asked me which character was the toughest to write. Definitely Merrit for just these reasons. It took me awhile to figure out what her ache is.

    Love the phrase “morally complex”!

  4. I really enjoy complicated characters who aren’t the typical protagonist. Amy Lamb, the main character in Meg Wolitzer’s THE TEN YEAR NAP, is one I can think of off the top of my head. KILMOON’s Merrit is definitely one of those characters. You are pulled in to her story and so intrigued by her, but you also want to shake her up a bit sometimes.

  5. Great post, Lori! I get so upset by the idea of characters always needing to be “likeable.” I don’t think we need to like characters in order to relate to them—we all have our share of secrets, or dark sides, and sometimes it takes a complex character like Merritt to truly pique our interest and push us to delve further into the many, many dimensions that is the human soul.

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