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.
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?