Sandra Parshall writes the Dr. Rachel Goddard mystery-suspense series, in which the tall, beautiful veterinarian is paired with the tall, handsome Deputy Tom Bridger. The newly published fifth in the series, Bleeding Through, was praised by Kirkus Reviews for its "nerve-wracking suspense" combined with "a twisty mystery." Visit Sandy's website and read her Wednesday blog posts at Poe's Deadly Daughters.
Sandy has generously offered to give away a copy of Bleeding Through to one of our readers who posts a comment to the blog. -- AP
Why do heroes have to be tall?
How many current crime novel heroes can you think of who are short?
Maybe the more cerebral detectives who never get down and dirty with villains can find success without being hulks (or hunks), but if the book has any action, both writers and readers prefer a physically imposing protagonist. Six feet tall at a minimum. Well-muscled, with six-pack abs. Strong enough to handle anything thrown at him.
Lee Child’s Jack Reacher seems to have set the standard. Reacher is a fantasy figure, so big you could see him coming from a mile away, and so strong he could probably stop a speeding SUV in its tracks. When the news came out that Tom Cruise will play Reacher in a film, virtually all the protests – and there were plenty of them – centered on Cruise’s diminutive stature. Tom Cruise is about five-seven. He has been married to two tall women who wore flat-heeled shoes when they went to events with him and were still noticeably taller than he was. Tom Cruise is a talented actor, but he’s little. How can he possibly play the supersized Reacher?
Maybe he’ll stand on a box, the way Audie Murphy and some other mini-actors have done in their films. If the filmmakers fail to create the Reacher aura around Cruise, Lee Child fans will nod with satisfaction – See? We were right. – and go back to the books, where Reacher remains as tall as a basketball player and as strong as Mr. Universe, with mythically enormous hands.
Most writers don’t go as far as Child does, but we do like to portray our male protagonists as big and strong. My own hero, Deputy Tom Bridger, is six-feet-plus and in good shape. There’s just something about a tall, broad-shouldered man that says, “Step aside and let me take care of this.”
Height and strength are also common attributes of many female protagonists, particularly those who work in law enforcement and have to face off with the bad guys. And, of course, they’re young. Many are stunningly beautiful. One reason I love Barbara Havers in the Elizabeth George novels is that she doesn’t fit the mold. Barbara is short and dumpy and not terribly attractive. You will notice, however, that she partners with Tommy Lynley, who is not only tall and handsome but a titled aristocrat to boot.
I love Tess Gerritsen’s Jane Rizzoli because she has frizzy hair, unimpressive stature, and a plain face. (Even so, she ends up with a tall, dark and handsome FBI agent husband.) Look at the way Rizzoli has been transformed for TV, though. In Rizzoli & Isles, she’s played by Angie Harmon, a willowy six-footer with flowing hair who wouldn’t be less than gorgeous on her worst day.
In recent years we’ve seen an increase in heroines who are middle-aged and older, most of them appearing in cozies. That these books have an audience and the characters have devoted admirers is proof enough that not everybody wants to read about near-perfect female characters.
Male characters, though, still face a high bar. Literally.
How do you feel about this? Could you take an action hero seriously if he were described as five-seven, with a slight paunch and an ordinary face? Or do you want fantasy when you read fiction?
Thanks for joining us today, Sandy! Readers, would you like a chance to win a copy of Bleeding Through? Post a comment to enter the drawing. And don't forget to include your emai or check back on Sunday to see if you're the winner. If we can't get in touch with you, we have no way of getting your book to you. -- AP